On falling in love with the beautiful challah bread

I’ll be the first to admit I am quite ill-prepared in terms of recipes for this year’s Holy Week. Being Catholic, my family and I practice abstinence from meat beginning on Good Friday up until Easter Sunday. I wish I could share some meatless dishes with you this week, but from the messy way my year started down to the fact that my mind is already looking forward to my impending Easter-weekend vacation, plenty of things seem to be slipping through the cracks in my memory.

Searching for a recipe to fill the void, I began looking through my archives and found the photos from my first attempt on Challah Bread (pronounced HAH-lah). I was surprised at myself for not posting about it as soon as I made it, given how much I gushed over pretty much every single aspect of this bread. The braiding part is obviously the best part; followed very very closely by the eating part.

Ugh. Me want to make another batch of this suddenly.

For those of you who are unfamiliar, the challah bread is actually a rich-tasting yeast bread typically linked to Jewish cuisine. It might be weird to write about Jewish bread at this point, but since this bread is meatless anyway, I think it’s a safe addition to any Lenten table. I am also quite excited to share this bread with you because it immediately became one of my favourites the moment I had a taste!

I initially had no idea about challah bread apart from the fact that it looks pretty and seems to be challenging to make thanks to the braid. I was prepared to take this bread on since I enjoy trying out yeast bread recipes of all sorts, but not only did I discover that challah is not at all difficult to make, I also really really love how it tastes. I love the richness and slight saltiness of of it. I love the crustiness that contrasts with the soft yet dense crumb. No wonder everybody uses it for french toast and bread pudding! It’s an amazing bread and I was lucky that I found an excellent recipe to start with.

There is no other way for me to describe how I feel about the challah bread apart from being head over heels in love with it. Looooove!

I can’t vouch for the authenticity of this challah bread recipe, but I can tell you now it works and tastes like a charm because it’s an America’s Test Kitchen Recipe. This challah bread has you making two braids, each made up of three thick strands of dough. One braid is larger than the other, and you take the smaller braided dough and kind of stick it on top of the bigger one. It’s really simple but looks mighty impressive.

Even though my small braid ended up toppling over in the oven– totally my fault for not making sure it was properly placed atop the big braid!– eating this thing erased all the bummed-out feelings that started to permeate my being. I quickly became a squeaky clean ray of chewing happiness as I ate this.

Well it doesn’t look that bad even though it’s lopsided actually. And it tastes even better so I can’t really complain! When I get back from vacation, I’m looking to make one of those more complex versions where you braid six strands of dough all at once and you get this beautiful golden piece of woven bread-art. For now, this is a great recipe for challah bread beginners!

Braided Challah Bread
This easy recipe produces a rich bread braided into golden perfection. Looks impressive but tastes even better!

Yields 1 large loaf
  1. 3 to 3 1/4 cups (15 to 16 1/4 ounces) all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
  2. 2 1/4 teaspoons instant yeast
  3. 1/4 cup (1 3/4 ounces) sugar
  4. 1 1/4 teaspoons salt
  5. 2 large eggs + 1 egg, separated (reserve the white for the egg wash)
  6. 4 Tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, melted
  7. 1/2 cup + 1 Tablespoon water, at room temperature
  8. 1 teaspoon poppy seeds or sesame seeds (optional)
  1. 1. In a medium bowl whisk together 3 cups of the flour, yeast, sugar, and salt. Set aside.
  2. 2. In the bowl of a stand mixer, use a spatula to mix together the 2 whole eggs and 1 egg yolk, melted butter, and 1/2 cup of the water until combined. Add the flour mixture.
  3. 3. Using the dough hook, knead at low speed until a smooth and elastic ball of dough forms, about 5 minutes. Add the remaining 1/4 cup flour a tablespoon at a time if the dough is too wet and sticky.
  4. 4. Place the ball of dough in a very lightly oiled large bowl, turning the dough over to coat with oil. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise until doubled in size, about 1 1/2 to 2 hours. Gently press down on the dough to deflate it then cover with plastic and let rise until doubled again, about 40 to 60 minutes.
  5. 5. Meanwhile in a small bowl, whisk the egg white with the remaining 1 tablespoon of water. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use.
  6. 6. Once the dough has risen twice, transfer to a lightly floured work surface. Divide the dough into 2 pieces, one roughly half the size of the other. The small piece should weigh about 9 ounces, the larger should weigh about 18 ounces.
  7. 7. Divide the large piece of dough into 3 equal portions. Roll each portion into a 16-inch long rope about 1 inch in diameter. Line up the ropes side by side, pinching together at one end to steady them for braiding. Braid the rope pieces and pinch the other end together to seal the braid. Place the braid on a parchment or silicone mat-lined baking sheet.
  8. 8. Repeat the exact steps with the remaining smaller dough. Divide it into three portions, rolling the dough into 16-inch long strips about 1/2-inch in diameter. Set the smaller braided dough beside the larger one.
  9. 9. Brush some of the egg wash onto the large braid then carefully place the smaller braid on top. Loosely drape the loaf with plastic wrap and let rise until puffy and increased in size by a third, 30 to 45 minutes.
  10. 10. Adjust an oven rack to the lower-middle position and preheat oven to 375°F (190°C). Brush the risen loaf with the remaining egg wash and sprinkle with poppy/sesame seeds, if using. Bake the loaf for 30 to 40 minutes, or until the loaf is golden brown and registers an internal temperature of 190°F (90°C) on an instant-read thermometer. Set the baking sheet on top of a wire rack, and let the loaf cool completely before slicing.
Adapted from The New Best Recipe by America's Test Kitchen
The Tummy Train http://thetummytrain.com/
Well, I really hope my process pictures help lessen the intimidation factor. I can guarantee you’ll have a fun time braiding and eating this thing!

Our challah bread didn’t last long enough for bread puddings or french toast because it made some damn good regular toast. We polished off the whole loaf during breakfast in just a couple of days. I should probably bake another loaf next time for those other purposes. 😉

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