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  • Writer's pictureHila

Jewish Challah Bread


It's Friday, and markets and bakeries in Israel are stocked with challah bread. Today, Challah comes in many shapes and sizes (and grain blends), but when I was a child in the '70s and '80s, there was only one standard square-shaped challah.


Traditionally, challah bread is made with no dairy ingredients, so it can be eaten in the Shabbat dinner with meat dishes. Some challah recipes call for eggs, which makes the bread richer, tastier, and more worthy of its prominent place at the Shabbat table. Hundreds of years ago, weekday challah bread was believed to be baked with no eggs and oil, which were expensive ingredients, most likely shaped like round bread. To distinguish the Shabbat bread from the everyday loaves, eggs and oil were added, and the dough was shaped into braids.


Traditionally, the Shabbat table is laid with wine and challah. Pieces of challah are distributed to the participants of the feast, who bless: "Blessed are you, O Lord our God, King of the world, who brings forth bread from the earth" "ברוך אתה ה' אלוהינו מלך העולם המוציא לחם מן הארץ."It is a mitzvah to eat a piece of challah bread, at least the size of an olive, at the Shabbat meal.


After we relocated to the US, I started to bake challah at home. It's an easy-to-bake bread; you can't get it wrong (the only time I failed was when I accidentally used an over-a-year expired yeast:-). This recipe yields two large challahs. I usually shape half into a loaf and the other into eight pieces, making knotted or round rolls, which I freeze and use later for my kid’s school sandwiches. You can also use half of the dough to make a dessert by rolling it into a thin layer and spreading a sweet filling like a chocolate spread or a jam before rolling it over into a single cylinder or even shaping it into a classic babka shape.


Top Photo: Friday noon at the open-air market in Rehovot, my hometown.


Now, let's get into the kitchen!



Challah

Makes 2 breads


Ingredients

  • 7 cups (1 kg) all-purpose unbleached flour

  • 2 Tablespoon (18 gr) instant dry yeast (if using active dry yeast, dissolve it first to rehydrate in water, and allow more time to rise).

  • 1 2/3 cups (400 gr) water

  • 5 Tablespoons (75 gr) oil

  • 2 eggs + 1 egg for egg wash

  • 1/2 cup (100 gr) sugar, or 4 Tablespoons (88-100gr) date syrup/maple/agave

  • 1 (15gr) Tablespoon salt

  • Sesame seeds/other for sprinkle on top (optional)

Preparation

  1. In the mixer bowl, combine flour with dry yeast, sugar (or any other sweetener you are using), 2 eggs, oil, and water. Mix at low speed for 3 mins.

  2. Add the salt, and mix for 7 min at medium-low speed until the dough becomes smooth and elastic.

  3. Release the dough from the hook attachment and form a ball. Dust with just a bit of flour and cover the bowl with a clean towel or loosely with plastic wrap. Allow it to rise for 30-45 minutes or until about double in size.

  4. Gently deflate the dough and transfer it to a lightly (lightly! Too much flour will dry out the dough, making it impossible to mold it ) floured work surface.

  5. Divide the dough into 2 pieces, then each piece into 2-3 pieces, depending on your desired challah shape: you can either use 2 strands and twist them together or use 3 pieces to make a three-strand braided loaf.

  6. Roll each piece into a strand 12-15" long. If the dough starts to shrink back as you roll, cover it and let it rest for about 10 minutes (that short rest will give the gluten a chance to relax and become flexible again). Then, resume rolling.

  7. Shape/braid the loaf. Then, remove to a parchment-lined baking pan or place in a greased loaf pan.

  8. Cover the loaf loosely with plastic wrap or a towel, and let it rise at room temperature for about an hour. Toward the end of the rising time, preheat the oven to 375°F.

  9. Brush the bread with the egg wash and sprinkle with sesame if desired.

  10. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes until the crust turns deep golden brown.

Note

The dough can be prepared 8-12 hours ahead. Store it in the fridge, where it will slowly go through its first rise.

Storage information: Store any leftover challah, well wrapped, at room temperature for several days; freeze for more extended storage. Leftovers are perfect for grilled sandwiches or French toast.

For eggless (Vegan ) Challah, add more oil and water, and skip the eggwash or use sweet syrup (date syrup or maple) with plant-based milk:

  • 7 cups (1 kg) all-purpose unbleached flour

  • 2 Tablespoon (18 gr) instant dry yeast (if using active dry yeast, dissolve it first and rehydrate in water, and allow more time to rise)

  • 2 cups (480 gr) water

  • 3/4 cup (150 gr) oil

  • 1/2 cup (100 gr) sugar, or 4 Tablespoons (88-100gr) date syrup/maple/agave

  • 1 (18gr) Tablespoon salt

  • For glazing - 1 Tablespoon date syrup (or other sweeteners) mixed with 1 Tablespoon almond/soy milk or water

  • Sesame seeds/other for sprinkle on top (optional)





























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