If there is anything there is seriously no shortage of in the bottomless pit of the Internet, it’s Challah recipes. You find Challahs ranging from mildly dry bland quickly slap together loaves to fancy multi-egg and raisins, multi-stage productions with the rain-dance performed mid-baking, and everything in between.
To me, Challah is a very fine loaf of white bread. No matter how you slice it, it’s still bread, not a pie, not a pizza, and not a cake. To be a good Challah, it needs to meet the following criteria in my world:
1. it needs to be very pretty (yes, I am that shallow),
2. it needs to be soft-crusted — I don’t understand the whole crunchy and crusty Challah at all, there are plenty of times and places for that, but not in a Challah
3. it shouldn’t be sweet, maybe very slightly sweet just to bring out the best of flavors, but not cake sweet
4. finally, the crumb needs to be very lightly moist, slightly chewy, and as close to white as possible — hence you won’t find multi-egg yellowy Challahs in my repertoire, though I did attempt those on occasion… Remember, it’s just a bread, very special, very pretty bread, nothing else.
So I am happy to report that I have found my perfect Challah recipe recently. You may not like it as much as I do, but you might want to give it a try and who knows, maybe it will make top 10 on your list of favorite breads.
The recipe I am referring to was posted in Russian; it doesn’t cite any sources, so unfortunately, I can’t properly credit the author, but I will provide the Russian link below for those who prefer it.
The recipe below is an interpretation of the original, adjusted to my taste. I must warn you that you may feel compelled to add more flour at some point, but I assure you, it’s not necessary — thorough and prolonged kneading will take care of this. What you’ll get is only very slightly tacky soft dough, which after proofing will stretch nicely, but will also rise beautifully. Good luck!
Here is the link to the original post: http://www.povarenok.ru/recipes/show/12718/
Yields a very large single loaf that will be as long as the baking 1/2 sheet will allow. It’s quite possible that it can make two smaller loaves just as well, but I haven’t verified that.
- 1/4 cup lukewarm water
- 2 tsp instant dry yeast
- 1 tsp sugar
- 3-1/2 to 4 cups all-purpose flour
- 2 tbsp sugar
- 3/4 cup milk, lukewarm
- 1 large egg, whisked
- 1/2 stick (1/4 cup or ~ 55 gr) butter, melted
- 1-1/2 tsp kosher salt
- 1 egg yolk + 1 tbsp milk for egg-wash
- sesame or poppy seeds for sprinkling
- Make the starter by mixing lukewarm water with sugar and yeast in a cup and resting it for about 20 minutes, or until foamy. Mine sprung up all the way to the rim of the cup in about 20 minutes.
- Sift 3-1/2 cups of flour with salt and sugar in a mixing bowl. Add starter, whisked egg, melted butter and lukewarm milk and mix with a wooden spoon a few times to combine. Let rest for 10 minutes. Mix and knead by hand or with a dough hook, adding the remaining flour only if necessary in small batches, for at least 5 minutes or until the dough is smooth and elastic. The dough should clear the walls of the bowl, but will still be soft and slightly tacky.
- Grease a bowl with butter or oil lightly. Shape the dough into a ball, cover with plastic and ferment for about 2 hrs, or until at least doubles in size.
- Punch the dough down, shape into a ball and divide into 4 (or 6 if you like 6-strip braid) pieces. Shape each piece into a ball, cover with plastic and give them a bench rest for 10 minutes for relaxation. From this stage forward, you’ll notice that no additional flour will be needed for either shaping or braiding. If your dough needs more flour to be shaped, you probably didn’t add enough in the kneading stage.
- From here on, you have two routes — you can roll each ball out into a long rectangle using a rolling pin, and then roll it up into a tight thin scroll. Or you can shape each ball into a thin baguette, using the batard shaping technique (look it up on youtubes, it’s very easy). The idea is to force our dough into rising certain way and not freely and unevenly in all directions. If you ever baked braided bread before, you may have noticed how unevenly it puffs up sometimes. My first Challahs were certainly no pretty things for that exact reason (see photo).
- When you give all braid strips the same treatment, they will all rise in a very predictable manner — up, not out, and evenly all over, which will, in turn, result in very pretty and puffy bread.
- Once you shaped all of your braids (I am sure ninety per cent of you had already decided on 4-strip braid, since it’s less work), you can braid your Challah on a parchment lined baking sheet. Pinch and roll the ends under, cover with plastic and give it a final rise for about 40 minutes.
- Before backing, spread the egg-wash all over the loaf, paying special attention to the sides and crevices between strips. Sprinkle your seeds of choice evenly.
- Bake in preheated to 375F oven for about 40 minutes. Peek in at 30 minute point to be sure the loaf isn’t too browned on top. If that’s the case, you can cover the loaf with foil to prevent scorching. Cool on rack completely.