Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Bake Your Own Challah

Today's post is different from my usual, picture-only posts.  My baking friend Hanaa  invited me to be a guest blogger at their ABC baking club and bake a challah using Flo Baker's recipe from the book Baking for All Occasions.  Since fondant decorations is what I enjoy most, I blended the two and this is the creation I took to a Christmas Eve-Shabat Dinner with friends.

I've been baking my own challah for many years now, using a different recipe, and was happy to try out a new one.  Home baked challah is superb.  I have yet to taste a store bought one that tastes better than a homemade one, but it is so easy and accessible to buy one where I live, that many times I find myself succumbing to temptation and buying a challah on a busy Friday morning... gasp!  The inevitable: "You didn't bake the challah today, did you?" never fails to follow when I do so and yet the temptation  remains.  So my take is: I need the challah recipe to be as simple as possible.
In order to be able to compare the two recipes, I needed to make a few adjustments to this recipe, which I tried to follow as close as possible.

The Ingredients
I like to have everything out and ready so that proceeding from one step to the other is quick and smooth.

I love that all the dry ingredients are just poured into the food processor, including the yeast!  It is the first time that I see that active dry yeast (as opposed to instant) is added straight out of the packet and not proofed or dissolved first.  For this tip alone it was worthwhile for me to discover this recipe!

I used the steel blade instead of the plastic dough blade because that is what I generally use when making dough in the food processor.  (The real reason is that I couldn't find the plastic one and didn't try too hard to look for it either because the steel blade one does the job well).

I added the water/oil combo and then the eggs.
The dough is too sticky, I need to add more flour

1 Tbs was enough. A ball has formed around the blade, the dough is ready to be taken out

I let the dough rest a bit before kneading it.  Yeast doughs like that. I on the other hand, continue to work and use this time to clean the food processor.
kneading the dough for about a minute
Out of habit, I poured a spoonful of oil into a bowl, coated the dough with the oil, covered the bowl with it's cover (I like to be "green" when I can) and put it aside to rise.  With whole wheat flour, it takes longer to rise than pure white flour.

I like to poke my finger in properly to make a little belly button , rather than make just a small dimple.  It's fun.  If the belly button stays, it is ready to be punched down.  Punching down the bread is the real reason I bake bread.  Although you need to be gentle, it is very satisfying to punch the dough, even if the term "deflate" is used rather than punch :-)

The dough likes to rest after this stage as well. It will cooperate better when I roll it out and braid it if it has rested for a minute or so, so we take another short break from each other and then proceed.

I wanted today's challah to be festive, so after braiding it I shaped it into a wreath around a small oven-proof dish. I also made a little one for quality control because  I wanted to compare Flo's method of brushing the challah with egg three times, as opposed to just once, just before putting them into the oven. I also knew I wouldn't be able to bear the suspense of waiting till the evening to taste it.  

before the second rising

The mini challah

The festive challah.  Oops, it opened at the seam.  I guess I'll need a fondant bow there.

There wasn't enough of a difference to justify the extra work of brushing the challah three times.  I will stick to my method of brushing and sprinkling seeds just once, before going into the oven.

My challah is ready to be decorated.

My theme for today was a Christmas Eve Shabat dinner, and so I chose to make a "Jewish" Santa.  The little bowl (which can stay with the hosts as an additional gift) can be filled with anything: honey for Rosh HaShana, raisins, salt for doing "Hamotzi", nuts etc. etc. 

Thought and Tips:

  • Changes I made to the recipe:
    • I didn't have extra-large eggs on hand, just large ones, so I chose the three smallest large-sized eggs instead of two.
    • I used olive oil instead of canola.  I like to think it's healthier.  Also we got a HUGE 30lb tin of olive oil from a friend in Greece which will never get finished if I don't use olive oil for everything, except for cakes!
    • I used unbleached all-purpose flour, and replaced about 1/3 of that with whole wheat flour.
  • The dough was heavenly to the touch and a pleasure to work with.
  • Taste-wise: my husband, son, and friends all loved the taste and texture.
  • I found the recipe to be just a little bit too complex.  I prefer the method of pouring the oil and the eggs in first and only then water.  Then, if I pour just as much water as the dough needs, I can omit the step of adding the extra Tbs of flour.  This may have an effect on the lovely texture of the dough, but when baking challah, I still prefer simplicity to anything else, as long as it doesn't compromise the taste.         I also prefer to brush the challah just once with egg, and sprinkle sesame seeds only once.  Again for the sake of simplicity.
  • I have a dedicated dishtowel for covering yeast doughs that are put aside to rise.  I rarely wash it, just shake it out after each use and put it in the oven drawer.  This is both "green" but also nicer to use than plastic.  I couldn't use it this time because of the egg wash.
  • Discovering the method of pouring in the yeast like a regular dry ingredient is a revelation which I will happily use from now to eternity.
  • Once you get the hang of baking challah, it really is very easy and very satisfying.  However, if you'd like me to bake and decorate one for you, for yourself or to give as a gift, I'm happy to do so!

Comments and questions are more than welome.  Check out the ABC blog roll for other bakers' tips.


  1. Thanks for baking along with me this month. Your Challah wreath and mini Challah look beautiful. The fondant Santa is super cute. I’m glad you and your family enjoyed this recipe and that you loved the yeast trick. I always use instant yeast instead of active dry yeast so I never have to proof my yeast in water :o) If you want to get rid of some olive oil, you know where I live. Just send it over :o) I recently tried some Kalamata olive oil from Greece and it was very tasty. We brought back some from Morocco and it’s the best olive oil I’ve ever had!!

  2. Thanks Hanaa for inviting me...
    For some reason I haven't been able to find instant yeast recently. I alway prefer that as well, but now that I know that a.d. yeast works just as well I will stick to that because I can buy it in a jar and use exactly the amount I need.
    I'm happy to join your "club" at other times if you bake something you think will interest me!

  3. You know, I always list our upcoming recipe on the right hand side of the ABC blog (avidbakerschallenge.blogspot.com). Check it out from time to time, and let me know if you see anything that interests you.

  4. What a lovely execution and Christmassy edition of Challah. Real fun!

  5. Anat,
    I saw that you love making homemade pizza...so do I. And just as scrumptious as the Challah!


  6. @Hanaa - I will. Thank you.
    @Baking Soda (love your name!) - thanks!
    @ Virginia - what is your favorite pizza dough recipe? Mine is from "The working parents" cookbook by Jeff and Jodie Morgan. The crust is very crispy, just the way I like it. The secret ingredient they use is 1/2 cup of high gluten flour (to 2 cups of all purpose)
    Thanks to all of you for dropping by!

  7. In Turkish there is a comment on a "successful domestic endeavour:
    "Elenize Sa'alik" - which translate literarily to " the product of your hands
    are commendable". In effect it is a supreme compliment to e.g.
    a deed well done, a great meal and yes the baking of a Chala for Christmas....

    In simple English - impressive.