I promised my friends I would post this recipe for a wonderful challah bread and so here it is….
This recipe makes two LARGE loaves (feeding 8 to 10 people each loaf). I would say cut the recipe in half but that is not easy to do and the bread is somewhat labor intensive. Instead I prefer to make the full recipe and then stick the extra baked bread in the freezer. Thawed and warmed it is wonderful with supper, or make french toast, or just enjoy toasted with jam and tea on a winter afternoon.
This recipe is from a great cookbook: A Treasury of Jewish Holiday Baking by Marcy Goldman
Sponge Starter – (30 to 90 minutes ahead – longer wont hurt)
1.5 Cups warm water
2 Tbsp dry yeast
Approximately 2 Cups flour (the original recipe calls for bread flour, I used unbleached white)
All of the sponge starter
0.5 Cups warm water
0.75 Cup sugar (I used a little less than half a cup so it wouldn’t be so sweet)
3.5 teaspoons salt
3 egg, at room temperature, plus one egg yolk
0.5 cup vegetable oil
6 to 6.5 cups flour of your choice
Egg Wash Topping –
1 egg plus 1 egg yolk (I used the left over egg white from above plus one whole egg and it worked fine)
pinch of salt
pinch of sugar if desired
sesame or poppy seeds if desired
In a very large bowl, mix the warm water and dry yeast. Allow the mixture to stand for a couple of minutes to let the yeast swell and dissolve. Stir in the flour to make a soft, thick, pudding/ pancake batter like mixture. Cover the sponge with a damp tea towel and leave still in a WARM place for 30 to 60 minutes. If you see the sponge is rising beyond the limits of the bowl during its fermentation period, stir it down and then let it continue to sit for allotted time.
Stir down the spongy mixture in the work bowl, then add the rest of the water, the sugar, salt,eggs, yolk, oil and about 5 cups of the flour (If you are using a mixer with a dough hook, stir down the sponge and put it into the work bowl of the mixer to add all ingredients). Mix until it is a messy mass, not smooth. Cover the bowl with a damp tea towel and let it sit for 15 to 20 minutes (this allows the dough to relax; it changes its character by absorbing the flour better. It will be a lot easier to manage in the end.) After this rest period, knead the dough (by hand or the mixer with a dough hook) until it is smooth and elastic, about 10 to 15 minutes, adding more flour as required to make a dough that is easy to handle (not too sticky or tacky).
Shape the dough into a ball and place it in a lightly greased bowl. Cover with a damp tea towel. Let it rise in a draft free, warm environment. In the winter I turn my oven on to 150F and then turn it off during the last mix and rest. Then I put the bowl of dough in the oven with the door shut to stay warm. ***Plan A**Let it rest until it has almost doubled in size, anywhere from 45 to 90 minutes. OR ***Plan B**** You can let it rise overnight in the refrigerator. When the dough has risen, whisk together the ingredients for the egg wash.
Gently deflate the dough. Divide it in half for 2 loaves. Form the dough into loaves, braided or loaf style or rolls. Place them on a parchment lined baking sheet (the parchment really is important). Cover with a damp tea towel until doubled, about 45 to 90 minutes. Then brush with egg wash and sprinkle with sesame or poppy seeds if desired. The egg wash is what gives it the lovely brown color.
Preheat the oven to 375F. Place the bread in the oven and then reduce the heat to 350F and bake until the bread is medium brown and sounds hollow when tapped, about 35 minutes for smaller loaves and 45 minutes for larger loaves. If it starts to brown too much too early cover the top loosely with foil or parchment paper. When done cooking cool on the pan for 10 minutes and then move to a cooling rack. Slice when the bread reaches room temperature to avoid crumbling (if you can wait that long!!)