For me, there’s nothing like making challahs for Shabbos. But I can’t say it’s always been the height of my week. There was a time when baking fluffy, light-as-a-feather challahs was a total mystery to me.
In those early years right after the wedding, my husband would assure me week after week that there’s absolutely nothing like my challahs but for me it was definitely not an oneg Shabbos.
The following anecdote will further illustrate my frustration:
One Friday night, my husband was about to cut open my freshly baked challah when suddenly, he raised it high, as if ready to throw. He was hinting that my challah was literally, “heavy as a brick!”
I wasn’t insulted.
I was upset.
I didn’t see the point in continuing to make those rock-hard challahs! But I decided I won’t give up. I’ll search for the perfect challah dough recipe relentlessly. I won’t stop till my challahs will taste fantastically delicious!
Well I must admit I’ve come a long way since then. After finally getting it right, I went on to selling my challahs in the neighborhood grocery. The process of improvement was on the rise just like my challah dough.
Eventually, I switched to making them whole wheat. I substituted margarine for oil, then subtracted the overall amount. Honey instead of processed sugar and no more eggs. These gradual changes brought me to an end product which once you taste you are not willing to forego.
As for the prep part, have no fear! The non-stick dough is soft and extra-easy to handle (great for little “helping” hands). The ingredients are simple and inexpensive (great for economization) and most of all, nothing beats the aroma of homemade challahs wafting from your kitchen. What’s more, come Shabbos, you’ll be delighted to see your family enjoying the fruits of your labor.
Here are various questions I’ve received about homemade challahs:
Q. I make challahs every week but they come out dry. Do you have a solution?
A. For you and others who have the same problem, I suggest trying the recipe below. (Those who prefer white challahs can switch the whole wheat flour to white and add only 1 liter water.)
In addition, here are a few tips I’ve picked up over time:
If you’re using a mixer, the initial mixing time for ingredients should be 7 minutes. Allow to “rest” 5 minutes, then mix again 5 minutes. Mix and rest one more time.
Leave the dough to rise in a covered bowl for 1-2 hours in a warm place or in the fridge (as explained in my previous article). Be sure to put the bag of dough in the back of your refrigerator overnight. Otherwise come morning, you might find a bulging bag of dough peeking out at you from your open refrigerator door (I’m speaking from experience)!
The secret to making airy challahs? Fill ’em up with air! Instead of simply making ropes out of balls of dough before braiding challahs, roll out each ball of dough with a rolling pin. Then roll up jelly roll style. When you have 6 “rolls,” start braiding. You won’t believe the difference this makes!
Dough too dry? There are a few factors that can cause this problem even if you’re sure you’ve done exactly what the recipe instructs. The solution? It’s still not too late to add some moisture to the dough. After rolling out each ball of dough as instructed above, dip an egg brush in water and brush the dough, then roll up. Be careful not to add too much water as it will make the dough mushy.
After braiding your challahs, let them rise for about half an hour. The exact amount of time really depends on the weather so you might need to leave them for longer if they’re “winter challahs.” If so, you can speed up this stage by warming up the oven for a few minutes and then turning it off. Put the tray of braided challahs in the oven and leave the door open. Excess heat kills yeast so beware not to overdo it. You’ll know you did if the inflated forms suddenly deflate…
Another way to ensure a good and even rise for your braided challahs: Instead of preheating the oven, turn it on just when you put the challahs in to bake. This way, the formed loaves will rise slowly as the heat gradually rises in the oven.
For an extra-special-shiny-finish, brush with egg wash twice, allowing a 10 minute interval between them. Be sure to brush on v-e-r-y gently, again to avoid deflation of your beautiful challah forms. Top with sesame seeds and/or sunflower and pumpkin seeds, pop in the oven and success is on its way!
Q. I’m writing this on Friday since I’m exasperated with how my challahs come out. The dough is excellent – soft and elastic. Everything looks fine until they come out of the oven. No one wants to eat them! They’re light colored and hard on the outside and dry and crumbly on the inside. I really want to do the mitzvah of hafrashas challah so what can I do to make sure my challahs and rolls come out nicely browned and more importantly, soft and moist?
A. The hopeless description of your challahs reminds me of my own exasperation years ago. I too, looked for an explanation for my yellowish, hard challahs. I was told to simply bake them on 400°F and voila! My challahs became the rave of town ever since!
Q. I’d love to have my family get used to whole wheat challahs but they won’t even look at anything that’s not pure white. Any ideas?
A. Easy does it! Start by substituting only 1 cup of flour with whole wheat and see how your family “swallows” it. If they don’t notice, gradually continue adding more whole wheat flour until slowly but surely you’ll be making 100% whole wheat challahs! Just remember to increase the amount of water in proportion to the whole wheat flour.
And now for the recipe:
Half and Half Challahs
2 ½ lbs. whole wheat flour
2 ½ lbs. Bleached all purpose flour
2 tbs. Dry yeast
2 tbs. Salt
1 cup canola oil
½ cup honey
5 cups lukewarm water
Mix, rise, braid and bake challahs as noted on the article.
Share your success or questions with us at: firstname.lastname@example.org
About the Author: Mindy Rafalowitz is a recipe developer and food columnist for over 15 years. She has published a best selling cookbook in Hebrew for Pesach and the gluten sensitive. Mindy is making progress on another specialty cookbbok for English readers. For kitchen questions or to purchase a sample recipe booklet at an introductory price, contact Mindy at email@example.com.
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