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Challah at home

(article, Ronnie Fein)

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It took me ages to work out the family challah recipe. My grandma, like most other women her age, assumed everyone knew how to cook. She never measured ingredients, and she certainly never wrote down instructions. After all, who needs instructions?

I do. 


h1.Featured recipe


I need measurements, too. Because I wasn’t from that generation, and I don't know how to do it all. 

Grandma's challah was the most awesome-tasting bread anywhere, anytime. It was even an award-winner, garnering her $10 from her synagogue. So it was a bread definitely worth learning to make. 

She did, finally, write something down: “8 hands flour, ½ hand sugar.” Like that. A note that gives rise to more questions than answers, chief among them: Were her hands as big as mine? 

[%image challah float=center width=600 caption="Ronnie's challah."]

I won’t bore you with all the details of my trials and triumphs. Suffice it to say, it took me a while, but I worked it out.

Unfortunately, all I could master was a three-braid bread, which didn’t look as professional as the bakery kind. So even after all that work, I was not yet baking my ideal loaf.

I went to a local bakery for a lesson, but the baker was really more interested in showing me how fast he could do it, so I learned nothing. Then I went on YouTube and stopped the instructor every few seconds by pausing my computer and getting flour dust all over the keyboard. \[Editor's note: We found a Vimeo video that explains this technique pretty well.\]

Then I wrote it all down and made it as simple as I could: measurements plus instructions for Ronnie's Family's Award-Winning Six-Strand Challah.

It helps if you have a durable electric stand mixer with a dough-hook attachment or a food processor. You could also knead the dough in a bread machine or do it the old-fashioned way: by hand. 

The trick is to make sure the dough is soft and smooth; not sticky, but also not too firm. Add the last half to full cup of flour gradually, so you can judge the dough little by little, until it feels right.

This recipe makes a very large bread, which I always need. You can cut the recipe in half for a standard-size challah (you'll need to cut the baking time, too, down to about 22 to 25 minutes). But I wouldn’t. Because if you have leftovers, challah is the very best bread you can use to make French toast.

My Grandma’s Challah

Yield: 1 large loaf

You can make this dough in a food processor, but to do so, you'll have to halve the recipe.

2 packages active dry yeast
½ cup warm water (105 to 110 degrees)
½ cup sugar
8 to 8½ cups all-purpose flour
1 Tbsp. salt
5 large eggs
3 Tbsp. vegetable oil
1½ cups lukewarm water (about 100 degrees)
1 tsp. water
Poppy seeds or sesame seeds (optional)

In a small bowl, mix the yeast, warm water, ½ teaspoon of the sugar, and a pinch of flour. Stir, set aside, and let rest for 5 minutes, or until the mixture is bubbly.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, combine 7½ cups flour with the remaining sugar and the salt. In a small bowl, mix 4 of the eggs, the vegetable oil, and the lukewarm water. Add to the flour mixture. Now add the yeast mixture.

Blend the ingredients thoroughly. Using the kneading hook, knead for 4 to 5 minutes, or until the dough is smooth and elastic, adding more flour as necessary to make sure the dough is not sticky.

Cover the bowl of dough and put it in a warm place to rise for about 1½ hours, or until it has doubled in bulk. Punch down the dough, cover the bowl, and let it rise again for about 30 minutes, or until doubled.

Remove the dough to a floured surface. Cut the dough in six equal pieces. Make long strands out of the pieces. Braid the strands (see Note, below) and press the ends to seal them completely. Place the braided dough on a lightly greased cookie sheet.

Beat the last egg with the teaspoon of water. Brush this over the surface of the bread. Sprinkle with the seeds if desired. Let rise again for 30 minutes.

While the challah is rising for the final time, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Bake the challah for about 30 minutes, or until well risen and golden brown.

h4.Braiding a six-strand challah:

Place the six strands in front of you and gather them at the top end. Press down and seal the six strands at the top so it looks like a lump of dough with six strands coming down. Looking at the strands, proceed as follows:

# Place the far-right strand all the way over to the left
# Place the former far-left strand all the way over to the right
# Place the now far-left strand into the middle
# Place the second strand from the right to the far left
# Place the now far-right strand into the middle
# Place the second from left to far right
# Now place the far left into the middle
# Repeat steps 4 through 7 — and you're done!

p(bio). A former Dinner Guest Blogger for Culinate, Ronnie Fein is a cookbook author and cooking teacher in Stamford, Connecticut. Her latest book is Hip Kosher. Visit her food blog, Kitchen Vignettes, and follow her on Twitter at @RonnieVFein.

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