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May’s Daring Bakers’ Challenge was pretty twisted – Ruth from The Crafts of Mommyhood challenged us to make challah! Using recipes from all over, and tips from “A Taste of Challah,” by Tamar Ansh, she encouraged us to bake beautifully braided breads.
I have seen many beautiful Challah loaves on some of my favourite blogs and some great recipe books but being from a non Jewish background and with no Jewish culture nearby I have never tasted this amazing looking bread.
 Our host Ruth from The Crafts of Mommyhood grew up in a traditional Jewish household where this beautiful bread graced the table everyweek but was never home made so she decided to try it out for herself and bring us along for the ride. Ruth gave us three different recipes but pointed out that any recipe for an enriched bread would be fine. The only thing that was mandatory was that the bread should be braided or shaped.
Ruth gave us lots of information and background relating to traditions of Challah. “Believe it or not, the word “challah” does not actually mean bread. Any whole loaves can be used at the Sabbath or holiday table for the traditional blessing. Challah, instead, is the word referring to the portion of bread which, in the days of the Jewish temple in Jerusalem, was set aside and given to the high priests. These days the challah portion is taken before the bread is baked, and is ritually burned as an offering. There are specific guidelines concerning when the mitzvah (commandment) of challah is required – it has to do with how much flour is used.”
Ruth tells us that – “what makes challah truly stand out is the distinctive braid. There are many ways, though, in which challah can be shaped. While the recipes are important to this type of bread, it really is the shaping which makes it special. Braiding is an intertwining of separate pieces into one combined entity. This is symbolic of the intertwining of the everyday and the holy, and of the coming together of family and friends.”
I used the recipe for Honey White Challah that Ruth provided making one plain loaf and one cinnamon swirl loaf. See here for all the recipes and information. 

Challah (Honey White)

(from Tammy’s Recipes)
Servings: 2 loaves
1 ½ cups (360 ml) warm water, separated
1 Tbsp. (15 ml) (15 gm/½ oz sugar
2 Tbsp. (2-2/3 packets) (30 ml) (18 gm) (2/3 oz) dry active yeast
½ cup (120 ml) honey
1 Tbsp. (15 ml) oil (light colored vegetable oil, or olive oil if you prefer)
4 large eggs
1 ½ tsp. 7½ ml) (9 gm) (1/3 oz) salt
5 cups (1200 ml) (700 gm/25 oz) all-purpose (plain) flour, plus more as needed (up to 8 or 9 cups total)
1 egg beaten with 1 tsp. water

1. In mixer bowl/large mixing bowl combine ½ cup warm water, 1 Tbsp. sugar and 2 Tbsp. yeast. Allow to proof approximately 5 minutes until foamy.
2. To the yeast mixture add the remaining water, honey, oil, eggs, salt and 5 cups of flour. Knead (by hand or with your mixer’s dough hook) until smooth, adding flour as needed. Knead for approximately 10 minutes.
3. Transfer dough to a clean, oiled bowl, turn to coat or add a bit more oil on top. Cover bowl with a kitchen/tea towel. Leave to rise in a warm place until doubled, about 1 ½ hours.
4. Punch down the dough, divide it into two sections. Use one half to make each loaf (shaped or braided as desired).

Making strands: There are two basic methods for forming the strands used to braid challah. The first, and easiest, is to simply roll snakes between your hands like when working with clay or play dough. The second method is to use a rolling pin to roll out a flat disc of dough, then using your hands to roll the disc into a snake, rolling the snake on the counter with your fingers to achieve the length you need. This second method does result in a better rise, but either way works well. Whichever method you use, form your strands such that they are thinner at the ends and fuller in the middle. This will help your challah rise in the center.

Six strand braid: There are traditionally two challah loaves on the Sabbath table. Using the six strand braid, that brings twelve pieces to the table. These twelve strands can be symbolic of the twelve tribes of the Children of Israel. Many also use the twelve pieces to represent the twelve “showbreads” used in the Jewish Temple on special occasions.

Braiding is so much fun!

I was so proud of my first try!

For the cinnamon swirl challah, I rolled each strand out flat, brushed with butter and sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar. Then rolled up the strand and continued as per the 6 strand braid. 
5. Place loaves on parchment lined or greased baking sheets, cover with a towel, allow to rise 30 minutes.

6. Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
7. Brush tops loaves with egg wash. (Sprinkle with seeds or toppings here if wanted.)

 Egg wash is used to enhance the top crust of the challah. It adds shine and crispness, and enhances the beauty of the breads. While a single coat is sufficient, a double coat works beautifully. Brush your beaten egg and water mixture on the loaves directly after shaping, then allow to proof. Brush again just before baking, adding any toppings you were planning to use.

The plain challah was sprinkled with seasame seeds before baking
 8. Bake loaves 30-40 minutes until done.
9. Cool on wire racks.

The cinnamon swirl loaf didn’t hold together as well during baking but it was still gorgeous.

This recipe results in such a delicous, soft, fluffy bread.

My family loved the challah toasted for breakfast particularly the cinnamon swirl Challah. I only wish I had been heavy handed with the cinnamon – it wasn’t quite as “cinnamony” as I wanted it to be.
Thank you Ruth for introducing me to Challah. I loved learning to braid and with your instructions and video it was more simple than I thought it would be. I will be using this technique many times, I’m sure! 

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