After so many failed attempts at making yeast-risen bread in college, I was convinced I just didn’t have that magic touch. Home-baked bread was a thing of legends, and people who could throw together beautifully crusty, golden loaves were all-powerful sorcerers as far as I was concerned. I labeled myself as “yeast-challenged” and shrugged off all urgings to try again for a long time.
I attempted babka a little while ago, the pain of multiple failures now distant enough to forget. The thing never rose, of course, and ended up tasting a lot like someone painted a cardboard box with chocolate and sugar. Crazy-frustrated, I turned to the internet and spent an entire afternoon reading about yeast. Tuuuurns out a little understanding can go a long way — a week later I kvelling all over my gorgeous new challah-baby.
Everyone likes their challah a little different… which I guess is a much blander way of saying that everyone likes their challah as close to their grandmother’s version as possible. My family’s chewy, sweet, dunk-it-in-tomato-soup challah comes out to play every year at Rosh Hashanah, but it’s a circular behemoth that isn’t too practical in my tiny kitchen. I’ve scaled it down and altered it a bit so it works better as a stand-alone bread, but you’re doing it wrong if you don’t use at least some of it for french toast and grilled cheese.
(that extra egg wash makes a biiig difference)
adapted from my grandmother’s recipe, with help from alexandra’s kitchen
1 package active dry yeast
1 tsp white sugar
1 cup warm water
4 to 5 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 cup canola oil
1/3 cup honey
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 tbsp kosher salt
1 tbsp water
- Proof yeast by combining with sugar and warm water in a small bowl. Let rest for 10 minutes, until foamy.
- In a large bowl, measure out 1 cup flour. Pour in proofed yeast mixture and stir until smooth, then cover with a towel and let rest in a warm spot for 45 minutes.
- Add to the sponge the oil, honey, 2 eggs, salt, and cinnamon, and mix well. Stir in 3 cups flour until the dough is a sticky mass. Turn onto a floured surface and knead well for about 10 minutes, adding more flour as you go to prevent sticking. The dough should be smooth.
- Take a clean large bowl (maybe have your
kitchen elfboyfriend wash the bowl you used before?) and drop a bit of canola oil to lightly grease it, then add the dough ball and turn over to coat. Cover with a towel and let rise in a warm place for 1 hour. Punch down the dough, add a few drops of oil to coat, and let rise again for another hour.
- Divide the dough into 4 equal segments, giving them a good squeeze to get the big air bubbles out. Roll each of the segments into a tapered rope, roughly 16″ in length. Braid however you want, but I like this method the best.
- Preheat your oven to 350°F, stack two baking sheets on top of each other (this prevents the bottom from burning), and line with parchment. Place the braid on the parchment and whisk together the remaining egg and water. Brush the challah with the egg wash and let rise on top of the preheating oven for 30 minutes. Repeat the egg wash and place the challah in the oven. Bake for 40-50 minutes, until the challah is golden and beautiful.