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Challah is a traditional Jewish Sabbath bread, often plaited into elaborate shapes; the idea being that with a plaited bread, there is no need for cutting it. This makes for a lovely all-round sweet bread, but not too sweet, and great to make as rolls for savoury or sweet fillings.
500g strong white flour
8g fine sea salt
40g caster sugar
250g warm water (between 34-37°C)
½ an egg
1 egg yolk
40g vegetable oil
18g fresh yeast (or 9g active dried yeast or 7g instant dried yeast)
25-50g raisins soaked in water for 2 hours (optional)
Sesame or poppy seeds for topping (optional)
Glaze: 1 egg mixed with a tsp water and a pinch of salt and left to rest for at least 20 minutes but up to 2 hours.
Weigh out the flour, salt and sugar and mix them together in a large bowl with one hand.
If you’re using fresh yeast, add it to the warm water and use your hands to break it up so there are no lumps. If you’re using dried yeast, add it straight in to the dry ingredients and mix that round with your hand as well.
Add the eggs and oil to the water and yeast then pour it into the dry ingredients and bring it all together with one hand.
Leave the dough for 10 minutes, covered. Wet your hand and pinch a section of the dough, then without breaking it off, stretch it away from the rest then fold it back on top. Work your way around the whole dough, repeating the stretching and folding. Cover the dough again and rest for another 10 minutes.
Repeat the stretching, folding and resting twice more (so 3 times in total).
Cover the bowl with a shower cap and leave to double in size. This can take anywhere between an hour, and two and a half hours depending on the temperature of the room – check after an hour. It doesn’t need to go ‘somewhere warm’.
Mix the ingredients for the egg glaze now so that it can rest while your dough rises.
Weigh the dough and divide it into 6. Roll each piece into a long thin strand around 30cm long (12in) using a little flour on the worktop to stop it sticking.
Lay three strands together in one direction and then weave the middles of the other three into them like the middle picture above.
Then plait the three strands on all four sides and tuck them underneath so it looks like the picture on the right. Alternatively, follow the video for a four-stranded Challah plait.
Put the loaf onto a piece of baking parchment on a chopping board and cover with the plastic bag, making a balloon of air and tucking the bag under the board – it mustn’t touch the dough otherwise it will stick and when you come to take it out, detaching it from the plastic will cause it to deflate and/or ruin the shape.
Preheat the oven and a metal baking sheet (or baking stone) to 180°C (160 fan) /Gas 5–6.
Proving is the final rising stage and the trick is to learn when the dough is ready to go into the oven; too soon and the bread can be doughy; too late and it can be heavy and cakey. To test the dough, oil or flour your finger (so it doesn’t stick to the dough) and gently prod the dough. If the impression disappears quickly and completely then the dough isn’t ready. If it just springs back a little bit, but stays there, your loaf is ready to go into the oven. If in doubt, err on the side of under-proving (if it’s over-proved the dent won't come out at all).
When you’re ready to bake, glaze the dough with the egg, being careful not to press too hard, then sprinkle with seeds if you want to.
Slide the dough into the oven and bake for about 30 minutes. Enriched doughs have a tendency to burn if the oven’s too hot so keep an eye on things and check it after 15 minutes. If it looks like the top’s browning too quickly, put a piece of baking parchment on the top (you may have to be a bit creative with creating a kind of ‘hat’ if you have a fan oven as this can blow straight off).
When it's baked, the loaf should be golden brown. To be really sure, you can insert a probe thermometer into the middle as soon as you take the bread out of the oven. If it reads 88°C it’s done (n.b. this is only for enriched doughs. Non-enriched doughs should reach an internal temperature of 98°C when they’re baked).
Leave to cool on a wire rack as you go and find your phone. Take a pic. Upload it to facebook, twitter or instagram and tag me :)