I’m a busy mom, busy person–who isn’t busy, right? However, Challah is really pretty important in the basic-ness of Jewish-ness…and I really REALLY want to encourage you to bake it weekly even if do little else [well, this and light your candles! That's important too really] because the smell of freshly baking bread is a great lead into Shabbat not to mention that your family will alwaysassociate the smell of baking bread with being Jewish. Isn’t that a wonderful memory to carry tradition forward?
Baking a Challah is pretty basic to do if you take a few corner-cutting tips from me. I’ve had a little secret for a while about my bread–and now I don’t feel too guilty for sharing my secret with you because I recently found out my Rabbi’s wife does it too!!
1. Here’s the secret: Make the dough in a breadmaker. Every Friday, early day, just open a bag of basic breadmaker white bread mix [nearly every grocery store has it] just add water, two extra egg yolks and push the ‘dough’ button. I tend to also add a squirt of honey to the mixture as I like my Challah on the sweet side.
2. Once the dough is ready [after about 3 hours] the breadmaker will beep. You can leave it for later and it will keep rising. When you’re ready– turn the dough out onto a floured counter top.
3. Tear off a small piece, declare ‘this is Challah!’ wrap it in paper and throw it away. [There's an uninteresting religious explanation for this. As this is a site about traditions and not oddles of religious details, ask a Rabbi's wife, Google it or send me an email if you want to know why.] Othwise, just take my word for it.
4. Roll the rest of the dough around in the flour until it’s not sticky and easy to form into shapes.
5. Break the dough into three balls for every challah you want to make. The more balls, the more challahs! Three large balls will make one large family challah. Technically for the evening meal you’re supposed to have two challahs but that’s taking the Shabbat meal to a serious traditions level. Just baking the bread every week is a leap for a lot of families. So start by making it, then work your way up with the traditions! I say, don’t get overwhelmed in the details. Make the number of Challah’s you feel comfortable with.
6. Stretch the balls into long ‘snakes’ of dough.
7. Start braiding [literally, regular braiding] from the middle, complete to one end, then flip it round and braid from the middle to the end of the other side. Tuck the ends under.
8. Place on a lightly greased or non-stick baking sheet.
9. Brush it with watered-down egg yolk* and sprinkle with seasame seeds. [optional]
10. Bake in the oven, middle shelf on a high heat [I start with gas mark 4] then reduce to a lower heat [gas mark 3] after about 15 minutes.
11. You’ll know it’s done when it turns golden and sounds hollow when you tap it.
They vary in oven time depending on how large your loaf is. I typically make two loaves from a bread machine. If friends are coming to dinner for Shabbat or Jack is baking with me, we often make individual challahs for each person at the table–Jack calls them kid size! It’s just something fun and different to do and keeps Shabbat fun.
Happy baking. Click on the photos below to illustrate my directions above.