Friday, March 3, 2017

Challah Bread (My Favorite Friday Treat)

"Challah is my favorite Friday bread. Well, it is my favorite any time bread. Filled with sweetness, it is perfect for toasting or just sliced and buttered. Not hard to make, it could even be made in a loaf pan."



My Grandma Fanny used to say, "Let everyone else eat cake. I'll take the bread." Personally I think she was on to something. Growing up our bread consisted of bread from Pepperidge Farm, which was pretty good, and  maybe a French baguette when Jewel moved to town. I remember once we wanted to eat what all the other kids were eating so mom came home with a loaf of either Wonder bread or Rainbo. We immediately noticed how it stuck to the roof of our mouth and when we toasted it, the aroma of lard spread through out the kitchen. Now we never kept kosher, but that was one smell my father decided we could do without.

Our family never had a challah on the table, as there was nowhere to get a challah in Kankakee. I think for special events at the temple, someone would drive up north to procure a challah. You can rest assured my mother never tried to bake one. As a child my mother lit the candles and my dad said the kiddish blessing over wine, and we probably had a roast and a dairy noodle kugel-oy vey-but that was the extent of our Shabbat dinner, which usually meant running off to temple so us kids could sing in the junior choir.


 When I found myself at Colorado State, a long way from Illinois, my parents actually visited for parent's weekend. Being a good child I let them take me to a Hillel meeting, and it was there I met what was to become my second family. I am forever grateful for that meeting. It was there I met the warmest family of  seven, who have stuck with me for better or worse.  (And as a side note to Zoe, who thinks I have no friends that I have kept in touch with from college-well here ya go! I must say though that it was more thanks to them than me, that we stayed in touch over all these years.) This family who had recently arrived from Israel, made my parents very happy when they promised to watch over me and  that very same evening they invited me to a Shabbat dinner.

I, of course, asked what I could bring, and the person who was to become my dearest friend I'm sure said, "No need", and then for some reason I found myself saying with great confidence, "I'll bring the challah". I had recently brought a bread book and must have been enticed by the challah recipe in it. That's the only reason I can think of that I offered two loaves of challah, something that I had never baked in my life!  Well, I relied on that recipe for many years. It produced two lovely loaves of challah that were devoured each Friday night by 5 kids and guests and I found myself quickly known as the challah baker. And so it was that each Friday I found myself baking challah, attending a Shabbat dinner,  and then leaving at a reasonable time to go drink a vast quantity of beer. After all I was in college. This continued for I think three years, before they left to go home and suddenly my challah baking days were over... until I myself had kids.


Through these years I've found myself experimenting with many recipes and varieties of challah. To tell you the truth there is not a bad challah in the lot. Schmeared with butter, toasted, made into French toast, used as sandwich bread or in bread pudding, challah is the work horse bread in my kitchen. There is nothing that makes my house smell better than a fresh floor cleaned with Murphy's soap or a loaf of challah baking.

Challah has many traditions that surround it. In my mind it isn't JUST bread. It is special bread. There are rituals associated with it. During the Israelites forty years of wandering the Sinai, manna fell from heaven 6 days a week, but on Fridays two portions fell. The manna was kept fresh by the dew that surrounded it. It is that reason that two loaves of challah are served on Friday night, usually covered   with seeds such as sesame or poppy, to remind us of the dew that kept the manna fresh. The challah is covered in a special cloth as the blessing over wine is said first. We cover the challahs so they won't be "shamed" because any other night the challah is blessed first. By first blessing the wine and sanctifying the Sabbath, we are indicating that the meal is an extension of the kiddish and the breaking of bread is the beginning of that meal to honor the Sabbath.


Though many breads can be used for Shabbat, a three or six braided challah is the most traditional. If one places two 6 braided challahs on the table they are said to represent the 12 tribes of Israel. Challah braids can have many meanings but one often mentioned is that a three braided challah reminds us to honor the Sabbath and observe it and the third strand represents unification. During the week when all can be a bit helter skelter as we look out toward the world;  the end of the week we come together and look inward and reflect in peaceful harmony as everything comes together on Shabbat. Most challah covers are embroidered with "in honor of Shabbat or holiday" but I am still trying to figure out what mine says!  In our home after the blessing is said, we tear the challah rather than slice it. Not everyone does, but we believe that a knife signifies violence and the Sabbath is about peace.

Challah contains eggs which makes it a richer bread, more deserving of a special occasion. It is also sweeter, unlike daily bread which often doesn't contain sugar. Challah can be made from wheat, oats, rye, spelt or barley. Generally a challah used in a Shabbat meal is made without dairy-so no butter or milk allowed. Not keeping kosher, I often sub in both. I do admit to only serving one challah and freezing the other for future use! Challah recipes are varied, but most contain the same ingredients-it is the proportions that are different. Some may contain more eggs, others less. Some contain honey. Others contain sugar or even sugar and honey. I prefer a lighter, sweeter, moist challah and others want a more dense, not too sweet challah.


There are more rituals associated with challah, but I think it's time we get down to the nitty gritty. I'm giving you a great recipe from Bon Appetit. Like I said I've tried many and all are similar, but this one makes two huge challahs or 3 small ones and I think more is better. I use my Kitchen-Aid to knead the dough. Often I've kept the dough over night in the fridge and let it rise again the next morning. Depending on the heat of your home, this may take awhile. My other method involves preheating my oven to the lowest setting, turning it off after it is preheated, and then placing the bowl of dough in the oven to rise. Make sure to leave the oven door open if you try this.

Time to get baking!


yield: 2 large loaves or 3 smallishprint recipe

Challah Bread

Challah is my favorite Friday bread. Well, it is my favorite any time bread. Filled with sweetness, it is perfect for toasting or just sliced and buttered. Not hard to make, it could even be made in a loaf pan.
prep time: 3 hourcook time: 35 MINStotal time: 3 hours and 35 mins

INGREDIENTS:

  • 2 1/4 ounce envelopes active dry yeast
  • 2 t plus 3/4 to 1 c sugar (depending on how sweet you like your challah)
  • 2 large eggs beaten
  • 4 3/4 t kosher salt
  • 1/2 c melted butter or canola oil
  • 7 c all purpose, unbleached flour
  • 2 large egg yolks
  • sesame or poppy seeds for sprinkling

INSTRUCTIONS:

  1. Whisk yeast and 1/4 c warm water in the bowl of a stand mixer. How to tell if your water is just warm? I let my tap run hot and as long as I can comfortably put my hand under the faucet, I consider it warm. Let sit until foamy, about 10 minutes.
  2. Whisk eggs, salt, 1/2 c melted butter or oil, 3/4 c sugar and 2 c warm water in a medium bowl. Add egg mixture and 7 cups of flour to yeast mixture. Beat with dough hook until dough is smooth and elastic, and very sticky and pulls away from sides of bowl, about 10 minutes. Or you may knead by hand for about the same amount of time.
  3. Grease a large bowl with a bit of oil and transfer dough to the bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and let sit in a warm place until doubled in size, 1 1/2-2 hours.
  4. Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface and shape into a large cylindrical roll. Divide into 6 portions. Shape each into a 17" long rope.
  5. Grease 2 rimmed baking sheets or use a silpat pad or parchment paper. Place 3 ropes side by side on the prepared baking sheet. Working with one challah at a time, pinch three ropes together at one end. Braid, then pinch ends together and tuck under. Let sit in a warm place until 1 1/2 times larger, about 60 minutes.
  6. Preheat oven to 325. Beat egg yolks and 2 T water in a small bowl. Working with one loaf at a time, brush dough with egg wash and sprinkle with your choice of seeds. Bake first loaf 15 minutes, then increase oven temperature to 425 and continue baking until the loaf is browned and sounds hollow when tapped, 15-20 minutes more. Let cool on baking sheet.
  7. Reduce oven temperature to 325, then leave oven door open 5 seconds to cool down. Repeat baking with remaining dough.
  8. Challah can be made three days ahead, keep tightly wrapped at room temperature or freeze. Let cool before storing.
Created using The Recipes Generator

More to try:
        Onion Lover's Twist               Maple Glazed Challah Rolls                  Chocolate Babka

           

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31 comments:

  1. I'm loving all the texture and details in the pictures. That poppy seed one looks particularly appealing -- loving the light. Anyway, I haven't had Wonder Bread in decades -- probably not since I was a kid. Totally forgot about it sticking tot he roof of your mouth! But now that you mention it, totally remembering it. :-) Love bread, and this is great -- thanks.

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    1. Thanks John! Wish Foodgawker felt the same! In any case, it deos not take away from the great taste of this bread!

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  2. Wow! You DO have the challah making down to an art. It's my favorite bread, too. I sure wish I had a thick slice with butter!

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    1. I have made a lot of challahs! Best way to serve challah...I agree!

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  3. If I could eat bread every day, then challah would be the one! Sadly, I can't and shouldn't eat so much carbs...sighs..your challah looks out of this world beautiful and delicious, Abbe.

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    1. I think that's true of all of us, but I guess that way you can look forward to this! Thanks Angie!

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  4. I love Fanny's saying! Reminds me of my grandmother's "You can pickle a beet, but you can't beat a pickle". Our whole family worked on the premise that a pickle cured everything. Since I'm retired, I do want to take the leap into making homemade breads. Maybe Challah is a good place to start.

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    1. Any time you want to bake bread call me and we can do it together! Bread baking is great for conversation because you have plenty of breaks while it rises! Challah is a great place to start!

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  5. OMG this is the best bread in the world, the challah has been our favorite for years - so thank you for this post! Have a great weekend Abbe!

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  6. Grandma Fanny's saying puts Marie Antoinette in a whole new light! GREG

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    1. It does, doesn't it? Wish I could remember more of her sayings! I do emember when one was having a bad day she'd always say the sky isn't falling! I liked that!

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  7. I am so inspired by your post. Thanks for putting this recipe into context for me. I hadn't realized it's significance. I have wanted to make this bread forever. I may try this recipe soon. It looks heavenly!

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    1. You are so welcome Diane. I love to know the stories behind the food! I think you will be pleased with the results!

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  8. Challah has to be one of my favorite breads; well yes that and whole wheat because they both are special in there own ways. Yours looks especially wonderful Abbe as I can only imagine as you are such a wonderful cook.

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  9. I'm really looking forward to trying this recipe! Not sure how to do that fancy braid, but I'm guessing there will be a tutorial on YouTube ;-) Beautiful, beautiful bread.

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  10. Abbe, this reminds me of home and the amazing Challah we had every Friday night. I don't bake Challah for Dave and I but maybe I should start again. There is nothing better than Challah toasted the day after it has been baked. Your braiding is amazing :)

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  11. Oh this looks beautiful and so do your photos. It's such lovely tradition

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  12. I love challah and there's a bakery nearby that sells it, delicious! But the best was made by the mother of my Jewish friend as we were growing up in Louisville. She definitely had it down pat and baked it often. Thanks for the recipe, Abbe!

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  13. This really looks amazing. I've heard of Challah before but I think I did not get a good recipe for it that will make it look so fancy. Great recipe.. pinned

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  14. What a lovely story and beautiful recipe! I've always wanted to make challah and you have inspired me! Your loaves are absolutely gorgeous :) Thank you for sharing Abbe!

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  15. I am so impressed that you were baking challah while in college, Abbe! What a wonderful story of the caring family who invited you to Shabbat dinners and also the story of challah itself. I have made it but your photos make me want to make it again - soon!

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  16. I've never made Challah, but I've always wanted to. I've read through your recipe twice and it looks like something I can possibly do! LOL If you know me or have read my blog, you know I'm not a baker! This looks beautiful!

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  17. Challah always reminds me of the holidays and it makes the best French toast. Your loaves look perfect! Nettie

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  18. Your challah looks perfectly golden brown and completely delicious!

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  19. Your challah is gorgeous... Baking beautiful bread is on my list of things to learn more about, and I think I'm going to start with your recipes! Thank you!

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  20. I thoroughly enjoyed this blog Abbe, a recipe with a history is always the best kind. Lovely bread, great blog ♥

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  21. Wow Abbe...your challah is perfect...gorgeous braids...and I sure learned a lot reading your post...
    I hope you are having a nice week :)

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  22. What a great post, I rember eating wonder bread decades ago when I first came to the U.S. It was horrible. Your challah looks so good and what great memories. Have a relaxing weekend Abbe.

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  23. I do love Challah Bread. That little bit of sweetness makes every bite a happy bite. Thanks for sharing your recipe. I could never get it to look as beautiful as yours, but I'm sure it will be delicious!

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