Friday, October 10, 2008

The Ultimate Challah (according to Joan Nathan)

At some point in my cooking endeavors, I became obsessed with the idea of making everything from scratch. Tomato sauce, ice cream, pie crust, nothing was too big or small for me to attempt. So a few years ago, when I was first embracing my inner Jewish grandmother, I decided to make my own challah. I chose Joan Nathan's Ultimate Challah recipe (she is my Jewish cooking guru) and nervously got to work. It's turned out splendidly every year, even the first time I tried to make it.

Ultimate Challah!

1 Tbs active dry yeast
1 3/4 cups lukewarm water
1/2 - 3/4 cups sugar
1/2 cup vegetable oil
3 large eggs
5 cups bread flour
3 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 Tbs salt
Poppy or sesame seeds for sprinkling

1. Dissolve the yeast in the warm water. Add the sugar and oil and mix it up with a wooden spoon. I'm not sure why you use a wooden spoon. It's either that metal kills yeast or some kosher law. I can't remember. Beat in 2 of the eggs, then stir in the bread flour, 2 cups of all purpose flour and the salt. Once it's all incorporated (or at least, mostly incorporated, I tend to leave some flour behind accidentally. Oh well. It's never seemed to make a difference), then you can start kneading.

2. To start kneading, you put the dough on a lightly floured surface. You can sprinkle more flour over the top as well. Knead it up good. Do you know how to knead? Meredith can show you how here, or just push the dough away with the heels of your hands and then pull it back. Or just punch it a lot and move it around. That's kind of what I do. Don't tell anybody. Knead for about 10 minutes, or until the dough is smooth. I tend to knead longer because I find it very soothing.

3. Place the dough in a large oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap and let it rest in a warm place for an hour. I like to put mine in the oven. I turn it on to 150 degrees for a few minutes and then just turn it off. Makes it nice and toasty. After an hour, the dough should have doubled in size. Take it out, punch it down a few times, get your aggressions out and then let it rest again for 30 more minutes.

4. Divide your dough in half. Here's half of my dough.

5. Divide each half into 6 balls.

(hehe - balls. I'm 12 years old)

6. Roll each ball into a long strand and connect them at the top.

7. Braid them! There's a detailed confusing diagram in the Joan Nathan book. Basically, just place them over/under each other and try to keep each side even. Here's mine.

8. Repeat with the other half of the dough. You'll have two loaves. Let the braided loaves rise for another hour. There's a lot of rising. You can use the oven again, or sometimes I take a space heater, turn it up high and point it at the loaves. That works well too.

9. Beat your last egg, brush it over the loaves and sprinkle with seeds. I like poppy seeds. It seems more traditional to me. Plus, Zack hates sesame seeds. Although he doesn't really like poppy seeds either. But I like them, so there.

10. Bake the loaves at 400 degrees for 10 minutes, then lower the temperature to 375 and bake for another 30 minutes. Turn off the oven, but leave the bread in it for another 5 minutes, then cool on a rack and eat.

Yay! I feel really Jewish now.


Becky said...

Wow that is so impressive Lena. Looks really really tasty.

Mikochan said...

Now I want Challah. :( (Talk about things I can't get in Japan...)

David Borgen said...

i think you have to make some of this for the traditional jewish thanksgiving dinner when you come me...your father

Meredith said...

I want to make that. You already knew that because I'm pretty sure I've told you a few times. perhaps sometime soon. You know what is really good? Bread pudding made with challah. Just so you know.