My Israeli aunt, who is a baker, was a guest in our house for a week a couple of weeks ago. We were busy enjoying the area, so we didn’t have too much time to spend in the kitchen. But don’t worry, I still managed to gain 17lb that shall stick to my mid-section from now till the end of times.
And I blame it all on the Challah Bread.
In the week that she was here, we managed to make two batches of Challah bread that produced fourteen smaller loaves and four larger loaves.
Yup, that is eighteen loaves of Challah.
This because I faked a problem with my camera the first time we made Challah and insisted that we had to make another batch so I can take additional photos to share with you, my reader.
Thank you for being there for me in this hard time.
Anyway, I didn’t want just to give you another Challah bread recipe, you can find a gazillion of those online and they are probably all very good. I thought it would be nicer to share a couple of tricks and techniques from the professional with you. Still, the recipe we used is at the end of this post for you to print if you want.
First, sift your flour into a large bowl. Then, add the rest of the ingredients; yeast, eggs, canola oil, salt, and sugar.
In Israel, most of the recipes list quantities in grams. My aunt doesn’t use a single measuring spoon or cup. Instead, she places the large bowl on a kitchen scale, then zero the scale (press the TARE button). She adds the right amount of flour; let’s say 1 kg, then zero the scale again. She adds 20 g yeast, then zero the scale. She adds 80 g canola oil, then zero the scale. And so on and so on.
This trick is so useful. If she caters to 100 people and prepares many kinds of different baked goods, she never needs to wash measuring cups and spoons over and over again. It saves time and water since you have much fewer dishes to wash.
I wrote the recipe bellow like most recipes in America (cups and teaspoons measurements), but also in grams like it is in Israel if you want to try and work this way.
After you add all the ingredients to the bowl, start adding the water. The recipe calls for 2.5 cups, but the professionals never just add the whole amount. Instead, Nava adds a little bit at a time while working the dough with one hand until all the ingredients are incorporated into a ball of dough. Next, transfer the dough to a working surface.
You can easily make Challah in your mixer with a dough hook (knead for 8-10 minutes). I don’t have a mixer, so Nava showed me the right way to work the dough by hand.
You hold the part of the dough that is closer to you with one hand and with the other you stretch the dough forward, practically tearing it apart. No mercy here.
Then, you roll the dough back towards you…
And stretch it forward again. Roll it back in, and forward again. If the dough is too sticky, add a bit of flour, but not too much, so the dough doesn’t get dry.
After about eight minutes, the dough will become smooth and soft to the touch.
Place it back in the bowl and, with a sharp knife, cut an X on the top. This will allow the dough to rise easily.
Dust the dough with a bit of flour…
Cover with a plastic bag and a kitchen towel, and set in a warm place to rise for 40 minutes.
Here is how to check if your dough had risen enough (you can do this with any yeast dough). Stick your finger in the dough…
Transfer the dough back into a work surface dusted with flour and flatten the dough. Now, start dividing it. The easiest thing to do is divide the dough into three equal parts and make three large loaves. However, you can divide the dough any way you want.
Weight each piece of dough to make sure they are equal in size. Then work each piece of dough into a ball. The dough will be very smooth and soft at this stage, it shouldn’t be sticky at all.
We divided this batch to seven smaller balls (100 g each), and two larger balls.
Now to the fun part!
We are going right ahead into braiding the dough, no need to let it rise a second time here. We’ll let it rise again after we braid it. I am showing you here the smaller loaves we made, but you do exactly the same for the larger loaves, it was just easier to photograph the smaller ones.
So take one ball and flatten it…
Then work it into a dough ‘snake’, as my kids say.
(Excuse my dining room table… It is used for homeschooling as well, and the evidence is obvious… This paint is refusing to leave for months now.)
Now, don’t get frustrated here. What will happen is that you’ll try to stretch and roll the dough into strands, but it will keep bouncing back. It will refuse to stretch. So you always work with two pieces of dough. You work one a little bit, then let it rest and work on the other one. You let the second one rest and go back on working the first one. You’ll do that a couple of times, and you’ll get your strands. Making strands of dough is the beginning point of all the five different braiding techniques.
Ok, first braiding technique… The Ring (please note, I totally made this name up and the ones following it. I have no clue if those techniques have a professional name).
Shape the long piece of dough into a breast cancer awareness symbol…
Then take each one of the ends and wrap it around one side of the upper loop…
Until they meet. Pinch the ends together…
And voila! You have your first braided loaf ready. That was easy, right?
Set it aside on a baking sheet.
Ok, next. Here is the second braiding technique… The Rose.
Again, you start with one long piece of dough. Lift this piece from the center…
So you have two equal lengths dangling in the air…
Next, wrap them around each other…
Set it on the table and — starting with the closed end — roll the dough around itself.
Tuck the end underneath the ‘rose’ and set on a baking sheet. This technique might be my favorite one. It ‘s beautiful to do a big loaf this way.
Third braiding technique… The Fake Eight.
Again, start with one long piece and shape it into somewhat of a breast cancer awareness symbol but this time the loop should be smaller and one end shorter than the other one.
Next, tuck the tip of the longer end into the loop…
Twist the new loop that was created after the previous step…
And lastly, tack the shorter end into the hole from underneath.
Here are the three we did so far. Don’t you feel like going to make bread now? Wait! We have two more braiding techniques to go.
Forth braiding technique… The 3D Braid.
For this one, you will need two long dough strands. Set one horizontally in front of you, then set the second one vertically to cross the horizontal strand. This was just an unclear way to say make a + sign.
After you make the + sign, press the center of the + to connect both strands.
Start with the lower strand (in this case it is the horizontal one). Lift the two ends and change their position. So now the end that was on the right is on the left, and the one that was on the left is on the right.
Do the same thing with the second strand…
Then, go back to the first. Keep changing the sides of the strands and moving between the first strand to the second one. Make sure to pinch the ends of the strands together .
Here is what you get. It’s pretty much a 3D braid, and I love it!
Fifth technique… The Simple Pretzel.
This strand should be fatter and shorter than the other ones.
Nothing much to explain here. You simply tie the strand into a pretzel.
Now look at that! I bet your kids will love it. Your husband too.
Now that all the loaves are on a baking sheet beat one egg and brush the loaves with it.
Sprinkle some sesame and set the loaves in a warm place, uncovered, to rise for about 35 minutes.
Heat your oven to 375F but once you place the loaves in the oven reduce the temperature to 350F. Bake until golden, 35 minutes or so for the smaller loaves and 45 minutes or so for the larger loaves.
Your whole extended family might come for dinner. Don’t blame me, it’s all Nava’s fault!