Saturday, February 12, 2011

BBA #6: Challah

BBA: ChallahBread-of-the-week is Challah, the braided egg bread that's a part of many Jewish ceremonies. I'm not Jewish, but my sister-in-law and the kids (the next door neighbors) are, and for quite a while now I've been baking challah every Friday for SIL's Shabbat. After several years, I've settled into a version that's mostly whole-wheat, with dried cherries. Occasionally I'll try a variation like doing something special that's sweeter for Rosh Hashanah, but the usual response is that whatever I tried isn't as good as the standard. I need to do an updated post with my current recipe (thought I had, but it didn't turn up when I searched my blogs), but this is fairly close if you add in 1/3 c. of dried cherries. I've since converted the flour measures from volume to weight, but I don't think the amounts changed.

With that background, I decided to use partly whole-wheat flour in Reinhart's recipe for challah and add the dried cherries, all in an attempt to forestall the comments I knew I'd get otherwise from the family. I went with half whole wheat, as that's usually a fairly safe substitution. I had no problems with the dough coming together with the lower amount of water, but I did keep adding more during the (machine) kneading as I like a fairly moist dough. I reason that it will help plump the dried cherries, which might otherwise steal moisture from the dough. I have no scientific basis for this reasoning. <g>

BBA: ChallahThe first rise only got a little puffy in the allotted time , but there were no problems with the second rise--it started out at about 1 quart, and here has doubled that.

BBA: Challah As I mentioned on Chris's post, I like to do a 6-strand braid for my challahs. I started with the 3-strand, then moved up with a few attempts at what Reinhart uses for his Celebration Challah, a smaller 3-strand on top of a larger one. On my attempts with that, either the smaller loaf fell to the side (or just off-center) during rising or baking, and/or the smaller loaf got too hard and crusty before the larger one was done. The 6-strand method I currently use is fast to do and gives a nicely complicated pattern and a fairly round cross-section which bakes evenly. I don't like to taper my challahs severely, because the smaller ends just get overbaked. Just a little bulging in the middle is what I want.

BBA: ChallahImprovised proof box--a plastic storage box turned over the loaf. I usually use my warming oven's proof setting for bread, but am sticking to Reinhart's preferred room temperature risings.

BBA: ChallahThe crumb shot--nice textured.

Taste results: well, it didn't get tasted until about 9 PM, as SIL, nephew, and I went off to watch younger niece compete in the State high school diving meet. (She placed 12th--not bad for a freshman.) General reaction was that this challah was OK, but drier than the standard and not as flavorful. Some of the 'dry' problem might be that we usually get part of the challah eaten while still warm from the oven, which certainly boosts most any bread. However, I tasted it again this morning and still found it dry to the point that I reached for a little butter to go on it, something I never do with my standard version.

Another 'unfair comparisons' issue is that I didn't make Reinhart's recipe as written, and didn't use an equivalent proportion of whole-wheat flour as in my standard recipe. Nevertheless, I don't see any reason to abandon my standard for Reinhart's. Incidentally, early on in my attempts at challah I tried Beranbaum's from The Bread Bible, and also abandoned it. My memory is the same sort of issue--it just wasn't as rich and moist as the supermarket challahs (as I live very close to a large Jewish synagogue, the nearby supermarkets make good challah), and the recipe I now use is better. It certainly is if you like whole wheat and dried cherries!


  1. It does sound delicious. How lovely of you to make it for your family's Shabbot. Looking forward to your recipe. I had so much fun making the ABC challah.

  2. What a beautiful loaf! Love the golden-colored exterior. Thanks for including a picture of the inside. Lovely crumb indeed! What a great idea to add dried fruit to it (I personally like craisins better than cherries). I made my first Challah bread in Jan of this yr (for the ABC baking group), and loved it. Looks like there are lots of different recipes out there for it. Some have more eggs than others, diff oil amounts, etc. My Jewish friend sent me her recipe. Will have to try that some time. Yours sounds really good too. I like that you use the bread machine for the kneading. I usually do that too.

  3. @Hanaâ: traditional addition is raisins, at least that's the most common type I see at the grocery store (besides plain). I like a raisin challah, but several of the folks next door have unreasonable prejudices against them. We've settled on the cherries instead.

    I misled you about the kneading--I'm doing it in the KitchenAid mixer, not my bread machine. I'm always reading the King Arthur Flour blog's praise for having the bread machine do all the mixing and kneading for you, but I haven't gone that way yet...

  4. You know, you should really try it sometime. You just put the bread machine on the dough cycle and let it do its thing (for me, that's 90 min, which includes kneading + first rise). Sometimes I need to use the KA for other stuff at the same time, so it's perfect. I have no scientific proof :o) but I think the bread machine kneads higher-hydration doughs better than the KA. My theory: because of the smaller containers vs KA's large bowl.

    I forgot to mention this yesterday, but I agree with your non-scientific theory of adding more liquid to the dough for plumping the cherries. I usually like to soak the dried fruit in hot water or juice, and let them plump up first, and then add them to the dough.