March 20 marks the first day of spring. Though, as Henry Van Dyke said, the first day of spring and the first spring day often have different timing. I hope that today is the latter for you. The first spring day came nearly a month ago, which is unprecedented in the upper Midwest. To celebrate these fortuitous weather patterns, I am baking foods that remind me of the spring season.
In partnership with King Arthur Flour, each month I want to challenge you with a new recipe to help you grow and develop as a baker. This month we're exploring challah. Challah is a Jewish bread that is served on the Sabbath and other Jewish holidays. The soft bread is enriched with eggs and olive oil to bring color and flavor. It is reminiscent of brioche, which uses fewer eggs and butter instead of oil. With a hint of honey for sweetness, challah is a mildly decadent bread—great for soaking up gravy and even better for making French toast.
To start, the liquid ingredients—water, yeast, olive oil, honey, eggs—whisked together. The flour and salt are gradually added and stirred in with a bowl scraper. I prefer to use all-purpose flour because it creates a loaf with a soft and tender interior. When the dough looks shaggy, turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and bring it into a ball.
To knead, use the heel of your hand to push the dough downwards at an angle to stretch it away from you. Rotate the dough 90 degrees, fold it in half, and repeat the process. As the dough is kneaded, you will be able to feel the dough firm up as the gluten forms. After 5-10 minutes of kneading by hand, the dough will begin to feel elastic and spring back under your touch. When it has the appearance of the dough shown in the photograph in the top left, it is ready for the first rise.
I prefer to knead by hand to feel the texture of the dough change, but the dough can also be kneaded using a stand mixer on low speed with a dough hook attachment. Place in a bowl, cover, and allow to rise for 1 1/2 to 2 hours, or until doubled in size.
When the dough has risen, divide it into four equal pieces. Shape these pieces into logs. Then, using your hands, start in the middle of each log and apply pressure with the heels of your hands, rolling the dough back and forth. Gradually move your hands towards the ends of the log to stretch out the shape. The process should be repeated until each log is 16 inches in length and approximately 1 inch wide. Take the ends of the strands and pinch them together to start forming the loaf.
While challah can be braided into 3-, 4-, 5-, or 6-strand braids, I will be showing you the 4-strand braid. The extra strand gives the loaf a unique, braided appearance I enjoy. However, if you are interested in other strand braids, there are many tutorials available online.
To help illustrate the process, the dough strands will be labeled 1 through 4, where 1 is always located on the far left. The numbers indicate the position of the strands; it will not be necessary to remember which number originally applied to each strand. Once the tops of each strand have been firmly pinched together, take strand 1 (far left) and place it between strands 3 and 4. Please note that all strands will cross over the top of the others; they will never cross underneath.
Strand 2 is placed between strands 3 and 4.
Strand 4 is placed between strands 1 and 2.
The process is then repeated. Strand 1 is placed between strands 3 and 4 again.
Keep following this pattern until the strands have been braided. Pinch the remaining ends of the strands together and tuck under the loaf.
The loaf is brushed with an egg wash, which will give it a deep golden color when baking. Sesame and poppy seeds are sprinkled heavily over the top for flavor and visual interest. The seeds stick well to the egg wash, keeping them firmly attached to the bread (especially while cutting and toasting and eating).
The bread bakes for approximately 35 minutes. When the bread has browned to your liking (around the 20-minute mark), tent aluminum foil over the bread to prevent further browning. This is one of the tricks for getting a perfectly golden loaf each time.
Challah is a classic Jewish bread enriched with eggs, olive oil, and honey. The loaf has a soft, tender interior with a browned crust. Often braided and sprinkled with seeds, it is a bread made to grace the dinner table. Challah is great as a side for soup and gravies, or simply spread with butter and jam. If your challah lasts several days, turn the remaining slices into French toast—trust me, it's divine.
One Year Ago: Chocolate Orange Cake and Blackberry Coconut Scones
Two Years Ago: Almond Cake and Peanut Butter Chocolate Frosted Cake
Three Years Ago: Lavender Lemon Shortbread, Lemon Pudding Cake, Grapefruit Margarita, Chocolate Oat Muffins, & Chocolate Chip Oatmeal Raisin Cookies
Four Years Ago: Cinnamon Sugar Muffins, Caramel Sauce, Rum Raisin Ice Cream, Butternut Squash & Spinach Tart, Chocolate Toffee Scones, Rosemary Crackers, Grapefruit Cake, and Chocolate Caramel Crispy Bars
Five Years Ago: Chocolate Coffee Cake, Meyer Lemon Curd, Lemon Chocolate Tart, PB Swirled Brownies, Coconut Cream Cupcakes, Yeasted Waffles, Italian Popcorn, and PB Chocolate Chip Cookies
Yields 1 large loaf
3/4 cup (177 mL) lukewarm water
2 1/4 teaspoons (7 grams) active dry yeast
1/3 cup (80 mL) olive oil
1/4 cup (85 grams) honey
2 large eggs
1 1/2 teaspoons (9 grams) salt
4 cups (480 grams) King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
In a large bowl, whisk together the water, yeast, olive oil, honey, eggs, and salt. Gradually add the flour and stir with a bowl scraper until combined.
Turn out onto a lightly floured surface and knead the dough for 5-10 minutes, or until elastic in appearance. Place into a lightly greased bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and allow to rise in a warm place for 1 1/2 to 2 hours, or until doubled in size.
Turn out dough onto a clean surface and divide into 4 even pieces and shape into logs. Using your hands, roll each log into a 16 inch- long rope. To create a 4-strand braid, pinch all four strands together at the top. From left to right, number the location of the strands 1-4. Cross strand 1 over strand 3. Cross strand 2 over strand 3. Cross strand 4 over strand 2. Repeat until you have reached the ends and pinch the loose ends together. Cover loaf with a clean towel and allow to rise an additional 30-45 minutes, or until doubled in size.
Preheat oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C).
To create the egg wash, whisk together the large egg and water. Brush over risen loaf. Sprinkle with sesame and poppy seeds until covered.
Bake for 20 minutes. Tent aluminum foil over the loaf to prevent over-browning and continue baking for another 15-20 minutes. The loaf will appear golden brown and should reach an internal temperature of 195 degrees F (90 degrees C) when done.
This post is sponsored through a partnership with King Arthur Flour. All thoughts and opinions are my own.