This year we are studying Creation to the Greeks in our homeschool.
One of the best parts of this year’s curriculum is that we are celebrating ALL the Jewish Feasts.
It is an amazing way to learn about history. Do what they did. Eat what they ate. Experience a bit of another time and culture.
We explore ancient civilizations. We build forts. We make boats. We cook unusual foods – like fish with heads & tails. We use new spices. We feast – which is always a good idea.
Every Jewish feast (we have studied) no matter what the main dish, includes challah bread.
If you are a homeschooler and this is sounding vaguely familiar & you are trying to put your finger on my curriculum – It’s My Father’s World. To see what else I use in my homeschool or see what approach I take toward learning or if just want to know why on earth someone would want to be with their children 24X7 – go here.
I’ve made challah bread more times that I care to mention. Really…. dozens of loaves of challah bread have come from my oven. I no longer wait until a Jewish feast to make it. It is a favorite in our home.
All this challah baking has allowed me time to really develop my recipe.
This stuff is amazing. It’s sweet but it’s a bit salty. It’s soft and light and wonderful. This bread is wonderful dipped in soups, stews and even chili. If you have any leftover tomorrow it makes the best french toast you’ve ever eaten.
My 4 children all think challah bread tastes like doughnuts. Here is a conversation that happened in my kitchen as we were enjoying some homemade challah:
Child #1: “This tastes like a doughnut.”
Child #2: “Jewish people must like doughnuts.”
Child #1: “I don’t think they had doughnuts 2000 years ago.”
Child #2: “Yeah, but they would like them.”
Then my oldest daughter walked in the room and had an imaginary conversation with Moses:
Daughter: “Hey Moses, your bread tastes like a doughnut.”
Moses: “What’s a doughnut?”
Daughter: “You’re gonna love it.”
It’s cool to think that we are eating a piece of history. This challah bread has been made from fresh milled flour for thousands of years. I know that the ancient Israelites were probably going about this bread a bit differently than me. They had to grind their flour by hand. They kneaded it by hand. They baked it in stone ovens —- BUT I still feel a connection to those people from antiquity when I eat the bread they ate.
In the bowl of your mixer, combine the water, honey, butter and yeast. Insert the dough hook & give everything a quick spin just to combine (3 seconds). Let this sit on the counter until the yeast activates.
Once the yeast is all bubbly, add 4 eggs and salt. Do not mix yet – the salt will crucify your yeast & we don’t want that. We need to get some flour into the bowl so the yeast doesn’t die.
Add 3 cups of flour & turn on mixer. I let my mixer run on low while I add the rest of the flour. Add flour slowly watching the sides of your mixing bowl.
If you have been reading for any amount of time you know that I am a stickler for freshly milled wheat. It’s all I eat. It’s what I cook with. I’m weird like that.
For more on milling your own wheat:
Continue to add flour until the dough is pulling away from the sides.
You will know you have added enough flour when the sides look clean and the dough barely sticks to your finger when you touch it. You want the dough to be very soft & sticky. It should be too sticky to knead with your hands. This will result in the softest, lightest bread. Do not add too much flour. If you add too much flour you will end up with dense, dry, hard bread.
Put the lid on your mixer and knead the dough on medium for 7 minutes. After the mixing is done, remove the hook & cover your dough (I use my lid, you could also use a towel or some plastic wrap).
Let rest 20 minutes – this is your first rise.
After the rise we are going to “turn the dough out” onto an oiled surface – not floured.
Many breads need to be worked on floured surfaces – this one does not. In fact, by flouring your workspace you will be adding more flour to your recipe (which could lead to tough bread). Perfectly kneaded dough will not stick to your hands or your work surface. Just oil your hands and the (cleaned) area where you are planning to make your loaves.
I am going to braid my challah bread on my island. I am using a simple spray oil to lube everything up.
You can barely see the oil on my counter. You may also notice the can of spray oil in the upper corner of the picture.
Just dump your challah dough out of your mixer bowl onto the oiled surface.
Divide your bread in half. If you want smaller loaves, divide it into fourths.
If you would like to braid your challah the correct way – you’re gonna have to ask someone other than me. I’m pretty sure there are 4 or 5 strands in the traditional loaf. I am not Jewish and like to keep things as simple as I can. So, I just make a 3 strand braid for my challah.
To Braid: Take one of the hunks of dough and divide it into 3 parts (for the 3 strands). Roll & stretch the strands until they each are 12-15 inches long. Connect the 3 strands at one end and begin braiding. When you get to the end of the loaf, tuck the ends under the loaf.
After I finished braiding the loaf I moved it to an oiled baking sheet. Cover in plastic wrap (lightly) and let rise until doubled.
This should take an hour or more.
While the dough is rising you can make your egg wash. Just whisk the egg and vanilla.
Preheat oven to 350. Before baking, brush the dough gently and carefully with the egg wash. If you are too aggressive your entire loaf could fall (think flat, deflated bread) and that would be horrible. We are dealing with a delicate flower here – a light hand is a must.
Bake for about 25-30 minutes or until golden brown.
This dough is amazing. It is sweet, it is slightly salty, it is more than just challah bread. You can use this recipe for rolls, cinnamon roll dough, hot cross buns or even bake it in loaf pans for a sweet sandwich bread.
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