Challah is a slightly sweet egg bread originally eaten by Jews at their Sabbath and Holiday dinner tables, but for many years enjoyed by everyone. Challah is undeniably the best bread you can use for french toast and bread pudding, too. This recipe is quite simply the easiest and most authentic recipe for Challah that I’ve ever baked. I can’t claim it as my own – I’ve adapted it from Secrets of a Jewish Baker by George Greenstein. MJ found the old paperback edition on the dollar rack at a used bookstore, obviously unappreciated by the previous owner. I believe it’s been reprinted and should be widely available, and if you bake bread – or want to – I highly recommend that you buy this book. And not just for the Challah.
This recipe is so good, my 89 year old, old-country mother (Lord, don’t tell her I told you how old she is – she’ll kill me! and is quite capable of it, too.) asks me to bake these for her as my gift to her for just about any gift-giving holiday (birthday, Mother’s Day, Chanukah). She even called me two weeks ago to ask me to bake them for Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish New Year). I know she’s counting on the leftovers for her freezer.
You can certainly make these into the classic braided loaves, but for Rosh Hashanah, it’s traditional for the Challah to be baked in a smooth, round turban, signifying the endless nature of God and the cycle of life. It’s also the easiest way to shape this bread, so if you have difficulty braiding, just make these simple coiled turbans. It’s just as delicious!
1 cup warm water
2 pkgs. active dry yeast (or 4 1/2 tsp.)
1 large whole egg, lightly beaten
2 large egg yolks
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1/4 cup + 1-1/2 tsp. sugar
4 to 5 cups bread flour
2 tsp. salt
flour for dusting worktop
oil or spray for greasing bowl
1 egg beaten with 1 tsp. water for egg wash
coarse cornmeal for dusting baking pan
poppy or sesame seeds for topping
Preheat the oven to 350º. Dissolve the yeast in the warm water in a large bowl. Add the egg, egg yolks, oil, sugar, 4 cups flour and salt. Mix well until the the dough comes away from the side of the bowl.
Turn the dough out onto a floured work surface and knead well, adding additional flour 1/4 cup at a time, until it is firm and smooth. This is a firm dough, so keep adding flour a little at a time while kneading, until it is smooth and elastic – about 10-15 minutes. You may need a little more than 5 cups.
Transfer the dough to a large, oiled bowl, turn so the entire surface is coated, cover, and let rise in a warm, draft-free place, until it has tripled in volume. I like my laundry room. A good test is to poke your finger into the dough. If the indentation stays, your dough is fully proofed.
Turn the dough back out onto your work surface, punch it down, and divide it in half. Cover with a towel and let rest for 15 minutes. In the meantime, prepare a large baking sheet by sprinkling it liberally with the cornmeal.
With your hands, roll each dough half into a long, fat snake, slightly larger at one end and tapering to a smaller end. With the larger end at the center, start coiling the rest of the “snake” around it. When you reach the end, tuck it underneath the coil, pressing it into the bottom of the bread.
Place each coil onto the prepared baking sheet, and brush with the egg wash. Put the baking sheet back in your warm, draft-free spot, and allow the breads to rise again, until doubled (about an hour). Brush the fully risen breads with the egg wash again, and sprinkle on the seeds, if using.
Bake for about 35 minutes. After the first 10 minutes, cover them with a “tent” of parchment paper or torn-open brown paper bag. This will prevent them from browning too quickly. Breads should be a nice dark mahogany brown, and the bottoms should be well-browned. They should sound hollow when the bottoms are thumped and there shouldn’t be any “give” when you press on the top. Remove from the pan and cool on a rack.
When thoroughly cooled, you can place the breads in a plastic freezer bag to store or freeze for future use.
*Note: I cannot tell a lie – I use my KitchenAid stand mixer fitted with the dough hook. If you do, too: after mixing the ingredients and adding sufficient flour to get the dough to form a ball around the dough hook, run the mixer at low speed, “kneading” the dough for 15 minutes. Keep an eye on it during this time, since as a firm dough, your mixer may want to take a walk. 🙂
Remember the Honey Cake recipe I posted on Monday? Well, you know I was a little concerned about letting MJ have any on the holiday. He’s doing super-well: he’s lost 55 pounds and we’re kind of slowing down the weight-loss a bit, but still limiting his sugar and carb intake. I wondered what I could do about a Honey Cake. The answer? Raw agave nectar.Agave nectar (yes, from the cactus) is all the rage now, because it has a much lower glycemic level than sugar, while being 1-1/2 times sweeter. The raw agave nectar is much darker than the light version, and while not as thick as honey, makes a very good substitute. When you also substitute Splenda Brown Sugar Blend (or half brown sugar + half Splenda) for the straight-up brown sugar, this traditional holiday cake suddenly becomes a far healthier dessert for people with blood glucose issues, such as Type 2 Diabetes, with no loss in flavor or quality!
MJ said that he really couldn’t tell that it wasn’t “honey” cake, and absolutely loved it. I did, too! Yay!
So as your extra-special bonus, here’s the honey cake recipe again, but this time, with the appropriate substitutions. Now you’ve got something to serve friends and family with health issues, that’s really delicious, and no hint of that artificial sweetener aftertaste.
Wishing you a Healthy & Happy New Year!
Agave “Honey” Cake
2 cups all purpose flour
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 tsp. ground ginger
1 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. cardamom
1/4 tsp. ground cloves
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2/3 cup raw agave nectar (dark)
1/2 cup Brown Sugar Blend Splenda or 1/4 cup dark brown sugar + 1/4 cup Splenda
2 large eggs
1/2 cup no-sugar-added applesauce
1/2 cup hot strong coffee
Handful of sliced almonds (optional)
Preheat oven to 325º F.
Grease and flour a 9x5x3-inch metal loaf pan.
Sift together the dry ingredients in a medium bowl. Set aside.
With an electric mixer, beat together the wet ingredients in a large bowl until blended, about 3 minutes.
Beat in the dry ingredients in 2 additions, alternating with coffee, until batter is smooth. *If you screw this up and mix the coffee in with the other wet ingredients, don’t worry about it. 🙂
Transfer batter to prepared pan. If using sliced almonds, sprinkle them on top of the batter in 2 columns, on either side of the center. Bake until cake is brown and tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 1 hour (test with a wooden skewer).
Cool cake in pan 10 minutes. Turn out onto a rack; cool completely.
Wrap cake in plastic wrap and store at room temperature or if preparing ahead, seal in freezer storage bag and freeze.
Makes about 8 servings.
If you have any questions about either of these recipes, please leave a comment and I’ll be happy to answer them here. Or give me a Tweet. Enjoy!