Spread Ari’s Light Challah Bake
Based on watching everyone make their challahs on Thursday evening, I’ve adjusted the recipe, and included baking tips and recipe options.
• 1 ½ c. room temperature milk, almond milk, or water
• 1/3 c. granulated sugar... or honey or maple syrup (you could also reduce the amount to ¼ c.)
• 2 large eggs, at room temperature (you could add a third egg for an even richer challah.)
• 4 tbsp. (2 oz.) unsalted butter, or Fleischman’s Unsalted Margarine, at soft room temperature (or oil), plus more for greasing bowl and baking pan
• Approximately 5-6 c. all-purpose flour, added gradually as needed to form a dough (You could substitute bread flour for some or all of the flour called for. *You could also substitute 1 c. of whole wheat flour at the beginning of the mixing process- see the directions below. Just be sure that you gradually add the white flour since whole wheat flour will absorb more of the liquid, which means that the substitution will not be cup for cup.)
• 1 package instant yeast, about 2 ¼ tsp. (You could substitute active dry yeast, but you will need to prove it. To do so, heat your milk or water to about 110°F in a large bowl. Stir in the sugar and yeast and let mixture rest at room temperature for 5-10 minutes, or until foamy. Then go ahead and whisk in your eggs and continue with the recipe.)
• 1 ¼ tsp. salt (Salt is a crucial ingredient- don't omit it. You could decrease the amount to 1 tsp., if desired.)
• Egg wash- 1 large egg whisked with 1 tsp. water or milk, for brushing onto braided challahs
Optional mix-ins: ½-1 c. of any of the following- chopped toasted walnuts or pecans; chocolate chips along with or without nuts; butterscotch, peanut butter, or white chocolate chips; mixture of ½ tsp. Cinnamon and 2 tbsp. Brown sugar, with or without nuts; any minced fresh herbs, or a combination of herbs, with or without finely diced sun-dried tomatoes; raisins, dried cranberries, finely minced dates, dried apricots, or figs with or without a pinch of cinnamon
Optional: 2-3 tbsp. sesame seeds, poppy seeds, cumin seeds, fennel seeds, coarse kosher salt, or a mix, for sprinkling over egg-washed braided challahs
Optional fillings: See suggestions at the end of the directions below.
In a large bowl, stir together all of the milk or water, and sugar. Add butter or margarine or oil, and mix to incorporate.
Add eggs and mix again.
Place 2 ½ c. flour *(if you plan to use 1 whole wheat flour, add it here along with 1 ½ c. of all-purpose or bread flour) on top of milk/yeast/egg mixture, followed by the yeast, and lastly by the salt. Stir everything together until mixture is consistency of a thick pancake batter.
Add another cup of flour and stir to incorporate flour. Add a second cup of flour and stir until incorporated. Add one-half cup of flour, and stir. Continue adding more flour, a handful at a time, until dough forms, and begins to clear the sides of the bowl. (Put your hand in the dough- if your dough is still very sticky, stir in another handful of flour. You will probably end up using between 5, and 5 ¼ c. flour to make the dough.)
Lightly dust your countertop with flour and turn dough out onto counter. Lightly sprinkle the top of your dough with flour and knead, pushing dough away from you, and rolling it back (for about 10 minutes). Dust with only an additional tablespoon of flour at a time to keep dough from sticking. When dough is soft, smooth, elastic, and still a tad bit sticky, stop kneading. A lighter, slightly sticky dough will make a better challah!
Place a tsp. of butter or oil in a large bowl and add your kneaded dough, turning dough to coat all sides with some of the oil. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and let dough rise at room temperature for 1-1 ½ hours, or until almost doubled in size. (Alternatively, you can refrigerate the dough overnight, or for as long as 4 days. Remove dough from refrigerator 30 minutes before continuing with recipe. The overnight refrigerated rise will be slower, thus giving your challah a great deal more flavor!)
Lightly butter, oil, or line a baking sheet with parchment paper; set aside.
Turn you risen dough out onto a very lightly floured counter. Cut dough into 2 pieces. If you will be using any of the optional add-ins, flatten each piece of dough into a rectangle, sprinkle with desired add-ins, and fold dough over add-ins to evenly incorporate them. (If you have incorporated add-ins, you will need to cover the challah dough with plastic wrap and let it relax for 10 minutes before continuing with recipe.)
**If you would prefer filling your challahs rather than using the add-ins, proceed down to the directions for filling challahs with one of the filling recipes provided below.
Once dough is ready to braid, cut each half of the dough into the desired number of strands you will be using to braid your challah: 3, 4, 5, or 6. Braid as desired, pinching the strand ends together on each end and tucking them under the formed challah. Lift braided challahs onto prepared baking sheet. Be sure that challahs are at least 2-inches apart on the baking sheet.
Lay a towel or plastic wrap lightly onto challahs, and let rise for 30-45 minutes at room temperature. (Alternatively, you can put a well-covered challah into the freezer for up to 1 week. The day you want to bake your challahs, remove them from the freezer and lift them onto a clean baking sheet that has been freshly oiled or lined with parchment paper. Cover challahs lightly with plastic wrap and let rise at room temperature for 2 ½-3 hours, or until they have reached room temperature and are soft and pillowy.)
Preheat oven to 350°F. 10 minutes before baking, remove plastic wrap and brush challahs with egg wash. Let sit for 10 minutes, and then brush with egg wash again. If using a topping, sprinkle it evenly over challah and bake for 27-30 minutes, rotating pan from back to front halfway through baking time.
Immediately transfer challahs from the hot pan onto a cooling rack. Let cool at least 30 minutes before slicing.
Makes 2 challahs.
Recipes and directions for filling individual challah strands:
Note: The apricots are delicious in combination with the dates. However, you can easily substitute the same amount of dates for the apricots, making this a pure date paste. The paste should be easily spreadable. If it’s too thick add more water, a tablespoon at a time, to lighten it up.
2 c. pitted dates, chopped (10 oz.)
1 c. dried apricots, coarsely chopped (6 ounces)
2/3 c. freshly squeezed orange juice
4-5 tbsp. water
Grated zest of 1 large orange
2 tsp. brown sugar
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
Pinch freshly ground black pepper
Stir all ingredients together in a small pan and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer uncovered for 45 seconds. Let cool for 5 minutes, then puree with an immersion blender or in a blender. Transfer mixture to a small bowl, cover, and let remain at room temperature until needed.
Onion, Shallot, Poppy Seed, and Parmesan Cheese Filling