Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Aryeh Cooks: Challah

Challah is a traditional Jewish bread.  It is a component of Sabbath and holiday meals and is also served at weddings, bar mitzvahs and brises.  As the readers of this blog know we recently welcomed a new Lansey into the family (who also happens to be a Lansey Brother with his big brother Moshe) and yesterday was his bris.  Stacy had asked me to bake a challah for the bris and I did.

The recipe is simple:
6 Cups of flour (bread flour is better, but all purpose is fine)
2 eggs
1 and 1/8 cups of water
3/8 of a cup of oil (with the water this will be 1.5 cups of liquid)
1/3 of a cup of sugar
4 teaspoons of yeast (this is one tablespoon and one teaspoon)
2 teaspoons of salt

Take the eggs and place them in a warm cup of water (before you cracked them of course), I tend to put in new warm water every couple of minutes to make sure the eggs get warmed up.  Warm the water up in the microwave (45-60 seconds in the microwave for me, you will need to figure out this time yourself for your microwave), you want it warm but not hot.  If the water is to hot it will kill the yeast.  I heat the water up by itself so that it is easier to check its temperature without getting my finger covered in oil.  While the water is warming up mix two cups of flour with the rest of the dry ingredients (keep the rest of the flour separate).  Make a depression in the center of the dry ingredient and pour the water and oil into it and mix thoroughly.  With the eggs warmed up crack them into a cup and lightly beat them together.  Pour the beaten eggs into the dough and mix.  After the eggs are worked in add two more cups of flour and mix, you should still be able to do this with a spoon.  Now its time to start getting your hand dirty.  Add one more cup of flour and start kneading.  Then keep adding bits of flour while kneading until the dough is done, this will likely happen before you use all 6 cups of flour so don't try and force all the flour in.  The amount of flour you need will vary based upon the brand of flour whether it is bread or all purpose and even the humidity in the air.  The dough is done when it is tacky but not sticky.  This means that you can poke the dough and it will feel sticky but when you pull your finger out you don't have dough stuck to your finger.  Knead for a couple more minutes.  Take the dough and form it into a ball with a tight skin and put it into a bowl more than two times its size (so that it has space to rise).  Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and place it in the fridge.

To those of you who have had experience baking bread the last step probably seems odd.  Why would someone put bread dough in the fridge right after it is made.  Well the dough will still have enough heat in it to rise properly and then the fridge will cool it down and put the yeast to sleep.  Letting the dough sit for a long time in the fridge allows enzymes in the dough to break down the starches.  This results in a number of subtle flavor compounds that you normally don't have in bread and also reduces bitter yeast flavors.  You can leave the dough overnight or up to 3 days.

Once you have waited however long you will wait it is time to shape the dough.  Take the dough out of the fridge and lightly force the dough down, NO PUNCHING.  Punching the dough will force all the little bubbles in the dough together and you will end up with a leaden loaf, so be gentle.  At this point shape the loaf however you want.  This batch will result in two large challahs or four smaller ones.  Different shapes will result in different textures.  If you want to get a nice bready texture and don't want to start fiddling with braids just knead the dough for 5 minutes before shaping it into a simple loaf.  To glaze take one egg and mix it with two tablespoons of water and it will become very easy to brush onto the challah, just like painting.  Bake at 350 degree until it is golden brown and when you knock on it you get a hollow sound.

For Chanans bris I made a super large challah, with a 2.5 times recipe (it weighed in at 6.25 pounds before baking).
This is not the big challah of course, this was the small scale model I made to test if my design would work and look nice.  You can see my hand for scale.
This is what it looked like after it rose.
And this is what it looked like after it was baked, perfect.
First I weighed all the dough on my handy surplus lab scale (very, very, very well cleaned of course).  Then I made 13 dough balls that all weighed the same.
It is hard to roll out the snakes from a ball because as you work the gluten it stiffens up.  So you have to do it in stages with breaks in between to allow the gluten to relax.  With this many braids I was able to roll them all out bit by bit going around from first to last and then back to the first.
A little farther along.
Ready to start braiding.
I did a 5 braid challah, the pattern is 2 over 3 then 5 over 2 then 1 over 3.
First one all done.
Second one done and put next to each other.
Then I made a simple 3 braid challah.
And put it on top.
Then I let it rise.  After it rose I glazed it.

Then bake.


  1. That is hilarious - you made a SCALE MODEL to test it. What an engineer.
    It was delicious ... for anyone wondering.

  2. I also think it's hilarious that you made a scale model!
    It was delicious and incredibly impressive to look at. The pictures don't do it justice.

  3. Thirding the hilariousness of the scale model. But where is the CAD rendering? Did you forget a step?

  4. Now that you mention it, he also forgot to do structural and baking simulations. What about finding the best nominal value for various challah shape parameters?