20 January 2008

Best Challah Ever

By far my favorite bread is challah. It is so soft and tasty and then makes delicious french toast if you can't finish it off (not likely). It is a sweeter bread so it's not so good for dipping in your soup, I guess, but I've dipped it in an onion au jus before and it was sublime! I have tried a good 6-8 different challah recipes and this is the one that stole my tastebuds. I got it from the FoodNetwork, but it was a temporary recipe so I can't just link you there anymore.

I don't have even a mixer, so I make all my bread by hand. It might seem intimidating at first but really, it's easy and the more you do it the more comfortable you will be with the dough and you will love the satisfaction of having made your family fresh bread.

I *HIGHLY* recommend that you begin making this bread the night before. We'll talk about why in a bit. So, onward and offward.

1 envelope or 2 1/4 t. yeast
3 3/4 c. flour (the recipe calls for bread flour but I've never used it)
3/4 c. warm water (no warmer than 110 degrees or you'll kill the yeast; been there, done that)
2 large eggs
1/2 c. vegetable oil
1 1/2 t. table salt (although I do use sea salt)
1/4 c. sugar

In a big bowl, whisk 3/4 c. of the flour and the yeast, then add all the warm water and whisk until it's smooth. Walk away for about 5-10 minutes, or until the yeast starts blooming, puffing up and seeming to grow (this is called proofing your yeast). If it doesn't puff up, you have one of two problems: 1) you killed your yeast with water that was too hot, or 2) your yeast is way too old. In the case of the former, start over with not quite so hot water, in the case of the latter, throw away your ancient yeast and go to the store and get new yeast.

After your yeast has proofed add the eggs, oil, salt and sugar and whisk until the salt and sugar have dissolved. Add the rest of the flour and begin incorporating it with your beloved spoonula or, if you live in a cave, a wooden spoon. After a while it will get too hard for you to mix and you will need to ditch the spoon and use your hands. When this happens dump the contents of the bowl onto your counter and knead it for anywhere from 5 - 10 minutes. Try not to add too much flour while you are kneading. You want your dough to be nice and smooth (mostly) when you make it into a ball. When you are satisfied with the look of your dough, set it on the counter and go wash out your bowl and your hands. Dry the bowl off and spray it with some sort of spray oil (I use olive oil spray) or coat it with some oil. Get your lump of dough and put it in your bowl and either spray the top of the dough or turn it around in the oil that you've coated the bowl with so that all sides of the dough are covered in oil (this is so the dough doesn't stick to the bowl or plastic wrap). Cover with plastic wrap and put your bowl of dough in the refrigerator and leave it over night.

OK, let's talk about why you're doing this at 10 at night instead of 10 in the morning. I've learned that a lot of the flavor in bread comes from letting the yeast...develop. If you only give it a couple of hours before you bake it, your bread will just be mediocre, but let it develop over night and all the next day and your bread will be delicious. I have found that this is especially true with pizza dough.

The next morning about 8 or so, take the bowl of dough out of the fridge and set it on your counter and just forget about it. The dough may have risen some over night but probably not a lot. Over the course of the next several hours it will come to room tempreture and rise more. Once it's risen so that about 1" of it is peeking over the top of the bowl punch it down and make it back into a ball, but don't be too mean to it. It's figurative when they say punch it. Preheat your oven to 350.

Now cut the dough into three parts using just your hands or a knife, whatever you prefer. You are going to roll each of the three parts out into a log that is about 12-18" and braid it, just like you would your hair, on whatever sheet you are baking the bread on. Let it rise for about 30 minutes or so (the heated/ing oven will help the dough to rise so leave it on).

At this point you can glaze it with an egg wash if you want and put some sesame seeds on it...I don't.

Bake the bread at 350 for 25-30 minutes for starters. I like checking the internal temp for done-ness (about 210 degrees) but don't let it overbake. If it doesn't look done, bake it for another 5 minutes at a time; it'll be a nice golden brown. When it's done, take it out and off the baking sheet and let it rest for 10 minutes. *DO NOT CUT IT YET* If you do, the bread won't be quite as soft and moist because a lot of the moisture will evaporate.

There you go...the best challah ever.


Johanna said...

Yummy! That looks so good. I may just have to try it. If I do, I'll let you know how it goes. I am usually a wimp when it comes to kneading the dough. I have a Kitchen Aid with a dough hook - that usually does the hard work for me. Do you think this would work well with that?

Joanna said...

oh yeah, just put all the ingredients except three cups of the flour in and whisk it, then put on the dough hook and add the rest of the flour and let it knead the flour for about 5 minutes. Then either put it in the fridge over night or let it rise for about two hours and continue as stated.

Meagan said...

I have heard that the machines can over knead it a lot faster than doing it by hand... in fact it is almost impossible to over knead it by hand I hear. So you might want to be careful and monitor it closely.

Joanna said...

excellent point, meagan. this is why i generally knead everything by hand.

Tina said...

mmmmmm, I can't wait to try it
:) Thanks for taking the time to write it out for us!

Joanna said...

ok, and because i don't have a mixer...that's usually a good reason to knead by hand. ha ha ha.

Ravenhill said...

Mmmm, that bread looks so mouth-watering tasty!

Lola...again said...

Thanks for the post! I can't wait to try it out. I bake bread about every other day, 4 loaves! I knead it all by hand because it makes me feel connected to the bread. (that was deep..I know!)

Joanna said...

well, i agree. i like to knead it by hand that way i know when it feels done and don't have to guess. i'm glad you like the recipe. i hope it turns out well. let us know.

Lawanda said...


I am going to try this. Now, don't hold your breath, my bread never turns out good. My dh won't even touch my homemade bread. :(

But I am going to take your advice, ALL of it! And try this tonight for tomorrow!

Thanks for the tips. I will be sure to let you know how it turns out! :)