Daring Bakers May 2012 / Challah Bread

May’s Daring Bakers’ Challenge was pretty twisted – Ruth from The Crafts of Mommyhood challenged us to make challah! Using recipes from all over, and tips from “A Taste of Challah,” by Tamar Ansh, she encouraged us to bake beautifully braided breads.

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I have always wanted to make Challah. Recently on my trip to New York I was able to stop into Amy’s Bread (squeal! I was so excited!). Oh my goodness I was in heaven gazing at all the beautiful breads and pastries.

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The experience captivated me so much I only snapped this one picture! One bread for sure caught my eye…the challah….how beautiful! All graceful curves and golden brown, delicately braided. Very intimidating. In fact by the time arrived home, I had pretty much convinced myself it was something I would have to work up to, thinking I would have to dabble a little with bread baking first. Little did I know, 3 months later Ruth would come out of left field and CHALLENGE me to it……sigh….. There was no going back. I was going to have to jump in with both feet!
A couple times I got out all the ingredients looked at the recipe and put them away again. I felt like that little kid standing on the high dive board and then going back down the stairs instead of jumping. I can’t for the life of me figure why it intimidated me so. I guess I thought it LOOKED so pretty that I couldn’t possibly replicate it at home. ( I know! This coming from a girl who decorates cakes on the side.)

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Finally I just forced myself and I went all out… I made one batch (two loaves) from the challenge recipe and one batch (two loaves) from a new york times recipe. AND. I did it from start to finish by hand. When I pulled them out of the oven I just couldn’t believe I had done it!. I DID IT! I was so excited!

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It would be a crime to blog about challah and not discuss a little of it’s rich history. It is a Jewish egg bread that rises (or is leavened) with yeast. I found it very interesting that it is actually mentioned in the Bible in the book of Leviticus. God instructs Moses to bring 12 challot (one for every tribe) and place them in two rows of six. Devote Jews bake challah for the Sabbath which is observed from Friday evening to Saturday evening. On the Sabbath prayers are said over two loaves of bread and it becomes a symbol of holiness. The two loaves symbolize the double dose of manna that the Israelites received on Fridays in the book of Exodus. Traditionally, it is braided oblong with anywhere between two and six strands. Of course, flavors and shapes change with holidays and festivals, as well as location. For example for New Years some Jews include apples and cinnamon, and increase the sugar. The taste and texture become very reminiscent of babka. (Traditionally babka is a sweeter Polish bread. Many Challah recipes were affected and adapted during the holocaust where Jews fled Germany.) For the holiday Rosh Hashanah, the challah is baked into various shapes including spiral and braided rounds symbolizing ascent to heaven. Bird shaped challah may be eaten before Yom Kippur to symbolize ones prayers will fly to heaven. Sometimes honey is added and is symbolic of the sweetness of manna from heaven. Sesame, Coriander, and Poppy seeds may also be used. This is just a small look into how challah has and continues to evolve. As for today, challah has become immensely popular even beyond the Jewish culture. It is often offered everyday at bakeries, bread shops, and supermarkets across the United States and Europe.

So this is the first recipe I made was one of the recipes we received with our challenge:
Challah (Honey White)

(from Tammy’s Recipes)
Servings: 2 loaves

Ingredients
1 ½ cups (360 ml) warm water, separated
1 Tbsp. (15 ml) (15 gm/½ oz sugar
2 Tbsp. (2-2/3 packets) (30 ml) (18 gm) (2/3 oz) dry active yeast
½ cup (120 ml) honey
1 Tbsp. (15 ml) oil (light colored vegetable oil, or olive oil if you prefer)
4 large eggs
1 ½ tsp. 7½ ml) (9 gm) (1/3 oz) salt
5 cups (1200 ml) (700 gm/25 oz) all-purpose (plain) flour, plus more as needed (up to 8 or 9 cups total)
1 egg beaten with 1 tsp. water

Directions:

1. In mixer bowl/large mixing bowl combine ½ cup warm water, 1 Tbsp. sugar and 2 Tbsp. yeast. Allow to proof approximately 5 minutes until foamy.
2. To the yeast mixture add the remaining water, honey, oil, eggs, salt and 5 cups of flour. Knead (by hand or with your mixer’s dough hook) until smooth, adding flour as needed. Knead for approximately 10 minutes.
3. Transfer dough to a clean, oiled bowl, turn to coat or add a bit more oil on top. Cover bowl with a kitchen/tea towel. Leave to rise in a warm place until doubled, about 1 ½ hours.
4. Punch down the dough, divide it into two sections. Use one half to make each loaf (shaped or braided as desired).
5. Place loaves on parchment lined or greased baking sheets, cover with a towel, allow to rise 30 minutes.
6. Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
7. Brush tops loaves with egg wash. (Sprinkle with seeds or toppings here if wanted.)
8. Bake loaves 30-40 minutes until done.
9. Cool on wire racks.

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See step 4? That whole braid or shape as desired…..yea yikes….I really loved the six strand braid. Historically I am awful at braiding. I could never braid my own hair. I could never braid anyone else’s hair. I am so thankful she included a movie with her challenge. I’m sure I watched it a million times. Finally my six braided loaf was done and I moved on to my second half of dough. I decided to do a four strand braided round. Much easier and still really pretty. I think I braided a bit too tightly, but I was still impressed with how they turned out.

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Then I made this! recipe from the New York Times. With half of the dough I used this accompanying recipe for onion rolls. The bread recipe itself produced a dough and ultimately a crumb I really enjoyed. The onion rolls were o.k. I wasn’t overly impressed, but will continue to play with it because they really did have potential.

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With my second half of dough I made a rustic cinnamon apple challah. I chopped half a red apple and half a green apple, mixed them with some sugar, lemon juice, and some cinnamon. I incorporated the apple mixture after the second rise. Some close family friends really enjoyed it. It reminded us all of their family recipe for babka bread. After researching challah history I understand why!

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Over all I loved my challah experience! I wont be afraid to bake it again! Thank you so much Ruth for that gentle nudge!
Dream. Bake. BELIEVE!
Love, Steffie

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3 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Shelley C
    May 29, 2012 @ 14:11:53

    Oh my gosh, your loaves look PERFECT. I love the color on them, and they look so fresh and beautiful and delicious. You did a GREAT job!!!

    Reply

  2. makeycakey
    May 30, 2012 @ 15:27:08

    Your loaves all look delicious – I love the little rolls – so cute!

    Reply

  3. Xuan
    May 31, 2012 @ 18:42:23

    I love your idea of making the small onion rolls and the apple filling. Definitely will be using that as inspiration next time I make challah. Looks wonderful!

    Reply

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