Food friday -By popular demand- Challa ( with correction)

Several friends have told me that they don't care what I serve them for Shabbat, as long as my challa is on the table. I have been receiving requests for my challa recipe. I had written it out a few years ago at my son's request. This summer when I was away taking care of my mother, he baked challa following my recipe that really did taste like what I bake for each Shabbat. So this isn't like one of those recipes where an essential ingredient is left out.


I started baking challaas a form of hand therapy. Like many people who sew for a livingI was suffering from sore hangs from doing the same movements over and over. Kneading the dough is really thereputic and moves your hands in the opposite movement that sewing does.
Most of what you need to make a good challa, hard ware wise is simple. You need a big bowl, a baking sheet, and the only specialized item you may want to own is a dough scraper.It makes cleaning up much easier.

Probably the most important ingredient in challa is the flour. To make excellent bread, you need high gluten flour. If you live in New England, the all purpose flour tends to be higher gluten flour. If you live in the South, that flour is really soft and will produce a gummy, gluey loaf. King Arthur flour produces the best bread flour. You can buy it from their website, but that is an expensive solution. I can occasionally find King Arthur bread flour locally. Some stores locally  charge as much as $11 for the 5lb bag, which is nuts. I have used both Gold Medal and Pillsbury bread flour ( a distant second) or Heckers flour. If I don't use The King Arthur ( even their regular flour is a high gluten flour)  I will add about 1/4 cup of  gluten from the health food store to my dough. That way, you get a nice, muscular, chewy loaf. I would suppose that if you were baking using a Southern flour, you may need a bit more gluten.

Clearly, this challa is a bad idea for folks avoiding gluten. If you have trouble with gluten, bake something else.

Challa-
1- in a microwave heat 2 1/2 C water for 1 minute
2- put water into your big bowl
3- add one package yeast or 1 1/4 tsp granulated yeast to water. Add a tablespoon of either sugar or flour to feed the yeast.  Go check your email. The yeast needs about 5 minutes to bloom.
4-get the rest of the ingredients together, 6 eggs, canola oil ( use a mild flavored vegetable oil) sugar or honey, flour, salt, cardamon, coriander , cinnamon, vanilla, two cups for measuring a whisk and a wooden spoon.
5- break the eggs one at a time into cup then toss into the big bowl once you see that they have no blood spots. (You can use actual measuring cups. I have 8 oz teacups and measure by eye, ) Pour about 3/4 cup oil into the eggy cup and then add to the bowl. If you are using honey, pour that into the cup you just used for the oil, you will need about 1 cup, add that to the big bowl. If you use sugar, use the clean cup, also a full cup.

Add 1 1/2 T salt a hefty shake of cardamon, another of coriander and cinnamon and a teaspoon of vanilla. Beat energetically with your whisk for several minutes.

6- start adding flour , at first you will mix with the whisk.  Add the gluten at about this time. you will need to be sure to incorporate well into the rest of the dough, it can sometimes clump in an unpleasant way. By the time you get to cup 3, you will switch to the wooden spoon.If you have slightly less arm strength, you may get there sooner.Keep adding flour and mixing until incorporated before you add the next cup. In a few more cups, it wil get to heavy to mix with the wooden spoon. Now it's time to start working the dough with your hand. I assume that you washed your hands before you started. At this point the dough will seem less sloppy.
7- sprinkle some flour on your counter and dump the dough from the bowl onto your counter.Use the dough scraper to get all of the dough from the bowl and onto your lump of dough.  Add flour, use the dough scraper to help turn the dough until it gets a bit more solid. Knead the dough until you can feel the dough go from a disorganized mess to something with an organized molecular structure. As you keep adding flour and kneading the dough will become supple and feel almost alive. This process might take as long as 15 minutes. use the strength of your whole body, not just your arms and hands.
Braiding the challa

8- once the dough is smooth, put it back in the bowl and cover with a dishtowel. Clean your counter. Use the dough scraper to clean the counter. Bread tastes better if it has long slow rises. If it is really hot in your kitchen, you may want to do the rise in the fridge. You can form the dough on Thursday night, put it in the fridge and braid the challa the next day. But assuming that it isn't the dog days of summer, let the dough rise for about two hours. About an hour after you set the dough out to rise, you can walk past the dough and sucker punch it a couple of times.

9-Grease your baking sheet.
10-dump your mountain of dough, it ought to be double the size it was when you started on your floured counter. Knead it again for a few minutes. Cut the dough into four parts with your dough scraper.

The challa -ready for the second rise
11- Braiding the challa- Take one of the four parts and knead it again. Cut that in four, and roughly roll into four rough equally sized snakes. I find that a four strand braid just looks better than a three strand braid. Line up the four snakes. Starting from the middle, take the left most strand and weave it over and under the other strands. Now go back to what is now the left most strand and repeat until you get to the bottom of the challa. Turn the challa around and start again from the middle.  Joan Vick taught me the starting from the middle trick. Once you have completed braiding tuck the ends under the challa and put it on the greased baking sheet. Braid the other challot. Cover the braided challot with a clean dish towel. Let the challa rise again.The challa's texture is improved with more time in the fridge. If you have room for the pan, put it in the fridge for at least part of the time.
12 Let the challa loaves rise for two hours or so ( longer is fine if it is in the fridge, even over night) preheat the oven to it's highest temperature. Take one more egg, separate it. Use the white for something else ( it makes a great facial mask) put the yoke in a bowl. add a bit of water and a speck of flour. Mix well then paint the challa with the egg glaze.If you don't have a pastry brush, use some paper towel to spread the glaze.

13- Once the oven reaches it's temp, put the challa in the oven and lower temp to 375. bake about 30 minutes or until challa is a deep brown and sounds hollow when thumped. Use the dough scraper to lift the loaves from the baking sheet.

This challa is heavenly when warm. I usually put it in the oven for about an hour while the rest of  Shabbat dinner is heating up.

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