Sunday, March 27, 2016

Baking: Challah Bread for Easter

Now, this is what my family has done for decades, but this time we couldn’t find our regular active dry yeast and proof it in warm water first.  We only had rapid rise bread dough yeast for our bread machine, and decided to try it and make a new loaf if it ended up a disaster.  The altered recipe for rapid rise yeast follows the regular recipe (below):


1 package active dry yeast
1 ¼ cups warm (about 110°) water
1 teaspoon salt
¼ cup each of sugar and vegetable oil
2 eggs, room temperature, lightly beaten
5 to 5 ½ cups all-purpose flour
1 egg yolk beaten with 1 tablespoon water for brushing on bread before baking
About 1 tablespoon toasted sesame or poppy seeds for sprinkling on bread before baking


In a large bowl, dissolve yeast in water.  Stir in salt, sugar, oil, and eggs.  Gradually beat in about 4 ½ cups of the flour to make a stiff dough.

Turn dough out onto a floured board and knead until smooth and satiny (5 to 20 minutes, or 10 minutes in a kitchen aid mixer with dough hook), adding flour as needed to prevent sticking.  Place dough in a greased bowl; turn over to grease top.  Cover and let rise in a warm place until doubled (about 2-3 hours, adapted from 1 ½ hours).  Punch dough down; knead briefly on floured board to release air.  Set aside about ¾ cup dough and cover it.

Divide remaining dough into 4 equal portions; roll each between your hands to form a strand about 20 inches long. Place the 4 strands length-wise on a large greased baking sheet (at least 14 by 17 inches, or put two sheets together, overlapping ends and wrapping the overlap with foil).  Pinch tops together, and braid as follows: pick up strand on right, bring it over next one, under the third, and over the fourth.  Repeat, always starting with strand on the right, until braid is complete.  Pinch ends together and tuck under loaf.

Roll reserved dough into a strand about 15 inches long, cut into 3 pieces, and make a small 3-strand braid.  Layer on top center of large braid.  Cover and let rise in a warm place until almost doubled, 2-3 hours (adapted from 1 hour).

Preheat oven to 350°.

Using a pastry brush or your fingers, spread egg yolk mixture evenly over braids; sprinkle with seeds.  Bake in a preheated oven for 30-35 minutes or until loaf is golden brown.  Let cool on rack.  This recipe makes one loaf.

Altered recipe:

We heated the oil and water to about 130°, then added the oil and water the dry ingredients, including the rapid rise yeast.  We then added the two lightly beaten eggs and the rest of the mixing was normal.  The bread dough normally rises twice, but this time the first time was (as per the directions on the yeast package), for only resting (not rising) 10 minutes in the greased bowl.  The second rise, which is when the braids rest for 2-3 hours, was normal.  It turned out fine, if a slightly less risen, and more dense.  That was the fault of us not using the proper yeast.  So it worked to save time, but will not make the best possible Challah bread!  We used it with butter and honey last night and for French toast this morning, and it was pretty good.  I definitely recommend good regular yeast though!

Braiding images from the book, in case of clarification:

Adapted from the Sunset Breads, copyright 1984, fourth edition.

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