Sunday, September 13, 2009

HEAVENLY CHALLAH


I think we have the best challah in our house. My husband, who is also a professional chef, is in charge of making the challot. I know what you are thinking. You are thinking that I am just proud and kvelling about my husband’s challah because…well, because he is my husband. Yes and no! I am proud of the challah that he makes and that I am the spouse of someone who can create “divine” loaves. But, I am especially proud that he bakes challot with soul. Dennis’ challot are dense, chewy, honey flavored and gorgeous. He spends a lot of time on them and plots out his designs every year.

Last year he did this funky tricked out challot. He braided the loaves, wrapped them in coils and took scissors and snipped pieces of dough all around so that the challot appeared spiky and feathered. When they baked, the spiky ends became browned and crispy and stood out. Really cool! Sometimes he goes for the simple braid or coil, but even then he really gets into it.

Dennis uses a combination of whole-wheat flour and white flour. The whole-wheat flour adds a nutty flavor and density to the challah. We use honey, usually raw honey, instead of sugar and oil, NEVER margarine. For the holiday challot we use a combination of raisins, dried apricots, dates and figs. You can also add dried cranberries, cherries or whatever you like.

Last week I wrote about some serious bread problems in Chicago. I am no less troubled about the state of decent kosher bakeries today. I have been talking to friends about my recent discovery of the wretched loaves in Chicago and everyone agreed that the situation is dire. So, what are we going to do about it? I for one am never going to purchase a challah from them again. I am renewing my vow to make my own bread or simply go without. I am also offering my services to help make better breads. Call me-you know who you are

This will make 2 large loaves or 4 small loaves.

1 1/2 cups tepid water
1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
1 tablespoon yeast
1/3 cup honey
3 eggs
1/2 cup oil
2 teaspoons salt
1 to 1 1/2 cups chopped dried fruit or raisins
4 cups (approx.) AP flour


Egg Wash
2 egg yolks
¼ cup water
Whisk together and set aside
Optional toppings: Poppy seeds, sesame seeds, Charnushka seeds


1. Make a sponge: Place the tepid water, whole-wheat flour and yeast in a large mixing bowl or in a bowl that attaches to a mixer. Stir this mixture together or do like we do and use your hands and really get in there and mush it together. Cover the mixture and allow it sit in a warm place for 30 minutes.
2. Add the rest of the ingredients adding only enough flour until the mixture is not wet and sticky. You many not need the entire 4 cups of flour. Knead the dough for 5 minutes until the dough is supple and smooth. Cover and let it rest for at least one hour or store the dough wrapped tightly over night in the refrigerator.
3. Shape the dough into your favorite loaf. Place the loaves on a lightly greases sheet pan. Cover with a clean towel and let rise for two hours.
4. Brush the loaves with the egg wash and sprinkle with seeds if using and bake in a preheated 350 oven until the challot are browned and make a hollow sound when tapped on the bottom (about 30-45 minutes).
5. Let the challot sit for at least one hour before cutting it. The baking process continues for 20 minutes after the bread is removed from the oven. Steam continues cooking the bread and making it dense and moist. Cutting the crust would allow the steam to escape.

Challot can be baked and stored, covered overnight at room temperature (not in the refrigerator) or can be frozen for one month.

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