How to make challah

Today I’m gonna show you how to make really good bread. But first, let’s dispense with a few disclaimers.

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Disclaimer #1: Challah is a Jewish thing. And I’m not Jewish. So if you’re looking for authenticity, better go somewhere else.

Disclaimer #2: I have not tasted this bread in, oh probably over 10 years. I’ve made it many times, but I always give it away as gifts. People LOVE it and request it for Christmas. Some people have even payed for it. So I’m pretty sure it’s delicious, but I don’t actually know — it could be awful. But what am I supposed to do? Make a loaf for someone’s birthday and take a big bite out of it?

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Like many yeast breads, it take a while to make. The time involved to braid the loaves makes it a lengthier process, but the dough is very easy to work with, and it’s all worth it in the end. The recipe given here makes 4 loaves, but you can easily cut it in half to only make 2 loaves — that will speed up the process.

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I think baking bread is perfect for a day when you’re going to be home anyway. Maybe a Saturday, or one of those catch-up days that you get like once a year (or at least it feels like they’re that rare) when you stay at home and clean things that haven’t been cleaned in too long, and inevitably fall asleep on the couch for a half-hour afternoon nap. If you’re going to be home anyway, it isn’t much trouble to take a break from what you’re doing every couple of hours to punch down dough or put on an egg wash. And it makes the house smell SO GOOD.

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The best thing about baking — besides eating that awesome homemade bread — is that feeling of pride at creating something delicious and beautiful … and challah certainly won’t disappoint in that regard. It’s kind of amazing how pretty it turns out, actually. That’s why I always end up giving it all away, and why I haven’t had a taste of it in years. Because it’s so impressive looking, it just makes a really nice gift.

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Challah

2 pkg. active dry yeast
¾ cup warm water (110 to 115 degrees)
2 tsp sugar
½ cup (1 stick) butter
1 cup boiling water
½ cup sugar
¼ cup oil
¼ cup hone
1 Tbsp salt
8 eggs
10 cups all-purpose OR bread flour
1 egg yolk, beaten
1 tsp water

1. Proof the yeast: In a large liquid measuring cup dissolve yeast in the warm water. Stir in the 2 tsp sugar and set in a warm place.

2. Place the margarine or butter in a large mixing bowl and add the boiling water. After the margarine melts, stir in ½ cup sugar, oil, honey and salt. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well with an electric mixer after each addition. Add the yeast mixture to the egg mixture. Beat in 5 cups of the flour (with electric mixer). Stir in 4 cups of the remaining flour.

3. Turn the dough onto a well-floured surface and knead, gradually working in the remaining 1 cup flour. Shape into a ball and place in a large greased bowl. Cover and let stand in a warm place for 1-1/2 to 2 hours or until doubled in size.

4. Turn the dough out onto a board. Divide the dough into 4 portions; divide each portion into 3 ropes. Braid to form 4 braided loaves. Place each loaf on a greased baking sheet. Cover and let rise for 1 hour.

5. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Stir together the egg yolk with 1 tsp water; brush over loaves. Bake at 350 degrees for 35 minutes. If necessary, cover the loaves with foil during the last 15 minutes of baking to prevent overbrowning.

(Note: The original recipe called for the addition of raisins after the first rising … and a sprinkling of poppy seeds on top of the loaves right before baking. I’ve never done either of those things and think it’s just fine without them.)

Enjoy! :-)

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