Food: Challah Recipe

For me, Friday is usually the day I spend preparing for Shabbos (Shabbat, the Sabbath or whatever you want to call it). A few months ago I was making Challah most Friday mornings. That stopped when I bought a large freezer – I made a lot of Challah in one go and put it in the freezer to save myself the bother of making bread every week.

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Chocolate Chip Challah – the raw version

The thing is, now I have stopped making Challah it has thrown out all my preparations for Shabbos. Just letting go of that one thing has sometimes meant that on Friday night the house is a mess, the candles don’t get lit and we don’t have Challah even though it is there in the freezer already made.

I will just add here that I am not very religious, but Friday night was always important when I was growing up and I have always kept to that. Usually by making it the night my children can eat sweets; they don’t get them all week, but Friday they can eat as many as they like (within reason obviously). From there I have gone on to candles and Challah.

I am not sure why making Challah has such an effect on the day? Perhaps it is the power of routine and structure, which is difficult for me to acknowledge because I seem to fight both at some visceral level. But whatever goes right when I do it, it has a knock-on effect for the rest of the weekend, and that often goes over into the entire week. I just feel more together and organised. When I don’t light Shabbos candles on Friday then I am not in the same frame of mind for the weekend, I have not marked this time out as special, I have not prepared to make it important and so trivialities find their way in.

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Chocolate Chip Challah. A wonderful thing.

Anyway, I thought I would put in a recipe for Challah here now, to remind me to cook it next week and so I have an easy reference so I don’t have to keep getting the recipe book out!

This is adapted from Claudia Roden’s The Book of Jewish Food. It makes two loaves, which is what you need for Shabbos (the recipe in the book makes a lot more). I usually make one plain and one chocolate chip. If there’s any left then the choc chip is great toasted and eaten with marmalade on Saturday morning (I have been known to carry emergency jars of marmalade in my bag).  On Sunday you can make French toast with cinnamon, blueberries, honey and greek yogurt with any leftover plain Challah. I’ll post that as a separate recipe later on!

For 2 Challah You Will Need

  • 1 pack easy blend dried yeast
  • 250ml lukewarm water
  • 50g sugar
  • 2 eggs (plus extra yolk for glaze)
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 650g strong white bread flour
  • (Choc chips to taste if using, I use 50g)

Method

Measure everything out.

To the lukewarm water, mix in about a teaspoon of the sugar. Then add the yeast, mix well and leave for 10 minutes or so until it all froths.

(If it doesn’t froth you’ve probably forgotten the sugar. I do that a lot).

In a large bowl, beat together the two eggs and then beat in the remaining sugar, the salt and the oil. Add the frothed yeast mixture to that lot and give it a stir. I do all of this in a food mixer, it makes it really easy. Then add the flour bit at a time while the mixer, fitted with a dough hook, does all the work. If you don’t have a mixer, just do it in a bowl by hand and knead for 15 minutes or so until the texture becomes a bit stretchy and elastic. I suppose it’s a good workout for batwings!

What you’re after is a dough that is a teeny bit sticky – it shouldn’t be too dry, but it should eventually lift off the edges of the bowl into one smooth blob. Then put it in a large greased bowl, cover with cling film and leave to rise somewhere warm for a couple of hours. It should double in size.

When it’s risen, remove from the bowl and divide in half so you will have two loaves.

For the plain loaf, split the dough into three and make strands approximately 30 cm or so in length. Plait them together on an oiled baking sheet and leave them to rise for another hour or so. Then beat the yolk of an egg and brush it over the loaf to glaze it.

The only advice I’ve found really useful for plaiting Challah is to start in the middle and plait to the end, then start in the middle again and plait backwards (if that makes sense). There are a lot of people far more adept at this than I am so give YouTube a try if you can’t work out how to do it.

Once you’ve added the choc chips to the second lot of dough and kneaded until they’re mixed in fairly evenly then do exactly the same for the choc chip loaf . I add about 50g of dark choc chips, but I don’t measure it – I just want a reasonable amount so I go for half a pack and I prefer plain chocolate for this.

When the bread has proved then put it into an oven at Gas 4, 180°C, or 350° F for about 45 minutes, but keep an eye on it. It should sound sort of hollow when you lift it off the baking sheet and tap the bottom. With the egg glaze the crust gets quite dark but it is lovely and soft inside and the texture is amazing.

At synagogue this is often torn up and served with salt; you can sprinkle some on before eating.  At home we have it plain or with butter, but we always tear it rather than slice it.

 

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