Friday, October 29, 2010

Challah Basics

This post is part of a three part series in the merit of a complete and speedy recovery for Nechama Gittel Chaya bat Chana.  Follow these links for more information about signing up for our mass challah baking or to learn more about shaping challah dough.

I am no Challah expert.  I love to braid it and shape it, and do other creative things, but I have tasted MANY challot with superior taste and consistency to mine.  So I turned to my good friend and fellow blogger, Hannah (of Cooking Manager and A Mother in Israel) to give us all some tips.  If you would like more information, I recommend reading her full post on Challah and visiting her new YouTube channel.  Here is her recipe in an easy one page printable form.  I never make it to the end of all the cycles of stretching and resting mentioned in this recipe and my challah still turns out very good.

Hannah's recipe and the other methods mentioned in her post from other people give a very soft challah without a strong yeasty flavor.  One thing I learned today is that if you leave it to rise in the fridge for a long time, start with cold water.  I thought, the more rising time the better, but this technique only gave me a strong yeasty flavor.  I think you're better off putting your time into stretching the dough.  Here's how it's done:

Having what seems like a complicated Challah recipe on my blog may seem to clash with my theme of simple dishes that don't require following instructions.  The truth is, I don't bake challah as often as I would like, but I love it.  I think everyone should bake bread once in a while.  There's a wonderful feeling of satisfaction in making your own bread.  It's great to get your hands into your food.  Kneading/stretching dough is much more satisfying than tossing a salad.  Once you get the hang of making challah, you really can tweak it to your preference.  You will know what good dough feels and smells like and you won't need to rely on a recipe.  Hannah has six kids and makes challah for a several weeks and freezes it.  If I hadn't walked in on her kneading this monster dough, I would have thought her bowl was a baby tub.  Hannah:  Where do you wash that thing?  By the way, this challah freezes well, and I love enjoying it several weeks later, long after I have forgotten about the work it took.

I learned to make challah during college from one of my favorite families in the world, the Weinstein family of Chabad House on Campus in Pittsburgh, PA.   The daughters who taught me are now grown and married, as am I, but I still carry the fond memories of baking challah on Thursday nights for the swarm of students who would pile in for Shabbat.  Here's what I remember:

We bake Challah in honor of the holiness of the seventh day.  Challah has seven ingredients: flour, water, oil, salt, yeast, sugar, eggs.  We started with equal parts yeast and sugar in warm water in one bowl while combining the other ingredients except flour in a very large bowl.  Then poured in the yeast mixture and began kneading in the flour until the dough felt right.  I think we only let the dough rise one time after all the kneading, and another time after braiding and egging the dough.  Pretty simple and lots of fun (especially if you have a cleaning lady who will deal with the aftermath!)  Even though many people were counting on my challah success, I was never discouraged from a little experimentation, big challot, tiny challot, honey, raisens, vanilla, seseme or poppy seeds in fun designs...  Please comment and share your own challah stories!

You might also enjoy: Easy Awesome Onion Challah

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