Today’s recipe is my family’s favorite bread, nudging out 1,2,3 Bread by a slice. I first came across Challah bread many years ago at Signe’s Bakery & Café on Hilton Head Island, SC. Signe Gardo makes many fine breads including a fantastic 8-Grain and during the holidays, a spectacular traditional Stollen with real marzipan – one of my other favorites! She is a veritable institution (36 years plus!) of breakfast and lunch deliciousness, so if you’re ever on Hilton Head Island, I highly recommend a stop here.
Challah is a rich, egg bread eaten on the Jewish Sabbath and Holidays. While I am not Jewish, I love to eat and make Challah bread. It is a fun bread to make with kids as the resulting loaf is pretty impressive (especially if you take the time to create the 4-braid loaf) and tastes great. Girly Girl could not stop eating this loaf, exclaiming, “Mommy it tastes even better today than it did yesterday!” Challah is wonderful plain, warm from the oven, apparently excellent the “next day”, and makes great French toast and bread pudding…it there’s any left for those purposes!
One can make the Challah with vegetable oil to remain Kosher, or as I did use Ghee. I’ve made the recipe both ways, this last time trying out the Ghee, which was given to me by my friend Greta over at the Herban Marketplace. Ghee is a clarified butter that is commonly used in south Asian cooking, has an amazingly long shelf life and requires no refrigeration. Ghee is a real epiphany if you enjoy the nutty richness of clarified butter and can buy an organic brand.
Replacing the vegetable oil in Challah actually makes the bread non-Kosher like I stated above, and this switcharoo means the Challah is now actually Brioche, for all intents and purposes. For any Francophiles out there; Yes, you can bake this dough in a fluted and flared tin and place a small ball of dough on top and voilà, you have classic Brioche à tête.
So today you’re getting a sort of a two-fer recipe. Hey, I’m all about value!
Challah Bread (or Brioche if using the Ghee)
Based on a recipe from King Arthur Flour
- 1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
- 1 cup water
- 2 teaspoons instant yeast (basically 1 pkg of yeast)
- All of the starter
- 3 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
- 1 3/4 tsp salt
- 1/3 cup sugar
- 1/4 cup Ghee (or vegetable oil to remain Kosher)
- 2 large eggs + 1 yolk (save 1 egg white for the wash, below)
- 1 egg white 1 teaspoon sugar
- 1 tbl water
- poppy seeds (optional)
Make the starter by mixing 1 cup flour, 1 cup water and yeast together in a large bowl. Let the mixture sit for about 45 minutes.
Add the dough ingredients to the starter and mix and knead together — by hand, or with a mixer– until a smooth, supple dough is formed. I knead mine about 3 minutes after it has come together. Place the dough in a greased bowl, turning it over once to coat it lightly with oil. Cover it and let it rise for about 60 minutes, or until it’s doubled in size.
Punch down the dough. Divide the dough into four pieces, and roll each into a snake about 18 inches long. On the lightly greased or parchment-lined sheet pan, braid a four-strand braid (see instructions below) or fashion a simpler three-strand braid.
NOTE: How To Make A Four-Strand Braid: Lay the strands side by side, and pinch them together at one end. For instruction purposes, think of the far left strand as #1, next is #2, then #3, and the far right is #4. Take the left-hand strand (#1) and move it to the right over strands #2 and #3, then tuck it back under strand #3. Take the right-hand strand (#4) and move it to the left over strands #3 and #1, then tuck it back under strand #1. Repeat this process until finished.
Make the wash by mixing together, in a small bowl, the reserved egg white, sugar, and water. Brush the loaf with this mixture, reserving some for a second wash. Cover the loaf with lightly greased plastic wrap and allow it to rise for 45 minutes to 1 hour, or until it’s almost doubled in size.
Brush the loaf with the remaining egg wash (this will give the finished loaf a beautiful, shiny crust, as well as provide “glue” for the seeds), sprinkle with poppy seeds, if desired, and bake in a preheated 375°F oven for 35 to 40 minutes, or until the Challah is lightly browned. Remove it from the oven, and cool completely before slicing.
Yield: 1 large loaf, about (16) 1-inch slices.