Challah for shabbat or – the Jewish Brioche

20141008_153755 No Jewish Shabbat is complete without a Challa.

 Before you move on to the next post, let me translate this  Gibberish of a sentence:

Shabbat is the Jewish sabbatical of the week (the word  sabbatical actually derives from the Jewish word Shabbat).  Much like the Christian’s Sunday, and the Muslim’s Friday-  Saturday is a Jewish day dedicated to worship, spirituality,  and lots of rest for the mind and soul.

 

Jews, as some of you may know, like to eat. They REALLY like to eat. A famous saying attempts to sum up all the Jewish holidays in this one sentence: “They tried to kill us. They failed. Let’s eat”.

And here’s where the Challa fits in. As a people with fondness for food, it shall come as no surprise to you that on Shabbat there is a religious rule that calls for three meals at least throughout the holy day. And in each and every one of them the presence of bread is mandatory (and of course, whatever else you can stuff in your stomach).

This bread, ladies and gentleman- is the Challa.

For those of you with no intimate knowledge of Judaism, Imagine the Challa as a cousin of the Brioche. Doughy, flavorful, sometimes sweet- and most importantly- constructed out of yeast. The shapes themselves can vary from different geometrical shapes to any braid on the planet.
What makes the Challa so special is that it is as far away from usual bread as can be. It is, most probably, the softest, melt-in-your-mouth most perfect tasty “bread” ever.
In truth, the Challa actually originated from Europe. Hungary, to be more precise. And yet, it hasn’t stopped the whole Jewish nation from embracing this bread as a part of their tradition, and feasting upon it every week.

One more important concept of Shabbat in the orthodox communities is that no work is allowed. At all. Whatsoever. None.
Can I turn on the light? No. Can I bake a cake? No. Can I light a cigarette? No.
Rest!

And so, for generations the orthodox people prepared all the food before Shabbat, and then ate it calmly, restfuly (yeah, that’s not a word) during the Shabbat.
I myself have left the Orthodox way years ago. And yet, the tradition of making a Challa every Friday morning is something I hold so dear, that I still find myself every Friday standing half asleep in front of the pantry, looking for my yeast and flour.

Below is a detailed description of how to make a Challa that will help even the biggest Goy (That is, a non-Jewish person) make a Challa any Jewish mother would be proud of.

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Begin with the yeast.

Think of yeast as a human being – much like us it likes warmth, and sugar. Once you provide them with both, they will thrive and rise.
I use dried yeast because I find them the easiest to store. U could use fresh yeast in a cube instead.
Put some yeast and sugar in a bowl, and add warm water on top (not boiling, that will kill the yeast. Remember, they are living beings). Stir slightly and put aside.

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After 2-4 minutes you will notice they will start to rise. After 10 minutes they will rise significantly and air bubbles will form on the surface. Now they are ready to use.

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Add all the dry ingredients to a mixing bowl –  flour, salt and sugar. Add the egg, oil, yeast mixture, and water.
Mix together, and then start to kneed the dough. The dough will be slightly sticky, and will need more flour as you go – depending on the humidity, weather, and precise measurments.
The important thing is not to drown the dough with flour. You want the final ball of dough to be just slightly sticky, and soft. If your dough is dry and firm, the Challah itself will come out heavy and floury.

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Grease your mixing bowl with oil. Put the dough in, rotate it so it will all be covered in oil, and let it rest. You want to cover the dough with a towel (preferably a moist one). I put a plastic bag or cover it lightly with saran wrap before I put the towel on, so that the rising dough won’t ruin the towel.
Place the bowl in a warm place.

The dough should rest for about an hour and a half until doubled in bulk.

This is how it looks after half an hour:

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This is how it looks when it’s ready. Just look at all these beautiful air bubbles!! They are going to make our Challah’s texture so airy…

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Now for the shaping:
Begin by punching down the dough just a bit. Take out 1/10th of the dough, put aside and cover (we don’t need it for the Challa, and we can make a bread loaf out of it later). Form a rough rectangle from the 9/10ths of dough and place it on the table like so:

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Use a rolling pin to roll out the dough to a huge rectangle: about 50 cm in width, and 60 cm long. You will notice the dough is pretty thin, almost translucent.

Trim off the edges for a perfect rectangle shape. Add the trimming excess to the 1/10th of the dough you set aside.

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Mix together in a bowl honey and hot water. Than spread it out on the rectangle of dough.

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Start rolling your dough into a a big roll. You want to make sure the dough is tight, so instead of rolling it, pinch it in, like so. Don’t be worried if the honey accumulates and spreads outside of your roll. It’s OK.

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Once you have your roll, cut it evenly into pieces. Place them on a circular baking tray. Make sure to leave a gap of about 1-2 cm between each piece.

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Leave to rise in a warm place.
Heat oven to 175 Celsius.
Wait about 40 minutes, and until the pieces start touching each other.

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Pop the tin into the oven and bake for about 25 minutes or until the Challah is golden and firm.

Cool down the challah.

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Serving option:
My mother in law likes the challah to be as sweet as can be. I mix honey and boiling water as a glaze, and then brush the challah with it.

(As I said, I use the leftover dough to create a simple loaf of bread. so nothing goes to waste:)

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here is a Challah constructed out of eight (!!!) strands

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Get to the darn point!

1 tablespoon dry yeast
1/2 cup water (if you use instant yeast, pour the water straight into your dough instead of mixing it with the yeast)
3.5 cups all purpose flour
1/2 tablespoon salt
1/4 cup sugar
1 large egg
1/6 cup oil
1/2 cup water
2 tablespoon honey
1 tablespoon hot water

Begin by activating the yeast:
place in a bowl your sugar and yeast. Pour warm water on top, mix and leave to rest for about 10 minutes.
In a large bowl combine all the dry ingredients. Add the yeast mixture, egg, oil and water.
Knead the dough until ready (about 8 minutes). The dough should be slightly sticky and soft.
Cover with towel and leave to rest in a warm place for about an hour and a half until doubled in bulk.
Punch down the dough a bit, and make a rectangle out of it. Roll it out into a 50 by 60 cm rectangle.
Mix the hot water with the honey and spread on your dough.
Roll the dough as demonstrated in the pictures above. Cut the roll into pieces and place in a tin.
Heat your oven to 175 Celsius.
Let the dough rest in a warm place, covered, for 40 minutes.
pop  the Challah in the oven for 25 minutes until golden and firm.

Tips:
1. In cold weather, the yeast doesn’t work as well, and it takes much more time for the dough to rise.
In order to speed the process, turn on your oven to the lowest setting (about 50 celsius) and put the covered bowl in until the dough has doubled in bulk and is airy. You can also put a tray with boiling water at the bottom of the oven, put the covered bowl on a rack above the water, and wait until the dough is ready.
In both methods it should take the dough about an hour and a half to rise.

2. For this recipe I use dry yeast. I explained how to activate it with warm water and sugar. If you use fresh yeast, do the same.
If you use instant yeast, there is no need to activate it first. Just mix it in with all the ingredients.

3. To make a more traditional looking Challah, split the dough into three equal Portions. Roll each one of them into a snake, and make a braid out of them. The traditional braid has three strands  but you can make any braid with any number of strands. Here is a video tutorial that will show you how (im not too crazy about the stranding method on this video, so you might as well look for another tutorial altogether):

http://youtu.be/RP6j7esQyjk

and here is a tutorial for the eight strands Challa shown here (in Hebrew):

http://yourepeat.net/watch?v=-koYnEag02U

Shabat shalom!!

Credits:

For the Challa dough, I used the recipe of an Israeli food blogger named Shirley Nemesh (her real name is Chen Shukrun):

http://www.shirley-nemesh.com/2014/09/7186

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