Challah

Preparation info

  • Difficulty

    Medium

  • Makes

    1

    large loaf

Appears in

Making Bread at Home

Making Bread at Home

By Tom Jaine

Published 2005

  • About

Challah is bread for the Jewish sabbath: a luxury wheaten loaf to mark the holy day, to set it apart from the incessant work of the rest of the week - and a daily diet of dark rye bread. Bread holds the key to much religious symbolism for Jews as for other communities. Challah was the dough set apart and given to the priests. This symbolic gift is still re-enacted - by the breadmaker of the house, or by the commercial baker. A portion of dough is abstracted before the final loaf is shaped, it is blessed and then burned to a cinder in the oven. In Middle Eastern cultures, the same ritual is thought to ward off the evil eye.

Challah is usually a braided or plaited loaf, witness perhaps to a medieval German origin of the bread we eat today (compare the Swiss Plaited Loaf), but this coiled shape is also traditional for the celebration of the Jewish New Year - its roundness symbolizing the fullness of time.

The luxury implicit in the bread is gained from butter and eggs (though not all recipes have these). A golden colour inside and out - has also been ever popular. Some bakers add saffron to the dough to accentuate this.

Ingredients

  • 2 eggs and tepid water in a jug, to measure in total 225 ml/8 fl oz
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 15 g/½ oz fresh yeast
  • 450 g/1 lb unbleached white bread flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 60 g/2 oz unsalted butter
  • 1 egg yolk beaten with a little water for glaze
  • 1 teaspoon poppy seeds or sesame seeds (optional)

Method

  1. Put the eggs and tepid water in a bowl, add the honey and yeast, and stir to dissolve. Mix the flour and salt in a bowl and rub in the butter. Make a well in the centre and pour in the yeast liquid. Mix to a soft dough, then knead on a lightly floured work surface for 5 minutes.
  2. Place the dough in a bowl with a piece of oiled clingfilm pressed to the surface, to prevent skinning, and leave to rise at room temperature for about 3 hours.
  3. Turn out on to the lightly floured work surface and knead for 5 minutes. Return the dough to the bowl, cover again and leave to rise a second time in the warm (26°C/80°F) for between 1 and 2 hours, until at least doubled in size.
  4. For the final shaping, gently roll the dough into a sausage about 40-50 cm/16-20 inches long, taking care not to tear the skin on the ‘top’ side and showing no joins from the turning and rolling. Make a simple coil, pinching the end to hold the shape in the oven. Place on a greased baking sheet, cover with oiled clingfilm and prove at 26°C/80°F for about 1 hour. Meanwhile, heat the oven to 200°C/400°F/gas 6.
  5. Brush the loaf with the egg yolk glaze and scatter with the poppy or sesame seeds, if using. Bake on the middle shelf of the oven for 30-40 minutes. It should feel very light and sound hollow when tapped. Cool on a wire rack.