Our tour through The Bread Baker’s Apprentice continues! Today we’re going step by step and learning how to make Challah.
Sorry, I’ve been wanting to shout that for a while. I’ve also been wanting to tackle this recipe for a while. I made challah once in pastry school and loved it. It’s as wonderful to look at as it is to make french toast with.
Baking confession—I think I may have slightly over-proofed this loaf. It still tastes amazing and looks great, but challah usually has a slightly tighter crumb than mine does.
Pastry nerd alert! “Crumb” is the interior texture of a bread. Think of the difference between sandwich bread and a big round of artisan bread. Sandwich bread has a tight, closed, uniform crumb, where as artisan bread has an open, irregular crumb.
Challah should have a tight, closed crumb. Mine is slightly more open than I want. It’s close! But I think I could do better next time. That’s the fun of going through The Bread Baker’s Apprentice, you bake, learn, eat tons of bread and then try again!
When we get there, I’ll be sure to point out what I would do differently on my next challah bake. For now, let’s get to baking!
The recipe starts in the bowl of a stand mixer with a paddle attachment. Dry ingredients get stirred together first. Wet ingredients are whisked together separately, then slowly poured into the dry and mixed until they form a ball on the paddle.
Swap out that paddle attachment for a dough hook and get to mixing. The dough is ready when it’s smooth, tacky (not sticky) and passes the windowpane test.
Before we let the dough proof, we need to form it into a boule. Boule literally means “ball” in French. The idea is to shape the dough into a smooth ball while creating lots of surface tension. This surface tension encourages the dough to rise up rather than expand out during proofing.
To form a boule, take the dough in your hands. With the heal of your hands on opposite sides pull the ends of the dough, pull down and together, using the fingers of one of your hands to pinch the two ends together while simultaneously trapping some air inside the boule. As you pull down, you’ll create tension on the top of the dough and make a smooth ball shape.
Place the boule, seam side down, in a lightly oiled bowl. Cover with plastic and proof for an hour.
Through the magic of yeast, the dough will expand to 1 1/2 times its original size.
Punch down the dough, and knead by hand for about two minutes. I need to work on my kneading skills. I was really awkward and never got into a good rhythm, but that’s what next time is for!
Next, forget to take any pictures, and return the dough to the lightly oiled bowl to proof for another hour.
The sun started to set, so the lighting is about to get real wonky. Stay with me!
Divide the dough into three equal pieces. If you’re a bit of a baking perfectionist, you can weigh the pieces to ensure they’re equal, or you can live dangerously and just eyeball it. Turn your three pieces into boules, cover with a kitchen towel and let rest for 10 minutes.
Roll out pieces into strands about 24 inches in length. It’s best if the the strands are slightly thicker in the center and taper off at the ends.
I worked in a rotation where I rolled out the strands a little bit at time. While I let one strand rest I would work on another, swapping them out until they reached the desired length. Working in a rotation lets the dough rest and prevents the bread from getting overworked.
Next time, I would gently knead the boules to punch out some of the air before I started shaping them into long strands. My strands were a little wrinkly, and the pictures I’ve seen of braided challah dough show really smooth strands.
Braid the strands together like you would your friend’s hair at camp. Pinch the ends and tuck them under the loaf.
Transfer to a lined sheet pan, and brush with egg whites. Loosely cover with plastic wrap and let proof until the dough expands to 1 1/2 its size or for about 60-75 minutes. Before bringing to the oven, brush with more egg wash and sprinkle with poppy or sesame seeds. Seeds are optional.
This is where I think my dough slightly over proofed. It had more than expanded to 1 1/2 times its size at an hour, so I quickly brushed it with another layer of egg wash and stuck it in the oven. Next time, I’ll keep a closer eye on the dough at this stage.
Still turned out looking pretty great, if I do say so myself.
If you’ve never had challah, it’s a slightly sweet, soft bread. I love using it for french toast or simply toasting it up with some jam for a quick breakfast. However I fully support you if you just want to go for it, rip off a piece and eat it plain. Just as delicious.
- 4 cups bread flour
- 2 Tbs granulated sugar
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 1/3 tsp instant yeast, .15 oz
- 2 Tbs vegetable oil
- 2 large eggs, slightly beaten
- 2 large egg yolks, slightly beaten
- ¾ cup plus 2 Tbs to 1 1/8 cups room temperature water
- 2 egg whites, whisked until frothy
- Sesame or poppy seeds, optional
- In the bowl of a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, mix together flour, sugar, salt and yeast. In a small bowl, whisk together oil, eggs, yolks and ¾ cup plus 2 Tbs water.
- Slowly pour wet ingredients into dry and mix until the dough forms a ball. Add additional water if needed to make the dough come together.
- Replace paddle with dough hook and mix on medium-low speed for 6-8 minutes. If needed sprinkle in more flour if the dough is sticking to the sides and bottom of the bowl too much. It’s ready when a smooth, tacky dough forms and passes the windowpane test.
- Lightly oil a large bowl. Form the dough into a boule (explained above) and transfer into the bowl making sure to coat it in oil all over. Cover with plastic wrap and proof for an hour.
- Remove the dough from bowl and onto a surface lightly dusted with flour. Punch out the air and knead for about two minutes.
- Form it back into a boule, place in the proofing bowl, cover with plastic wrap and proof for another hour. It should expand to at least 1 ½ times its original size.
- Remove from bowl and divide into three equal pieces. Form each piece into a boule, cover with a towel and let them rest for 10 minutes.
- Roll out each piece into a 24-inch-long strand where the middle is slightly thicker and the ends taper off.
- Braid the three strands together. Pinch the ends together and tuck them under the loaf. Transfer to a lined sheet pan.
- Brush loaf with egg whites, cover loosely with plastic wrap and proof for 60-75 minutes or until the dough has grown to 1 ½ times its original size.
- Preheat oven to 350F with the oven rack in the center. Brush loaf with frothy egg whites again and sprinkle with seeds if desired.
- Bake for 20 minutes. Rotate pan 180 degrees and bake for additional 20 minutes. The bread should be a deep golden brown.
- Transfer to a cooling rack and allow to cool for an hour before you dive in.