Until the age of 5.5, we lived in a city with no kosher bakery. My mom, ob"m, would bake challa every Friday. I have very fond memories of getting my own piece of dough to make my challa (better known as a little roll).
I really wanted to make challa -- good, yummy, tasty, nice-looking challa. C continued to encourage me to just make it. I read a lot on the web and in various cookbooks. Enter Spice and Spirit - The Complete Kosher Jewish Cookbook. I've had the book for over 20 years. I took a recipe here and there, but didn't really spend a lot of time trying new recipes. Since getting married, this book has become my bible. Everything I make from this book comes out GREAT!
The explanation for bread/challa baking in Spice and Spirit gave me the courage to continue. I made the recipe exactly as it appeared in the book (using white flour which really bothers me). Being the daughter of an amazing baker and cook, along with being married to someone who loves to experiment and modify recipes, I took a great recipe and adapted it to my needs. I use a Kitchenaid, as it is difficult for me to knead dough.
Here's what I came up with. Shabbat isn't the same without it:
Kitchenaid Challah (adapted by L):
1. Preparation: Sift 7 cups of flour (I use 5 cups 70% whole wheat flour and 2 cups white flour). Add 1 Tbsp of salt and set aside). Seven cups of flour is 1 kg, so you shouldn't separate challah.
2. Prepare the yeast:
- 2 oz fresh yeast (in Israel: 1 cube) or 1.5 Tbsp dry yeast. Note when you buy fresh yeast, press the cube and make sure it is soft. If it isn't soft, then don't buy it.
- 1.75 cups warm water (I use a pyrex cup and heat it up in the microwave for 45 seconds - it should be very warm but not hot and scalding). If you use whole wheat or other whole grain flour, use 2 cups of water
- 1/2 cup sugar (you can use white sugar, brown sugar, agave or honey - each has a different taste)
If you are using dry yeast, put the sugar (or one of the other sweet ingredients) in the mixing bowl. Add the warm water and then sprinkle the yeast on top.
Let the mixture stand until it bubbles. It doesn't have to bubble a lot. Once I see a few bubbles, I wait another minute or two.
3. Add the dry ingredients:
Pour in 5 cups of the flour/salt mixture. Add 1/4 cup oil (I use canola oil) and 2 egg yolks. I set aside the egg whites and the left over egg mixture from step 11 below and use it as the equivalent of one egg in a cake recipe.
4. Start the Kitchenaid on the lowest setting until the dough is relatively mixed through. You should use the kneading hook.
5. Put the Kitchenaid on Speed 2 for two minutes.
6. Add the rest of the flour/salt mixture. Once again, put the mixer on the lowest setting until the dough is relatively mixed through. I usually turn off the mixer a couple of times and with a stiff spatula, I push the sides down so the dough can mix through better.
7. Put the Kitchenaid on Speed 2 for ten minutes.
8. Remove the bowl from the mixer. Oil the top of the dough. Cover with damp towel and let rise for an hour. Great places to put the bowl to let the dough rise: top of the frig, top of a free-standing oven that is on, top of the washing machine or dishwasher that is in use. Challa dough loves warm places. You may need to let it rise a bit longer in the winter, if the heat is not on. The dough should rise over the top of the bowl - in the winter that is not necessarily the case. If it hasn't risen enough, wait a bit longer. A great way to test if the dough is ready, is by pushing your finger into the dough. If the hole doesn't start to close up, then the dough is ready.
9. After the dough has risen, remove the wet towel and set aside. Push your hand around the inside of the bowl to "clean" the dough from the side (hope that made sense) and punch it down. I grab the whole dough and rip it into 4 parts. Once you've worked with the dough, you can make the choice of how many challot/rolls you want - just letting you know what I do. I make 3 challot and 4 rolls. I work directly on a cookie sheet (covered with a silicone sheet or baking paper). This recipe uses two cookie sheets. For a challa, I take one part and pull it into 4 parts again. I then start pull each part to make them into strips for braiding. I hold with one hand at the top and then start pulling/squeezing down with the other hand. It is very non-scientific, but it works. It is best to read a book or follow a YouTube on braiding. Braiding with 4 strands works out very nice. For the rolls, I simply make a long strand and tie it in a knot. They are useful when you need a second challa for lechem mishneh. For a "pull apart" challa, make 6 or 7 balls (actually "blobs" work too), put one in the middle and the others around it. Leave a bit of space between each ball, so they will have the opportunity to rise.
If you have the time and want to invest in lighter, bigger challot,it is best to roll out each section and then roll it up to make a strand.
10. Cover the shaped challot/rolls with the damp towel and let it sit for about 45 minutes. About 25 minutes into the second rising, pre-heat the oven for 180 degrees C, 350 degrees F.
11. After the 45 minute second rising, beat an egg with a fork and brush it over the challot. I found that it is quicker and easier to just use my hand, rather than a brush. Different stokes for different folks!
12. Top the challa with any of the following: sesame seeds, poppy seeds, dried onion, crushed dried garlic, kosher salt, or use your imagination. If you make a pull-apart challa, you can top each ball with a different topping.
13. Bake the challot for roughly 35 minutes. Sometimes they are done a bit earlier. Pick up the challa and tap the bottom. If it sounds hollow, it is done.
14. Cool them on a rack. The extra challa freezes beautifully. Be sure they are covered/sealed well when putting them in the freezer.
Note: Separation of challa is not required when using this amount of flour.