I have been on a quest for a great homemade challah recipe for several years now. I hate paying $5 for a loaf of bread that I feel I should be able to make at home. It turns out that making challah is more challenging then I originally thought it would be. I have tried every recipe in my cookbooks (with my collection this was quite the endeavor) plus several I found online. Every recipe I tried made a lackluster loaf that only looked like challah.
I often wondered if my habit of using part whole wheat pastry or white whole wheat flour was the culprit, but never bothered testing any of the recipes with all white flour. I just couldn't bring myself to expend time and energy again on any of the recipes that were boring and dense instead of eggy, rich and light. Besides, part of the benefit of baking your own bread is the ability to use healthier ingredients.
I finally found a challah recipe we all love. It is rich and eggy, soft to the tooth and it makes beautiful french toast, both in taste and appearance. Plus the whole wheat pastry flour I used did not negatively affect the finished product. However this bread is not an easy just leave it to rise for a few hours while you do other things before shaping the loaves recipe. Let's just say this is a very finicky bread. With this recipe I now understand why the Jewish people baked unleavened bread when they were fleeing slavery in Egypt. Who would have time to baby sit bread when fleeing Pharaoh? However even with all the work this bread will be made often in my home.
The original recipe came from Peter Reinhart's Crust and Crumb: Master Formulas for Serious Bread Bakers. I guess the title should have tipped me off to the work that would be involved. The only changes I have made to the recipe are to use half white whole wheat flour, I also added some water to the egg wash so the crust was less like shellac. The first time I made it everyone liked the center, but not the crust. Lastly I adjusted the baking technique to use my convection oven, this way I did not need to rotate the loaf to ensure even browning. When making this it is important to use the highest quality eggs you can, factory egg production produces eggs that will not add much to the bread.
Adapted from Peter Reinhart's Crust and Crumb
3 1/2 (16 oz) cups flour (the original calls for bread flour, I used half King Arthur All Purpose Flour and Half King Arthur White Whole Wheat)
1/4 cup (2 oz.) sugar
1 tsp (.25 oz.) kosher salt (Reinhart does not specify kosher salt, but this is a Jewish bread)
2 tsp (.22 oz.) yeast
2 Tbsp (1 oz.) butter softened or melted and cooled
2 large eggs (3.3 oz.) beaten
2 large egg yolks (1.33 oz) beaten
1/4 cup (2 oz.) milk at room temperature
1/2 cup water at room temperature
1 egg yolk beaten with 1 tsp water for egg wash
Combine all ingredients in the bowl of a stand mixer and beat on low for 1 minute using the flat beater blade. Beat for 10 more minutes on medium speed. Place dough in a bowl and mist with cooking spray, cover bowl with a lid or plastic wrap or place the bowl in a plastic bag. Leave to rise for 1 hour or until it has visibly swelled.
Remove from the bowl and knead by hand for 5 minutes. If the dough is so sticky it is sticking to your hands dust with flour and continue kneading. Return the kneaded dough to the bowl, mist with cooking spray and cover, allow to rise for another hour or until it visibly swells. After 1 hour divide the dough into 3 equal pieces and roll each piece into a ball. Mist the balls with cooking spray and cover with a damp towel or plastic wrap to rest for 20 minutes.
After 20 minutes roll each ball into a long snake that is about 12 to 18 inches long. Keep the pieces you are not working with covered. Braid the 3 pieces together starting in the middle. Pinch the ends to seal and then tuck them under. After braiding the first half turn the bread over and around so the braid will still go the same way. Do not pull the pieces overly tight when braiding as this prevents expansion while rising.
Place the bread on a parchment lined baking sheet and brush with the beaten egg and water. Mist with cooking spray and cover with the damp towel or saran wrap before allowing to rise for 1 hour, or until doubled in size. I found the towel stuck to the dough so I put jars around the bread and draped the towel over them so the damp towel did not touch the rising bread.
Preheat the oven to 325° with convection or 375° if your oven does not have convection. Brush the bread with the last of the egg wash and sprinkle on any seeds your family may allow you to serve them (notice my bread does not have seeds). Bake in the preheated oven for 45 minutes, rotating the tray half way through the baking time if you are not using convection. When done it should be firm not squishy with an internal temperature of 185° (mine was more like 191° both times). Allow to cool on a rack for 45 minutes before slicing or eating.
makes 3 slices, can be multiplied
3 slices of bread approximately 1/2 inch thick (Challah or Cracked Wheat Bread are excellent choices)
1/4 cup milk
splash of vanilla extract (approximately 1/2 tsp)
Melt butter in a wide skillet and heat until foaming, meanwhile beat egg, milk and vanilla in a wide flat bowl or baking dish. Place bread in the batter, flip over to soak the second side using a fork and then transfer to the pan as the slices absorb batter. Allow the french toast to cook until it is golden brown in spots and then flip over to cook the second side. Once the second side is golden brown serve with butter, real maple syrup and or jam.