Happy Belated Easter!
I was so proud of myself because I learned how to make a four-strand braid to make this special loaf. 🙂 The challenge in the original recipe was to learn how to make a six-strand braid, but a four-strand seemed like enough of a challenge at the time. 😉 I loved how it looked too.
This recipe was adapted from King Arthur Flour. I modified the braid and used a proofing oven. I learned the four-strand braiding technique from Tori Avey.com. This link actually has very useful steps for several challah braiding techniques.
Challah is best eaten the day it is made. Because I made the challah the day before Easter, we ate it toasted with butter and jam. I thought it was a perfect holiday breakfast along with our colored Easter eggs. Lovely!
For the Dough:
- 1/2 cup lukewarm water
- 6 T vegetable oil (I used canola oil)
- 1/4 cup honey
- 2 large eggs
- 17 ounces (4 cups) unbleached All-Purpose Flour
- 1 1/2 tsp coarse salt
- 1 T instant yeast
- cooking oil spray, for coating the bowl
For the Egg Wash:
- 1 large egg
- 1 T water
To Prepare the Dough:
- Weigh out 17 ounces of flour; or measure 4 cups of flour by gently spooning it into a cup, then sweeping off any excess. The more accurately you measure your flour, the better your bread will be; too much flour will yield a dry, heavy loaf.
- Combine all of the dough ingredients, except the cooking oil spray, and mix to make a rough dough.
- Knead the dough — by hand, using a stand mixer, or in a bread machine — to make a soft, smooth dough. It’ll still have a slightly rough surface; that’s fine. (I kneaded the dough in a stand mixer using a dough hook for about 5 minutes.)
- Place the dough in a lightly greased bowl, and cover the bowl with plastic wrap.
- Allow the dough to rise for about 2 hours. (I placed the bowl in a proofing oven.) It won’t necessarily double in bulk, but should become noticeably (if not dramatically) puffy.
- Gently deflate the dough, and transfer it to a lightly greased work surface.
- You may braid the challah the traditional way, into a three-strand braid. I chose a four-strand braid. (Instructions for these and a six-strand are in the link above.)
- Divide the dough into four pieces, or into equal pieces for desired braiding techniques. A scale is a big help in dividing the dough evenly.
- Shape each piece into a rough log.
- Cover the logs with plastic wrap, and let them rest at room temperature for 10 minutes.
- Roll each piece into a long rope. Your goal is ropes about 20″ long; if the dough starts to shrink back as you roll, cover it and let it rest again for about 10 minutes, then resume rolling. The short rest gives the gluten a chance to relax.
To Make a Four-Strand Braid:
- Pinch together the ends of the strands so that all six strands are joined at one end.
- Take the strand furthest to the right and weave it towards the left through the other strands using this pattern: over, under, over.
- Take the strand furthest to the right and repeat the weaving pattern again: over, under, over. Repeat this pattern, always starting with the strand furthest to the right, until the whole loaf is braided.
- Pinch the ends of the loose strands together and tuck them under on both ends of the challah loaf to create a nice shape.
- Gently pick up the braided loaf, and place it on a lightly greased or parchment-lined baking sheet.
- Cover the braided loaf with lightly greased plastic wrap, and let it rise until it’s very puffy, 90 minutes to 2 hours at room temperature or in a proofing oven.
- Towards the end of the rising time, preheat the oven to 375°F, preferably on convection.
- Whisk together the large egg and 1 tablespoon water to create the egg wash. Brush this glaze over the risen loaf.
- Nest the challah on its baking sheet into another baking sheet, if you have one. This double layering of pans will help prevent the challah’s bottom crust from browning too quickly.
- Put the challah into the lower third of the oven, and bake it for 20 minutes. If it’s a deep golden brown, tent it loosely with aluminum foil. If it’s not as brown as you like, check it again at 30 minutes.
- Once you’ve tented the challah, bake it for an additional 10 to 15 minutes, until the loaf looks and feels set and its interior registers at least 190°F on a digital thermometer.
- Remove the bread from the oven, and place it on a rack to cool.
Note: Store any leftover bread, well wrapped in plastic, at room temperature for several days; freeze for longer storage. While challah does tend to dry out after a day or so, it’s always good toasted or made into grilled sandwiches or French toast.
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