Growing up, there was one option for challah in town: that was Shalom's, the kosher supermarket in Wheaton, MD. Every Friday my mom would swing by Brookville supermarket and pick up two challot, which were delivered from Shalom's that morning. The challah was truly uneventful: it was never dense enough, far too airy, not sweet or eggy, and usually even a bit crumbly. A lame excuse for challah, if you ask me.
My mother started making her own around the time I left the house, and she's never gone back. Before she had the kitchenaid, she did it all by hand, which is actually less time-consuming and labor intensive than one might think. Now that she has the kitchenaid, challah is a snap to make.
Over the years, I've collected three fantastic recipes for challah. I make each with some regularity, but my mother's recipe is a standout. First off, the basic recipe makes 2 very small challot, or 1 very large one, which is perfect for me, since I often cook for two and don't need all that extra bread lying around. (Not that D or I would object to Sunday morning french toast....) Second, it's just sweet enough without being cloying. Third, it's very easy to substitute some whole wheat flour and wheat gluten for white flour, which makes for a healthier, more rustic loaf of bread. And finally, she's my mom. Moms' recipes are best.
A warning about this challah. Once, I was bringing challah to a meal for 17 people, and I made three loaves; traditionally, the challah is served at the beginning of the meal, while everyone's still hungry, so it tends to go quickly. Sure enough, we sat down to dinner and within an instant, both loaves were entirely devoured. I offered to bring out the third, but everyone said they had had enough and didn't want more. They continued to resist at my urging, so I left well enough alone. After dinner, people had moved toward the couch to schmooze, and I went into the kitchen to help clean up....and found three girls holding the third challah between them, ripping off big pieces and devouring the loaf as though dinner had never happened.
Yep, this stuff is pretty addictive. It ain't no subwayeatfresh, but it's close.
makes 2 small challot; double if you're having company
directions for a kitchenaid are in italics
see end of post for whole-wheat substitution instructions.
1/2 cup warm water
1 packet (2-1/2 tsp.) yeast
3 c. flour
1/4 cup plus a few Tbsp sugar
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1/4 cup water
1. Put 1/2 cup warm water in a small bowl. Add the tsp. of sugar, sprinkle the yeast overtop, and leave it to proof for five minutes (just to make sure the yeast is alive).
2. Mix flour, salt, and 1/4 cup plus few Tbsp. sugar in a large bowl (or in a kitchenaid bowl fitted with the dough hook.) Stir to incorporate or blend on low speed.
3. While yeast is proofing, mix wet ingredients together.
4. Add yeast mixture to the flour; add wet ingredients to the bowl, and mix or blend on low-medium.
5. Knead the dough for about ten minutes, until everything is well incorporated. Add flour by the Tbsp, with a light hand, until dough is stretchy but not sticky. Blend on low-medium until dough comes together. Make sure flour at the very bottom of the bowl gets incorporated as well; this usually entails some incorporation by hand.)
6. Cover the dough, in its original bowl, with a moist towel. If you have to, use plastic wrap and cover loosely.
7. You have two choices for the rise: either leave the dough to rise for one hour, or (as I do) let it rise twice, for 45 minutes each, with a punch-down between rises.
8. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
9. After the rise(s), the dough should be soft and more flexible than before. Separate dough into three (six if using a double recipe). Roll each ball into a log almost 1-foot long. Braid the logs together to create your loaf. Trick: I start in the middle and do not pinch the top ends together before starting. After I've braided from halfway down to the bottom of the loaf, I turn the loaf over and upside down, and braid the other half. This way, both ends look identical. Tuck the ends beneath the loaf when braiding is finished.
10. Put each loaf on its own baking sheet; brush with egg wash, if desired.
11. Bake at 375 degrees for 20-22 minutes, until challot are golden and baked through.
Serve warm or at room temperature.
**For whole wheat flour, use the same amount as white, but add one Tbsp. wheat gluten for every cup of flour. This ensures that the bread will have that same chewy but soft texture as with white flour. You can find wheat gluten at wholefoods or Trader Joes -- and perhaps at your local supermarket as well. As for which whole wheat flour, my mom recommends King Arthur organic white whole wheat flour: in her words, "it gives the white bread consistency with whole wheat nutrition."