Now here is a holiday bread. Originally Jewish Sabbath bread, it is wonderful for any holiday table. I have the recipe here for you and you can adjust it to have a sesame topping, a poppy-seed topping, both, neither or how to make it a cinnamon raisin challah.
But before I get started I just had to share a funny. Chicky-doodles is a little banty chicken that, due to her small size, usually stays away from the other girls. She got out this morning and was roaming the back yard. Seems she knows how to get out of the pen area, but has not figured out how to get back in.
Anyway, there she is, wandering around, pecking at grass and bugs when lo and behold, Ladyhawk gets out. She is a lovely Araucana and lays, get this, green eggs! (So Dr. Seuss was not so far off, huh?) I hear some flapping and sure enough, she flew herself right over the pen door. Whoever says chickens can’t fly hasn’t had to keep clipping their wings to keep them in their pen. The minute she lands, Chicky-doodles, who is a banty and half the size of Ladyhawk, starts to run her stumpy legs right after her.
“My yard!” she is screeching, “My yard!”. Startled Ladyhawk looks around in confusion having a “who-me?” look about her, then takes off with chicky pecking at her. The whole time Ladyhawk is out, she is hounded and chased by this squat, black little banty! Poor docile Lady. She runs all over the place frantic to get away from this little hen from hell and finally flaps her way back on top of the coop. I look later and she was in with the others, casting dirty looks at chicky-doodles. Later on I will open the pen to let the others out to roam before sunset, while chicky-doodles will run inside to see if there are any eggs she can repossess or claim as her own.
makes 1 large braid. You can use the bread machine to mix the dough.
1 cup water
2 Tbsp. honey
2 eggs, room temp.
3 Tbsp. neutral oil such as canola or safflower
3 cups good quality flour
1 1/2 tsp. yeast
1 scant tsp salt
1 egg, beaten in a bowl with a splash of milk
sesame or poppy seeds
If you are using a bread machine, simply put the ingredients in according to your manufacturers directions. Mine have always said to put the liquids in first, then the dry stuff, like flour and yeast. Set the machine for “dough only”. After it has been mixing for a few minutes, check on it. Does it feel too dry? Add a Tbsp. of water and check in another minute. Does it stick too much to the sides of the bucket? Add a Tbsp. of flour and check again after it has had time to incorporate it in. Once it is the right texture, just tacky, not dry and not gooey, let it go and come back in about an hour and a half or when it beeps at you.
If doing this by hand, put the water, honey and yeast in a bowl and whisk. Let is set for a couple of minutes to wake up the yeasties.
Now add the eggs, and whisk some more. Then the oil. Now for the dry ingredients. At this point a Danish whisk would come in handy or a wooden spoon. Add about 1 cup of flour and the salt. Add another cup of flour. Then add the rest, about 1/4 cup at a time, mixing until a shaggy ball forms.
Bring this ball onto a floured counter or cutting board. Flour your hands well. (Your well washed hands, right?) Start to fold the dough over itself, kneading it along, adding little sprinkles of flour at a time until it is not too sticky but also not TOO DRY. Dry will make hard crumbly bread. Too sticky will make bread that is soft and spreads out instead of up, but it will still taste divine.
Once it is the right texture, springy and smooth, form it into a ball and put in an oiled bowl. Turn the dough over so both sides get oiled and cover the bowl with plastic wrap. I like to use old bread bags, cut open, to cover dough with. Saves on the Saran wrap.
Now let it sit, undisturbed for about an hour. (tick-tick-tick)
The first rise is done. Good job. (You didn’t forget the yeast did you?)
Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface. Press down on the dough to expel some air, but do not knead any more. You want to cut the dough into 3 pieces. Cover and let rest about 10 minutes. Now you want to shape it. They will be shaped into 3 snakes about 15″ long.
Start with one, rolling it along. If it gets difficult, and mine usually does, I set it aside, looking more like a slug than a snake, and start on another one. When I have started all three, I go back to the first and continue to roll it into a snake. Are all three done?
Lay a piece of parchment paper on a baking sheet. (if you have some). Lay the challah/snakes on the baking sheet, side by side and start braiding. I braid to one end, pinch the end shut and tuck under a little, then go back to the beginning to shape up that end nicely, tucking it under all pretty. It is pretty big on there, taking up the whole baking sheet. I suppose you could break it into two smaller ones and put in a bread pan.
Lightly oil the braid and cover with plastic again. This raise is called a “proof”. You are now proofing it.
After about 45 minutes you need to start the oven at 375.
Whisk together your egg and milk. Brush this carefully and lightly over the braided dough. Not too hard or it will develop these unsightly bubbles. Like age spots on grandmas hands, you just don’t want them if you can avoid them. You will not use up all the wash and that is okay.
Sprinkle with poppy or sesame seeds. ***I have occasionally used both. I would brush the egg wash on the dough/snakes before braiding and proofing and roll 2 in one kind of seeds and 1 in another, then carefully braid them.
Put into the preheated oven and bake about 25-30 minutes or until golden brown and your instant-read thermometer reads 190.
Once done, let cool in the pan for 5 minutes, then move to a rack to finish cooling.
If there was less flour, the dough may have spread out more. This is not a problem. Sometimes mine go flat more, sometimes not. If you really want this as sandwich bread, tuck the braid into a large loaf pan (or 2) and bake it that way.
What about cinnamon raisin Challah? Well, glad you asked. You can mix a heaping 1/4 cup of raisins in while it is being kneaded. If it is in the bread machine, it will usually beep at you when it is time to add the raisins. Then, just before braiding, I brush with egg wash and roll in cinnamon sugar, then continue to braid. I might sprinkle more cinnamon sugar just before popping into the oven. (Egg wash adheres the cinnamon sugar to the dough more effectively than butter.)
Let cool. Slice ‘er up. Wonderful for dinners, thin sandwiches, french toast, croutons, chicken feed…