In The Book of Jewish Food, Claudia Roden had just a simple one-liner in the recipe headnote for challah: “It is made with eggs and comes out so beautiful that you do not resent the labour“. Indeed, I cannot agree more. That was how I felt when I took this beautiful baby out of the oven.
Challah, for those who are not in the know, is a loaf of bread whose dough is made with eggs, sugar and oil (along with the usual suspects in bread-making that are flour, yeast, water and salt) and usually shaped into a beautiful braid that is baked to a most burnished brown. Challah is typically served at Shabbat dinners (on Friday nights) and on the high holidays, but you can enjoy it anytime you wish. It toasts really well, makes excellent sandwiches and is the best bread to use for french toast. I like to keep a sliced loaf in my freezer for making a quick lunch of french toast for my kids on days where there are no leftovers in the fridge.
I have always bought our Friday night challahs from Jewish bakeries and why not? They are absolutely delicious and worth every penny. But I was inspired to bake my own loaf and I followed the recipe from The Kitchn to great success. The only difference I made to the recipe was to make the dough on Thursday night and stashed it in the fridge for an overnight rise. On Friday morning before dashing out of the house to take my daughter to her arts class, I took the dough out of the fridge and left it on the kitchen counter. By the time we came home for lunch, the dough had come to room temperature and was perfect for shaping.
While my son took his after lunch nap, my daughter and I had a great time shaping the dough into ropes. The recipe was pretty clear on the braiding instructions but it would be uncharacteristic of me if I didn’t botch up while making a braid from six ropes of dough. The “labour” Claudia Roden was referring to must have been the complicated braiding. I can handle braiding three strands but six strands is totally beyond me on the first attempt. Luckily, the baked challah came out looking so glorious that all braiding fumbles were forgiven.
I wish I was able to take pictures of my daughter in the shaping process but it was impossible to wield a camera with my doughy hands. She had so much fun that I am thinking of making this a weekly activity; my husband thinks I’m just being ambitious.
The picture shows what was left of the huge loaf after dinner. Clearly, we eat a lot of bread around here. Yes, this recipe makes a grand-sized challah that will feed a crowd but if well-wrapped, the leftovers make for great breakfast toast the next morning.