When we first published the article called “Heavenly Bread” in Kosher Inspired, Issue 6, September 2011, we got so many rave reviews that we decided to publish it here again. Wherever I went women where telling me which recipe they had tried, and which one their families enjoyed most. What most inspired me where the phone calls and emails from the people who told me that the article had encouraged them to bake challah for the very first time. As I write in the article below, separating challah is a commandment treasured by Jewish women, who can take this opportunity to pray for matters close to their heart.
We all know that taking challah is one of the three special mitzvos Jewish women have treasured for thousands of years. We also know that attempting to make a great challah can be daunting to new bakers, and can even leave some seasoned bakers hiding behind
their mixing bowls.
I clearly recall the scene in my first kitchen, as my friend and I — both of us newly married — decided to attempt making challah for Shabbos. (Her father owns a bakery — I choose my friends carefully.) We bought a huge mixing bowl and faithfully
followed the recipe. One hour later, we sat wearily in our seats. Faigy eyed the dough warily, looked around the kitchen, and echoed my thoughts exactly: “Has it been snowing in here?”
Dedicated as we were, eight hours later, the house smelled great, the challah tasted so-so, and we were thoroughly worn out from the day’s adventure. When the next Thursday came around, I sent my husband to the bakery, convinced that baking
was just not for me.
Fast forward a few years and many neighbors later. I was sitting in an old friend’s apartment as she made challah dough in her Bosch bread bowl. It looked so easy. Two mixers and many years later, I am a confident, happy, and addicted challah baker. It’s not even the taste of the bread that compels me to bake. Rather, it’s the very basic act of making something from scratch, with all the meaning attached and the homey results pervading my home.
Each Friday, my children braid the dough in original and daring designs of their own, while I spend less than fifteen minutes of active time on the whole challah process from beginning to end, with minimal mess. I use the special opportunity to daven for myself and others — call me sentimental, but isn’t davening what what we women do best? — and I like to think of the brachah that is spreading through my house as the smell of freshly baking challah permeates it so completely.
A quick glance at any bakery shelf will attest to the varying preferences that people have for challah. Whether you make your choice because of health, taste, or texture, I have tried to provide you with a variety that will hopefully cover all tastes. Baking challah, or any bread, is really the result of a delicate chemical reaction of the yeast with sugar, flour, salt, and other ingredients. The exact same recipe made in two different kitchens will likely vary, and even the amount of bacteria in the air can create a difference. These recipes, though, are tried and proven; they are guaranteed to be delicious, even as they turn out unique to each baker.
If you don’t yet know the magic of making your own challah, I invite you into my kitchen. Try any of these recipes that bring the taste of Shabbos into my home, and let them do the same for you!
Below is a list of excellent bread and challah recipes. Let us know what you liked best…..
Water Challah by Estee Kafra
Whole Wheat Herb Pull-Aparts by Estee Kafra
Authentic Multigrain Challah by Estee Kafra
Gluten-Free Oat Challah by Sharon Matten
Sweet Raisin Challah by Estee Kafra
Honey Quinoa Rolls by Sima Feiger
Italian Twist by Brynie Greisman
Whole Wheat Onion Rolls by Estee Kafra
Butternut Squash Bread by Daphna Rabinovitch
Dairy Dinner Rolls by Estee Kafra
Original New York Bagels by Estee Kafra
Norene's Prize Winning Challah by Norene Gilletz
Tip and Tricks for Challah:
A perfect challah dough is one that is quite moist, but dry enough not to stick to the sides of the mixer. If your dough seems too dry, add water, 2–3 tablespoons at a time, until it is a bit sticky to the touch.
If using challah pans, remove the challos from the pans within two minutes of removing from the oven, and place sideways on a paper towel or a clean dishtowel to prevent the bottoms from getting soft or soggy.
Always make sure your challah is completely cool before packaging it so that the crust will stay crispy. It can stay out for at least six hours after baking.
Fake braid: This little trick only works in a challah pan, but is a great way to create a real-looking challah when you’re short on time. Make two smaller balls and two larger balls. Place the large ones in the center of the pan and the smaller ones on either side. Let them rise and bake as per instructions.
Crust: Over the years I have tried making challah crust in many different ways, and each one has created its own result. I have found that a whole egg beaten will create a lighter-colored crust. Adding water to the egg helps make the mixture smooth and makes it easier to brush onto the dough. If you add a bit of sugar to the mixture, it will create a brown, firm, and slightly sweet crust. However, my favorite method is one egg yolk mixed with one tablespoon of water. This creates a shiny crust that is not too thick. Lately, I have started brushing this mix onto the loaves as soon as I am done braiding, before they rise. This prevents the risen loaves from deflating from the touch of the brush, and also gives me more flexibility as I know that if I have to go out, someone else can put the challos into the oven. Any seeds can be added before the rising as well.
HINT: If the loaves look like they’ll grow together, simply tear a strip of parchment paper and stick it between the loaves.
It won’t help the shape, but at least they won’t stick together.