Classic Challah

Maybe I’m looking in the wrong places, but there doesn’t seem to be much of a Jewish population here in New Zealand. Everyone seems to be vaguely Christian or sometimes very Christian and that’s about it. I’m not Jewish, either, but I love a lot of Jewish foods and I was really excited to introduce some of the good stuff to my kiwi friends.

sliced

I learned how to make challah one very rainy day around this time of year back in college. A Jewish friend of mine was complaining that no one ever wanted to learn how to bake it, and voracious baker that I am, I volunteered. We realized halfway through that we were baking it on the sabbath during Passover, which was pretty un-Jewish of us, but man did it taste good. This is my third time making it, and I have to say, I think this was the most successful.

rising

Challah’s a good rainy day activity. It’s a long process, so you want a day when you’ll be pottering around the house. I baked this loaf with a friend of mine, which kept things from getting boring. It was also very helpful having her on hand for when I got frustrated and threw a temper tantrum while we were trying to braid the dough…but we’ll come back to that.

Classic Challah
(Adapted from the New York Times)

~9 cups all-purpose flour
2 (1/4-ounce) packages dry active yeast (I used 3 1/2 tablespoons)
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 tablespoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
4 large eggs
3/4 cup canola oil, plus more for greasing baking sheet
3/4 cup plus 1/8 teaspoon sugar
1 tablespoon sesame seeds

braid

 

Note: this makes an absolutely massive loaf of bread. If you have a small oven, definitely consider splitting your dough in half and making two loaves. You can even half the recipe, though it won’t really save you any time so you might as well make the whole thing and have lots of bread at the end.

 

 

 

 

 

 

1. Place 6 cups of flour in a very large mixing bowl. Make a well in the center. In a small bowl, stir 1 cup of lukewarm water and all of the yeast until the yeast is dissolved.

2. Pour this mixture into the well. With a fork, stir around the well, incorporating about 1/4 of the flour into the yeast mixture. Set the bowl in a warm place (by a sunny window, ideally) and let stand for 45 to 50 minutes.

start

3. Sprinkle the baking powder, cinnamon, and salt over the mixture. Add the vanilla, 3 eggs, the oil, and 3/4 cup sugar. Add 1 1/2 cups lukewarm water and mix everything together. Use the fork as long as you can, then start using your hands.

4. Add 2 cups of flour, kneading for about 10 minutes. If the mixture is still very sticky, add up to a cup more of flour (we added 1/2 cup, which was enough). The dough is ready when it stops sticking to your hands. Form it into a ball and leave it in the bowl, covered, for about 20 minutes.

ball

5. After 20 minutes, take the dough out and place on a lightly floured surface. Knead for about 5 minutes, adding flour as necessary to prevent sticking. Set the dough in a lightly floured bowl and coat lightly with flour. Cover and let sit for another 30 minutes.

6. Turn the dough back out onto your floured surface and knead very briefly. If you’re going to make 2 loaves, split it into halves. And now comes the hard part: braiding. We split ours into 8 roughly equal-sized balls, rolled them out into 15-inch-long ropes, pinched the ends together, and stumbled our way through this YouTube video. Which looked awesome, and if you have the patience or a knack for braids, go for it. If, like me, you really struggle with things like this (or if you can’t learn from instructional videos, which was my other problem), you can try the instructions in the original recipe, or maybe look at this post, which looks a lot less intimidating. Or just do a classic 3-strand braid. It’ll be fine.

eight

7. Generously oil or butter the bottom and sides of a large baking sheet. Carefully lift the braided bread and place in the middle. Cover with a towel and put in a warm place until it has roughly doubled in size, about 45 minutes.

8. Preheat the oven to 160 degrees Celsius (325 Fahrenheit). Beat the remaining egg with 1/8 teaspoon (a generous pinch) of sugar. Brush the loaf with the egg wash and sprinkle with the sesame seeds. Bake until puffed and golden, about 1 hour.

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