My Beautiful Imperfect Challah

My beautiful, imperfect challah

I used to dream of baking homemade bread for my family to eat on Friday Shabbat but found myself intimidated by the yeast and the rising part — apparently all essential parts of making bread! 🙂

One day a good friend gave me her recipe that she makes in a bread machine. I experimented with this recipe using my standing mixer (not the bread machine) and over time tweaked it and developed my own recipe.

Please hear me: my bread is not perfect (although I think it looks beautiful with all it’s imperfection!). It splits open slightly while it bakes which people may find fault with (apparently this is an issue with how long I let it rise or that the individual braids don’t have enough tension??). Whatever, I haven’t figured it out yet and for now it doesn’t bother me. The end result is delicious and my family loves it. And best part, hot baked homemade bread!

As for the timing, I wake up a little early on Friday morning to make the dough (it takes about 20 min or less) and let it rise all day. Then, when we get home from school, my daughter braids the dough and we bake it just before dinner. I have a friend who makes her dough on Thursday evenings and lets it rise during the night, and bakes it the next morning. All that to say, see what works for you, and have some fun experimenting. Of course you can make challah anyway of the week so adjust your timing accordingly.

Onward. We Are Together In The Kitchen.

XO Michelle

Ingredients
1 cup warm water
1 package active dry yeast (I use Red Star brand, individual packets) – 7 grams/1/4 ounce
1 TBSP sugar

1/4 cup olive oil (or avocado oil)
1/4 cup sugar
1 heaping TBSP honey
1 tsp salt
1 egg
31/2 – 4 cups of flour (all purpose or bread flour)

1 egg, beaten
Toppings: Poppy Seed, Sesame Seed, Kosher Salt, Fennel Seed (or a combo of these). Also Everything But The Bagel Seasoning from Trader Joes is also a great topping. For something more sweet top with a mixture of cinnamon and sugar.

Process

Step 1 To the bowl of a standing mixer add the warm water, yeast, and TBSP sugar. Stir together gently with a spoon or whisk. Set a timer for 10 minutes.

Step 2 After 10 minutes you should see that the yeast mixture has started to “bloom” or proof (it will look foamy + bubbly).

Step 3 To the yeast mixture add the olive oil, sugar, honey, salt, and egg. Using the wire whisk attachment of the standing mixer, whisk all of these ingredients together for about 1 minute. No need to over mix but do make sure the ingredients are well blended.

Step 4 Replace the wire whisk attachment with the white dough hook. Add in one cup of flour, and stir until blended. Add the second cup of flour and stir until well blended. Add the 3rd cup of flour and stir until well blended. With every addition of flour the dough should be getting thicker and turning into a ball of dough. It’s probably still sticky at this point and will need more flour.

Step 5 At this point after the addition of 3 cups of flour, I take the dough out of the mixing bowl and place it onto a well floured (or parchment covered) cutting board. I like to mix the last 1/2 – 1 cup of flour in by hand. I do this for two reasons: 1) It makes me feel connected to my ancestors who baked challah every Friday but didn’t have standing mixers, food processors, or bread machines and did all the kneading by hand 2) it allows me to “feel” the dough, to tell if it’s too sticky (if it is add a little bit more flour) or too dry (in which case you can add a tiny bit of water). It should feel smooth and elastic.

Step 6 Oil a large bowl using a little olive oil. Place the ball of dough into the bowl. Flip it over so both sides are slightly moistened by the oil. Wet a clean dish towel with a little water (not drenched, just slightly moist). Cover the bowl, and place it in sunny spot on your countertop (if it’s not sunny don’t worry just place it in a warm corner of your kitchen).

Step 7 I usually make the dough in the morning and let it rise all day. You could try making the night before and let it rise overnight. If you only have a few hours, it still should double in size in that time frame. Experiment.

Step 8 After the rising step, take the dough ball and gently “punch” it down with your fist to remove the air pockets. Place the dough on a well floured or parchment covered cutting board. Knead for a few minutes, adding flour if the dough feels at all sticky.

Step 9 Braid the dough: divide the dough into 3 balls. Using your hands make three strands from the three balls, maybe each about around 12 – 18″ long each. Pinch the ends of the three strands together and then braid the strands. At the end of the braid pinch the dough together to finish the braid.

Step 10 Using a pastry brush, brush challah dough with the egg. Get it into the nooks and crannies. Then top with your favorite: poppy seeds, sesame seeds, kosher salt or fennel seeds. For sweet, top with cinnamon and a little sugar. Have fun, experiment, see what you like.

Step 11 Place challah on a parchment lined baking sheet. Allow to rest on the countertop for 30 minutes.

Step 12 Place the baking sheet with the challah into a pre-heated 350 degree oven. Bake for approximately 25-35 minutes, depending on your oven until the top is golden brown. The more you practice, the more you’ll get the hang of it, but you can tell if it’s done if you tap on the bottom of the loaf and it makes a hollow sound.

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