This past weekend was Mother’s Day weekend, and there were so many things that made it perfect. First of all, it was warm… no, hot and sunny all weekend, which meant wearing shorts and t-shirts and having all the doors and windows open and hanging out on the deck. This just never happens in May in Seattle, so it was a gift!
And every year, Matthew, Mara, and Millie plant flowers for me that I can enjoy practically all year round. It’s the best gift ever.
And we played “Farkle”, which is super fun. I love family game night.
And the girls made beautiful cards for me. Notice the pop-up card in the middle is a replica of our kitchen, with cinnamon rolls cooling on the counter.
We also watched “The New Legends of Monkey”, which is a new favorite show of ours. We did so many of our favorite things, and we did them together. It felt like the Best Mother’s Day Ever, because I got to spend it with my family. Oh, and one other reason it was the Best Mother’s Day Ever? I made the Best Challah Ever!!!
On Sundays, Matthew makes french toast for brunch, and he uses Challah for it. Sometimes the stores and bakeries are out of it, so we have to go without. So for a long time now, making my own Challah has been on my list. But I have felt intimidated by it. I mean, the braiding…three-strand, four-strand… six-strand!! So I started out by experimenting with just the braiding part, using the white bread recipe that comes out so nicely.
This bread came out so beautiful and delicious. But it was not Challah. My work was not yet done. I started doing research, and asking around for friends’ favorite recipes, and looking at a gazillion different blog posts, and checking on all of the Challah recipes in my favorite cookbooks. And I decided to try King Arthur’s Classic Challah.
The first time I made it, the dough was dense and dry, unlike any other bread dough I had worked with, and I had a hard time kneading it, but it was easy to work with for the braids. And the bread turned out nicely, although just a tad dense. I read all the reviews on the recipe, and a lot of reviewers complained about the dough being too dry, so I took their advice and tried adding more water the second time I made it.
Adding more water did make the dough easier to knead, but then made the braiding part very difficult. It was kind of a disaster, the dough being too soft, and the bread didn’t come out as well. So I went back to the recipe as it was. And watched King Arthur’s Isolation Baking Show with Jeffrey Hamelman, Certified Master Baker, and I quote him here “Challah dough should be a well developed, dry dough”… OHHHHHH!!!! So the dryness of the dough that reviewers were complaining about? It is supposed to be that way!
So I made the recipe exactly as stated, and ended up with a beautiful, but a tad dense loaf. I weighed all of my ingredients, and even used fancy flour… uh oh. Maybe the fancy flour caused the denseness? So on Mother’s Day, I once again made Challah, but used King Arthur ‘s Unbleached All-Purpose flour. The result? Exactly what I was looking for!!! The dough was easy to work with, and the finished product was soft, slightly fluffy, but not overly so. It was feathery; that’s the only word I can come up with to describe it. Pure perfection.
Here is something that I’ve known for a while now. Flour matters. Maybe that’s why I have at least eight different kinds of flour in my kitchen. While one flour will be magic for one recipe, it can completely ruin another. And here’s the bugger about it: there are differences (sometimes big ones) between all-purpose flours!!!! Yes, I have three different kinds of all-purpose flour right now. So if you are making a recipe that calls for all-purpose flour, and your friend made that recipe and had stellar results, and your results are less than stellar, it might be because of the flour! Of course, there are so many factors involved, but flour is a big one. So here is King Arthur’s Classic Challah recipe. I will include a picture tutorial at the bottom that will include all kinds of details that might be helpful. I have made both the six-strand braid and the four-strand braid.
King Arthur’s Classic Challah
(Original recipe here)
Makes two smaller loaves, or one large loaf.
- 1/2 cup (113g) lukewarm water (around 100° or so)
- 6 tablespoons (74g) vegetable oil
- 1/4 cup (85g) honey
- 2 large eggs
- 4 cups (482g) King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
- 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
- 1 tablespoon instant yeast
- 1 large egg, beaten with 1 tablespoon cold water
To make the dough:
- Mix the water, oil, honey, and 2 eggs in a large bowl.
- In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, salt, and instant yeast.
- Pour the flour mixture into the wet ingredients and mix with a wooden spoon or Danish dough whisk until dough comes together; it will be dense and maybe a bit dry.
- Fold the dough in the bowl with a spatula or bowl scraper until dough is workable, then knead by hand in the bowl, rotating the dough after each fold. Continue to knead for about 8 minutes; dough will be smooth and firm.
- Cover bowl with plastic wrap and let rise for two hours.
- Transfer dough to work surface (can be dusted lightly with flour).
- Depending on what kind of braid you are doing, and how many loaves, divide dough into number of pieces you need. I like to make two smaller loaves, so I start by dividing in half, and then into smaller pieces.
- Braid loaf (or loaves) and place on parchment lined baking sheet. Cover with greased plastic wrap and let rise for 90 minutes to two hours at room temperature. Loaves will be puffy and almost jiggly. Preheat oven to 375° near the end of the rise time and place rack in lower third of oven. You’ll want your oven to preheat for at least twenty minutes so there are no hot spots.
- At the end of the rise time, whisk together one egg and one tablespoon water and brush the glaze onto the risen loaves.
- Place baking sheet on a second baking sheet (I turned mine upside down) to keep the bottom of the loaves from burning, and place in lower third of preheated oven.
- After twenty minutes, check to see if the loaves are browned enough. At this point, place a sheet of aluminum foil lightly over the loaves to stop the bread from over-browning.
- Continue to bake for another 7 to 8 minutes more for two loaves, or 10 to 15 minutes more for one large loaf. Loaf will sound hollow when tapped on the bottom, and instant-read thermometer will register 190°. Don’t over bake!
- Remove Challah from oven and let cool on rack.
And now, some pictures with details!
I like to do all the mixing in a large, wide, shallow glass bowl, because it is easy to get my hand in there later for kneading. Everything stays in the bowl!
I like to do all the mixing and kneading by hand. It gives me a better sense of the readiness of the dough. I don’t work too hard at it, just a gentle consistent kneading.
Notice that there is hardly any flour on the work surface. This is important, because you will not be able to successfully roll out the dough into ropes if the dough is sliding around in flour. The original recipe says to work on a lightly oiled surface, but that doesn’t work for me, so I just use a dry surface. The dough has enough oil in it that it doesn’t stick.
I find that pre-shaping the dough pieces before rolling into ropes makes the rolling out much easier, and the ropes have a very nice consistent shape. There are different ways to pre-shape, but I like this method best.
Now you are ready to go back to the first set of six that have been resting. Make room on your work space and get ready to roll ;-).
Now, I can’t believe I have pictures for all of this. It kind of makes my head spin, and I’m thinking it will make your head spin as well. Here is the video tutorial I found the most helpful for how to do a six-strand braid. Start watching at about 4 minutes into the video. If you watch from the beginning, you will see that she doesn’t pre-shape her pieces. You might think that is the easier way to go, but trust me. Pre-shaping makes the rolling out so much nicer, and the dough behaves much better. The end result is a beautiful rope without inconsistencies.
At this point, once you have set your loaves aside to rise, you’ll want to set your timer for 90 minutes. At the 90 minute mark, preheat your oven to 375°. It’s a good idea to preheat your oven for a good twenty to thirty minutes so it doesn’t have any hot spots. Now set your timer for another 30 minutes, so that your loaves will rise for a total of two hours.
Now you will place the loaves on the double baking sheets and set all of it in the lower third of your preheated oven. Let bake for twenty minutes.
After twenty minutes, rotate the pan, and place a sheet of aluminum foil loosely over the tops of the loaves to stop them from over-browning. This is called “tenting”. Just set the foil lightly on top.
Let the loaves bake for maybe another 7 to 8 minutes or so. To test for doneness, tap the bottom of the loaf and it should make a hollow sound.
Making a four-strand braid is very similar to the six-strand braid, but just easier!
So, I did make the recipe with one very large loaf, and here it is.
I got impatient, and didn’t let it rise long enough during the second rise, so if you are wanting to make one large loaf, please make sure to let it rise for the full two hours for both rises. You can even go a bit longer on the second rise, just to be sure to get a fluffy loaf. I did the six strand braid, rolling out the ropes to about 20 inches.
I was worried it would be unwieldy, but it wasn’t. I just needed a bit more counter space.
And no, I’m not going to show you all the weaving….
And after rising…
Add egg wash.
I will say though, I really like making two loaves. You don’t need as much counter space for braiding, you don’t need to worry about extra long rise time, and you have an extra loaf to give to a neighbor or save for french toast.
I hope you have as much fun making this Challah as I do!