I’ve recently become fixated on Challah and this post will contain some pointers and tricks but no actual recipe. I’m still working on finding my favorite challah recipe, I’ve tried two within the past week but I haven’t yet found one with the “egg-y” quality that I adore in challah. My ideal loaf of challah is lightly sweetened but with so many eggs inside that the dough itself is yellow and the crust is hard and beautifully browned. So far, I’ve been able to achieve beautiful puffiness with my challah dough but not that egg-y quality that I want. In my quest for the perfect challah, I’ve tried a recipe from a Le Pain Quotidian cooking class that I took several years ago and one from King Arthur Flour. Next on my list is the “Perfect Challah” recipe from the New York Times and I will let you all know how that one goes! As a baker, I often become fixated on one specific recipe for several days until I believe I have perfected it! One of the most memorable recent occasions of this was my obsession with quiche where I got up at four in the morning to re-do my quiche recipe multiple times. I just have a tendency to want to find ~the recipe~ for something, a recipe that I can count on always. During the semester, I got hung up on baguettes which I’ve made both in Baltimore and home in California to varying degrees of success. I’m still working on that but I took a break to focus on enriched breads which I find are easier to make in a pinch.
Challah is my favorite enriched dough and the only one that I make on a semi-regular basis. Its “enriched” qualities come from the use of oil and eggs as the fat that the yeast feeds on. The dough itself is very light and fluffy and the crust is browned but still soft and often covered with sesame seeds. Challah doesn’t require any special baking equipment, I usually bake mine on two cookie sheets in my oven. Its crust doesn’t need any additional steam and you can use whatever toppings you have on hand. When making challah, I try to have all the ingredients at room temperature. Any dough needs to reach a certain internal temperature before it will start the process of rising and fermenting. However, the internal temperature is especially important for enriched dough because the fats weigh down the dough making a big rise harder to achieve. I also use lukewarm water, around 90F, when making the dough to help with the internal temperature. Looking from the outside, the braiding of challah bread looks incredibly complicated but I’ve found the braiding process soothing and easier than expected. A three or four strand braid is pretty common for challah bread and I usually go with a three or a nine strand braid. For braiding, I handle the dough just like my hair. Actually, for dads trying to learn how to braid, challah dough might provide a good place to practice the more complicated plaits before trying it on your daughter’s head. King Arthur Flour has some great youtube videos on the most basic braids and like any part of baking, your braids will improve with practice. Let me know if you enjoyed this more technical type of post in the comments below. I can’t wait to share my final challah recipe with everyone and until then, Happy Baking!