The first time I came across challah bread was when I moved to Los Angeles. Despite the fantastic Jewish bakeries in the Rome ghetto, there was no Jewish bakery in Bologna and none that I knew of when I lived in Milan.
So this egg bread that can be flavored with fennel, orange, and a multitude of seeds, and served with the Friday night meal, didn’t grace my table until I discovered it one Friday at Mrs. Gooch’s, a sort of precursor to Wholefoods.
There is nothing not to like about challah: it’s soft and slightly sweet and, toasted the day after and eaten with jam, it beats any other bread. Leftover challah can be used for bread pudding or French toast, if you are feeling particularly decadent. Its typical shape is a braid.
When time permits, I make challah on Fridays. Sometimes I make it first thing in the morning and let it rise in the fridge for several hours and then bake it when I get home. It’s pretty straightforward and easy and it looks particularly festive if you are entertaining. And as un-kosher as the thought may be, served with prosciutto it is just divine.
RECIPE – makes one loaf
3/4 T active dry yeast (1 packet)
35 g sugar (or 3 or 4 T honey)
40 ml canola or other vegetable oil
400 g all-purpose flour (or more as needed)
1/2 T salt
- In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment dissolve the yeast in 180 ml of lukewarm water. Add a tablespoon of sugar and let sit for a few minutes.
- Add the oil, salt, one egg and remaining sugar. Mix well. Change the attachment to the dough hook.
- Add the flour and let knead on med/high for about 5 minutes. The dough should be elastic and not too sticky but not too dry either, and it should pull away from the sided of the bowl fairly easily. Add flour or oil as necessary.
- Place the dough in a greased bowl, cover with plastic and let rise for about one hour in a warm spot (or refrigerate for several hours. Before baking it, let it rest at least one hour).
- Once risen, roll the dough into a rectangle and cut it into 3 large strips. Braid the strips as you would your hair and brush it with the remaining egg. Let rise for about 30 minutes.
- Bake in a 350F/180C for 35 minutes, or until deep golden on top.