I’m generally not a bread maker. It’s a little too fussy and technical to be enjoyable for me. But since challah was introduced into my life by my Jewish husband and his family a few years ago, I’ve been on a mission to make it myself. And challah-luiah, folks, this weekend I was finally successful!
I can’t resist a beautiful, knotty, shiny loaf of challah. There is something so perfect about it—soft, chewy, and white carb-y. Eggy with a hint of sweetness. It’s addicting.
My first attempt at making challah was well over a year ago. The note I wrote next to the recipe in the cookbook reads: “Need to let knead (in the mixer) for 15 minutes.” I write comments in all of my cookbooks next to the recipes I try. But, I have a real problem writing anything negative in my treasured books, so I generally am not as honest as I should be. The good news is that I always remember how I truly felt about a recipe. “Need to let knead for 15 minutes” really meant “Recipe didn’t work for me…dough didn’t rise…dough so thick it messed up KitchenAid (had to get a new one)…never got whole loaf to be cooked through in the middle without being burned on outside.”
Sad. And yes, it really did mess up my KitchenAid.
So, after two failed attempts with that recipe, I took a hiatus from challah making for a while. But a few weeks ago I decided to give it another go. I decided to move on to a new recipe, this time out of the cookbook Quiches, Kugels, and Couscous: My Search for Jewish Cooking in France. The recipe is called “Rabbi’s Wife’s Challah.” It instilled a sense of confidence in me. Surely, a rabbi’s wife must make great challah.
I actually had a breakthrough in bread making when I tried this recipe for the first time. You know how when you watch professionals making bread, they get that perfectly smooth ball of dough? Well, I didn’t really think regular people like me could achieve the same thing. But, you can! You too can have perfect dough! You just need to knead it long enough!! This achievement was so rewarding that I think I might make bread more often.
But anyway, turns out the rabbi’s wife makes a mean dough. It rose perfectly. It braided wonderfully. It needed to bake for exactly the amount of time the recipe said it would. And it produced a loaf that was HUGE. It was TWO feet long. I’m not joking. Visually and texture-wise, it was a perfect challah.
It wasn’t quite sweet enough for me. Soaked in orange and vanilla scented custard though, it made fantastic French toast! (Ina’s Challah French Toast recipe.)
So, this weekend I decided to give it one more try and tweak the recipe to make it sweeter. I added quite a bit more sugar. I also halfed the recipe because unless you have some major plans for that challah, it’s a lot of challah. The result: pretty close to perfect. (Might add some honey next time for kicks). But for now, here you go. You knead to make this—if for nothing else than for some stellar French toast.
Rabbi’s Wife’s Challah—adapted from Joan Nathan’s Quiche’s, Kugels, and Couscous: My Search for Jewish Cooking in France
1 tbsp active dry yeast
2.5 tbsp sugar
Half of 1 large egg, plus 1 egg yolk
1/6 cup canola oil
3.5 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for kneading
Half tbsp salt
Dissolve yeast and sugar in 1 cup warm water in bowl of standing mixer w/ dough hook attachment. Add the half of 1 egg & oil; mix. (For half of an egg, I whisk 1 whole egg in a separate bowl and then pour in half of it.)
Gradually add flour and salt and continue to mix with mixer until blended well. When all of the flour is incorporated well, knead the dough by hand on a floured surface until you get that perfectly smooth round of dough!
Put dough in well-oiled bowl; cover with clean dish towel; let rise at room temperature for 45 mins.
Punch the dough down and divide into 3 pieces. Roll each piece into a strand about 1.5 inches thick. Braid the 3 strands together, pinching the ends together. Carefully place on greased baking sheet and brush with the egg yolk (whisked with a little splash of water). Let rise in closed oven (that isn’t turned on) for 45 mins.
Brush with egg yolk / water mixture again. Turn oven on to 400 and bake for 20-25 minutes, or until top is golden brown and the challah sounds hollow when you tap it.
Remove from oven and place on cooling rack.
Yield: 1 loaf