Challah, Jala- Jewish braided bread
Every Friday night Jewish people around the world celebrate Shabbat: the day of rest. Growing up in a reform family, our Jewish celebrations were around the main and big holidays such as Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year) , Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement), and Pesach (Passover). Celebrating or observing Shabbat was never a question neither a custom.
I attended a Jewish Day school since I was two years old and the way until I moved here (for junior year). At school we did celebrated Shabbat every week. Not sure if it is the pictures I have seen (from my mom's bast collection of picture album from our childhood) or that I clearly remember, but at school we use to bake Challah every Friday! Week after week, we were there, pouring ingredients in a bowl, getting our hands dirty and figuring out all about the braiding.
Later on, as I was working in a Jewish Day school in Miami, and later as a youth director I always thought cooking should be an essential part of our curriculum and was hoping to bring those memories for my students. Last week, as I was teaching the Rosh Hashanah cooking class, one of the participants said: " Wow, Romi, that's a really good braiding, how many times have you done this?" and honestly it is way more than I could remember.
All Challah recipes vary in a few things:
- yolks or eggs
- honey or sugar
- amount of water vs. amount of oil
- type of flour: all purpose, bread flour, a mix of both
For many years I jumped from one recipe to the other, taking what I liked from the previous and applying it to the new one. I finally have a good sweet recipe that I like. I use King Arthur all purpose flour because of the quality and gluten %. The oil, it is a non-flavored one: vegetable, canola, corn, or even grapeseed. I had used olive oil here and there when I want to make a rosemary or basil, or even onion and garlic challah.
There is a two step in the Challah recipe. The actual Challah dough, and the preferment dough.
The preferment dough is a mix of flour, water, yeast, and sugar. That is been done and let rest for 30 minutes . Here is where the yeast starts fermenting and the gluten web starts developing. An acidic smell will come along if you let it sit for an hour or even longer. This dough will help the challah rise and help with the flavor. I prepare the preferment dough and while I scale and prepare all the other ingredients it is usually ready. It will accelerate the process if you leave it on a warm place. I turn on the oven sometimes which will help make the environment warmer.
Challah (makes 2)
prep time: 1.5 hrs baking time: 25 minutes
575 gr All-purpose flour
173 gr Preferment dough
237 ml Water
2 u Eggs
115 gr Honey
69 gr Oil
12 gr Salt
5 gr yeast
175 gr All-purpose flour
117 ml Water
5 gr Sugar
5 gr Active Dry yeast
1 tbsp Sugar
Preferment Dough: Mix all ingredients in a small bowl cover with cloth and let it sit for 1 hour in a warm environment.
Preheat the oven to 375F. Prepare a sheet pan by lining it with parchment paper or a silicone mat.
In a small bowl mix the flour and salt.
In a big bowl mix the water, preferment dough, yeast, egg, and honey (if using a mixer, use the dough hook and mix for 30 seconds). Add the flour and continue mixing for 5 minutes. Little by little add the oil and knead for 10-15 minutes.
Cover and let it rest for 10 minutes. Flour the surface, divide dough into 100gr, should get 12 pieces of dough. Shape each piece into a loose ball by rolling it on a clean, dry work surface with a cupped hand, cover as you go. Using both hands roll them, with the “seam” facing down. Group them in 6 and braid the challah, cover the pan with a cloth and let it sit for 20-30 minutes. Brush with the egg mixture. Bake for 25-30 minutes.
Enjoy and share with your family over Shabbat.
**Optional: You could always add 1 ½ cup of golden raisins, chocolate chips, or sprinkles.
Round loaves, where there is no beginning and no end, are baked for Rosh Hashanah to symbolize continuity.