I’m continuing with my ode to cookbook authors this week. I had completely forgotten that the local library is a treasure trove of cookbooks – free to read! So I came home with an armful and set to work finding new dinner recipes. One of the books was Ina Garten’s ‘cooking for Jeffrey.’ Years ago, probably around the same time I started watching Nigella, I discovered the Barefoot Contessa. Just like Nigella, she cooked simple yet delicious food and she was just so darn cute. In amongst some great dinner ideas, I found her recipe for challah. I’d read about challah before but it’s not something you find in everyday NZ life. (If you’re not familiar with challah, I liken it to brioche. It’s a special Jewish bread that is usually eaten on special occasions and most major Jewish holidays.)
I’ve not had a lot of luck with dough before but this was a dream to make. The dough is silky, yet robust so there’s no chance of it tearing. If the braiding is putting you off, don’t let it! I can’t plait my daughters hair but I could do this.
1c warm water
3 teaspoons active dry yeast
3 eggs, at room temperature (Ina recommends extra large, I used size 7)
1 egg yolk, at room temperature
1 tablespoon salt
115g butter, cut into small cubes, at room temperature
vegetable oil (I used rice bran)
1 egg beaten with 1 tablespoon water, for the egg wash
Warm the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook by rinsing it with hot water.
Pour the warm water (about 45°C) into the bowl and stir in the yeast and sugar. Leave to sit for about 5 minutes, until the mixture begins to froth.
Add the eggs and egg yolk and mix on low speed.
With the mixer on low, gradually add 4½ cups of the flour, scraping down the side of the bowl as necessary.
With the mixer still running on low, add the salt and butter, then slowly add between 1 and 1½ more cups of flour, mixing on low for 5 minutes. You don’t want the dough to stick to the bowl so keep adding a dusting of flour if necessary. I needed to add exactly 1 cup of flour.
Turn the dough out onto a floured board or bench top and knead for 2 minutes. (Not 1½ minutes, 2 minutes!)
Roll the dough into a ball with the smooth side up. Brush a large bowl with the vegetable oil and roll the dough around so it’s covered in oil (this will prevent a crust forming.) Turn it smooth side up then cover the bowl with a clean, dry tea towel and allow it to rise in a warm place for about 2 hours, until doubled in size.
Punch the dough down lightly and turn it out onto an unfloured board or bench top. Cut the dough into 4 equal pieces.
Line a baking tray with baking paper.
Turn the first ball of dough smooth side up and roll it into a cylinder 17″ long. Place it seam side down on the baking tray, then repeat with the other 3 balls of dough, laying them side by side on the baking tray.
To braid the dough, pile one end of the ropes on top of each other and pinch them together and under. With the pinched end away from you, take the far right rope and move it left over two ropes. Then take the far left rope and move it right over two ropes. Continue until you’ve braided the entire bread, then pinch the ends together and fold them under. Try to braid it tightly so it doesn’t open too much when it’s baking.
Cover the bread with a clean tea towel and sit it in a warm place for around 45 minutes, until it has doubled in size.
Heat the oven to 180°C and place an oven rack in the lower third of the oven.
Brush the bread thoroughly with the egg wash and bake for 35-40 minutes, until the outside is browned and it sounds hollow when you tap the bottom.
Cool the challah on a baking rack. Serve warm, with lashings of butter. Wrap leftovers in Gladwrap and store in the fridge.
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