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I am very proud of my recipe for challah. Most importantly, it delivers two beautiful, golden loaves that can be devoured over the course of a weekend. (We eat one fresh from the oven on a Friday night, and then slice the other on the Saturday morning before dipping in egg, dusting with cinnamon and nutmeg, frying in butter or oil, and dousing with honey or maple syrup.)
Challah is a loaf steeped in Jewish history, folklore and tradition. It is baked and eaten for the Jewish sabbath and festivals, and reflects the belief to share and make peace within Jewish culture. Its shape changes form depending on the festivity or community it is made for, as does its flavour. Claudia Roden writes more about challah here.
My own recipe uses Dan Lepard’s bread-making methods, which I always favour. I also prefer to use fresh yeast (also called bakers or cake yeast), which I buy from local artisan bakeries or health food shops, but I have also allowed for dried yeast within the recipe too. And here’s a nifty little video (it’s like cute frum meets ‘The Brady Bunch’) to show you the many ways you can plait your challah before baking. (I particularly love this demonstration as Rivka Malka uses plasticine.)
275ml warm water
20g fresh yeast / 1 sachet easy-blend yeast (equivalent to 2 teaspoons or 7g)
275g strong white unbleached bread-making flour
500g strong white unbleached bread-making flour, plus extra for dusting
125ml vegetable oil, plus extra for kneading and/or oiling baking trays
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
3 medium eggs, beaten
4 tablespoons honey
1 egg yolk, beaten with a bit of water, for glazing
Poppy or sesame seeds
In a large mixing bowl, add the yeast to the warm water and mix with a fork. Slowly add the flour, continuing to beat in with the fork, until the mixture has come together. Cover the bowl with a clean, dry dish cloth and leave somewhere warm for a couple of hours.
After this time, and in another large mixing bowl, beat together the vegetable oil, honey, salt and 3 beaten eggs using a fork. Then mix in the yeast sponge, followed by the remaining 500g of flour.
Once the mixture comes together use your hands to bring everything together well and then, using a floured surface, knead the dough vigorously for 5 minutes. You can add more water or flour if you think the mixture is too dry or sticky.
Put the dough back into the bowl and cover for 10 minutes with the cloth. Repeat this process twice more, using an oiled surface (a teaspoon of oil to cover an area the size of a dinner plate will suffice) but only kneading for a few seconds at a time. Then cover again and leave for 30 minutes whilst you preheat your oven to 350°F / 180°C / gas mark 4.
Line a baking sheet with parchment or oil well. At this point I then divide my dough into two portions (for two loaves), and then divide each of these into four (you will have eight pieces all together) before rolling each piece into a sausage shape ready to plait. I braid two four-plaited challahs straight onto their baking sheets. Use this video to help you.
After braiding your bread, cover each tray in a plastic bag until the loaves have doubled in size (about 1-2 hours). Remove from bags, glaze each loaf with the egg wash, and sprinkle with poppy or sesame seeds. Bake in your preheated oven for 30-40 minutes until golden. (You will know when your loaves are ready when they sound hollow if you tap them on the underside.)
Serve just warm and sprinkle with sea salt for a proper shabbes flavour.