There are two Hebrew words for bread: lichem is an everyday bread and challah is the bread eaten on Sabbath, the day of rest. Challah is an enriched bread with oil, sugar and eggs, while Lichem is a basic lean dough. Before the bread is baked, the baker sacrifices a piece of the dough to God. At any event, two challahs are two challahs must be blessed to prevent the breads from being shamed. To do so, the bread is placed under a challah Cover while the wine is being blessed. At Sabbath dinner, before the bread can be broken, the family must say in Hebrew, “Blessed are you, Lord Our God, king of the universe, who brings forth bread from the earth.”
Traditionally, challah is braided into a long loaf and lacquered with egg wash on the Sabbath. On Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, challah is circularly shaped to represent the coming year and long life. Sometimes it is shaped like a ladder, to symbolize the ascent to God after death. In comparison to the regular Sabbath Challah, the holiday bread is sometimes enriched with raisins or saffron, which were considered prized ingredients.
In comparison to his other recipes, Reinhart does not use a preferment in his challah recipe. Since it’s an enriched bread, most of the flavor and texture comes from the eggs and sugar.
I began by mixing together the dry ingredients: flour, sugar, salt and yeast. In another bowl, I mixed together eggs, egg yolks, water and oil. Using my new dough whisk, I stirred the wet into the dry until it made a shaggy dough. I added more flour so the dough was not sticky, and kneaded it for about 6 minutes, until it passed the windowpane test.
I let the dough rise for the first time for about an hour. At this point, Reinhart suggests to punch down the dough and knead for a few moments. Then, I let the dough rise for another two hours, until it doubled in size. Then, divided the dough in six equal pieces (making two loaves), shaped them into balls, and let the gluten relax for about 20 minutes.
With a dough ball in hand, I pressed the dough against the counter, slightly elongating it. Next, with two hands, I pushed the dough outwards in order to make it into a long strand. When I thought I reached my desired length, the dough shrank back slightly. So, I let the dough relax for a few minutes, and then stretched each section into a foot and a half length strand.
Next, I began braiding the strands. I opted to make two 3-strand braids so I wouldn’t have one gigantic loaf that we’d never be able to finish. Beginning at the midpoint of the strands, I laid the three strands next to each other, and placed the right strand over the middle strand. Then, I placed the left strand over the middle strand, and continued braiding like I would hair. When I reached the end, I turned the loaf around 180 degrees, and braded the other side. Then, I rolled the ends together by pushing the dough against the counter with the heel of my hands. I tucked the ends underneath the loaf so it would have a finished look.
When I looked at the time, I realized it would be past midnight by the time the challahs proofed and baked. I was silly and didn’t think ahead, and egg-washed the dough before refrigerating it (it was late!). I let the dough proof in the fridge until the next afternoon. After resting on the counter for about 2 hours so it warmed up, I baked the bread loaves in a 350 oven for about 40 minutes. As it was cooling, I realized that I forgot the second egg wash. This resulted with the loaf having an uneven, semi-shiny, semi-crackly surface. The braids looked nice, but it didn’t have the lacquered crust.
When I ate a piece, I remembered how much I love challah. I love the tender, almost cake-like texture of the crumb, and the soft crust. Like the brioche, challah with raspberry jam made breakfast (and dessert!) delicious. I brought a loaf to my mentor, Mr. Esteban. I explained to him that I was disappointed in the crust, but I don’t think he minded all that much. It’s still bread, right? I also brought a half loaf to my Jewish grandparents. We always have challah on Rosh Hashanah, and it reminded me of the holidays. Nothing beats a good loaf of challah bread.
This post can be seen on this really awesome website devoted to bread baking. Check it out!
Olver, Lynne. “Breads.” Food Timeline (2011): n. pag. Web. 26 Jan 2011. <http://www.foodtimeline.org>.
Reinhart, Peter. The Bread Baker’s Apprentice. 1st ed. . New York, New York: Ten Speed Press, 2001. 83, 133-134. Print.