Friday, June 22, 2012


Last night I hosted a book club for the book The Ladies Auxiliary. It's all about an orthodox Jewish community in Memphis and one of the things I liked most about the book is how much it talked about food. Every chapter made me hungry! So for the book club I tried my hand at a few traditional Jewish foods: challah, noodle kugel, and hamantaschen cookies. This is the recipe for the challah, which is an eggy braided bread with a glazed crust. It's a great bread, but I'm not gonna lie, it takes more time and effort than other yeast breads. The 3 risings (actually 4 if you count the rise after its braided) take some time and rolling out the strands of dough for the braid gives your arms a nice work out. But don't let me scare you, the dough, though firm, is easy to work with and the resulting awesome bread makes it a labor of love.:)  I got this recipe from Smitten Kitchen and this youtube video really helps to review the process and braiding.

-makes 2 loaves

1 1/2 tablespoons yeast
1 tablespoon sugar
1 3/4 cups warm water
1/2 cup oil (canola, vegetable, or olive oil)
4 eggs
1/2 cup sugar
1 tablespoon salt
7 1/2 - 8 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 egg, for egg wash
poppy seeds or sesame seeds for topping, optional

In the bowl of a heavy duty mixer (I have a Bosch) combine the yeast, 1 tablespoon of sugar, and the warm water. Let sit for 5 minutes or until foamy.

Add oil to the yeast mixture, then beat in 4 eggs, one at a time. Add sugar and salt and mix. Add 4 cups of flour and mix with dough hook for 1 minute. Gradually add more flour a cup at a time until dough pulls away from sides of bowl and is pretty firm, for me I used just under 8 cups total. Knead with dough hook at medium high speed for 5 minutes.

Turn out dough and form into a smooth ball. Place in a large oiled bowl and cover with non-stick sprayed plastic wrap. Allow to rise until doubled, about 1 hour. Punch down dough, form into a ball again and allow to rise until doubled, about 1 hour. Punch down dough one more time and allow to rise again until doubled, 1 hour.  (That's 3 risings in the bowl.)

Punch down dough and turn onto a floured surface. Separate dough into 12 equal pieces. Take 6 of these pieces to form 1, 6-strand braided loaf (cover the remaining 6 pieces of dough with plastic wrap so they don't dry out). Take each piece and roll into a snake/strand that is about 12 inches long and tapered at both ends. When you have 6 strands it's time to braid. You can look at my pictures below for the visual on the braiding or watch the youtube video, but here goes: take the 6 strands and pinch them together at the top. Now you have a 6 legged octopus. Take the outside right strand and take it up and over to the left, take the outside left strand and take it over and up to the right. Now you have a 2 armed, 4 legged creature. Take the left arm and bring it down in the middle. Take the outside right strand and take it over and up to create a new left arm. Take the right arm and bring it down in the middle. Take the outside left strand and take it over and up to create a new right arm. Take the left arm and bring it down in the middle. You do this, replacing arms, down in the middle, braiding until you get to the end of the strands, then you take the ends and pinch them together and under to form a nice braided loaf. Did you get that? Good. Now, do it all over again with the other 6 pieces of dough to form another loaf. Place loaves on a parchment or silpat lined baking sheets (or you can place them side by side on one baking sheet if you only have 1 oven - they might stick together in the middle when you bake them, but that's okay, they'll still bake through and be easy to pull apart). Beat the remaining egg and brush over the loaves. Set remaining beaten egg aside. Allow loaves to rise until doubled, 40 min. to 1 hour. Brush loaves again with egg and sprinkle with poppy seeds or sesame seeds if desired (I went for poppy seeds).

Bake in a preheated 375 degree oven, on the middle rack, for 30 - 40 minutes. Traditional challah is deeply browned and glossy, but of course you can cover the loaves with foil if they are getting too browned for your tastes. Cool loaves on a wire rack.

**Leftover challah makes great French toast!

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