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Challah Back!

Written By Culinary Pen on Monday, July 27, 2009 | 7:46:00 PM

I've always thought that the classiest looking bread in the bakery are those braided loaves, braided wreathes, or just the funny little ones that cut back-and-forth like the stalk of a pea plant. In need of some toast-able bread, I decided to undertake some braiding of my own.

In high school, I worked in the men's suits dept of Sears. This was when Sears began to slowly move away from customer service and started to build a "self-service environment," where the customer would be on their own. Thankfully, we still charged them the same as a full service shop. But then they cut staffing and transferred employees around to different departments that they weren't familiar with.

So on certain lonely nights, they'd stick me in the drapery section, where everything needed to be ordered from a distributor using a computer system I could barely turn on. Thankfully, business was slow. To pass the time, I taught myself to braid the drapes together. My self-taught skill went unnoticed, until an older woman spotted me fiddling with the drapes. Thankfully, she assumed the more rational explanation, "Oh, I see some little girl's gone and tasseled up your whole department!"

It was not until this past weekend's baking session that I needed to dust off my skills and show the world I could still twist with the best of them. I loved making this bread, as the final product looks incredibly impressive, but is very easy to make. The dough is pretty dry, just using honey, eggs, butter, and 1/4 cup of water to add moisture. A dry dough is important, as a wet, soggy one would be impossible to braid and couldn't hold a recognizable shape once the yeast began to rise.

So what's a challah? Challah is a traditional Jewish holiday bread that's characterized by a braided appearance and lots of eggs. Compared to the daily bread, which was just flour, water, and salt, challah was enriched with eggs to make it more of a "special occasion" item. It's similar to French brioche, but usually doesn't have butter (which I used instead of oil...because that's what I had on hand). Once it had risen into a puffy braided loaf, I brushed the top with egg wash and sprinkled on a good handful of sesame seeds (I was also out of poppy seeds...).

And Ta Da! This is probably the most impressive-looking bread I've made yet. It also tasted great! Flaky, tender, and moist, all held together in a beautifully burnished crust. Truly perfect for slathering with jelly as-is, no toasting required. But I'm no challah-champ yet. Traditional ones are braided with six "strands" of dough, not just three. Time to grab some curtains and start practicing.

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Carla said...

I think this is my favorite post of yours, yet! The title gave me a snicker at the start, I loved hearing the back story of the drapery, and just looking at the bread makes my mouth water!