Sunday, November 09, 2008

Third Time's a Charm Challah

Sunday, November 9, 2008

I've tried making challah twice before. Both times it tasted fine, but it looked ... well, I'm not going to remind you of how it looked. Suffice it to say that if you looked at pictures of my first two attempts, you would advise me not to give up my day job.
I happened upon a group of a dozen or so bloggers who call themselves Bread Baking Babes. Their October project was a challah from The New York Times Bread and Soup Cookbook, a book I don't have but which sounds like a good idea. I think it must be out of print, though, because I've browsed many a book store's cookbook collection, and I don't remember ever seeing it.
October's recipe was from Sara at, and I thank her for this simple, delicious, and apparently foolproof recipe.
It's a shiny, sticky dough, made with a half-cup of butter, four eggs, and a touch of saffron to give it a rich, yellow hue.

It only has to rise an hour or so (I used up my first monster package of yeast mail-ordered from King Arthur on this bread, by the way, and what an economy that turned out to be! Even baking bread nearly every week, it took me two years to go through the entire bag, and, kept in the freezer, it was still going strong after all that time), and Sarah and I had a date to go shopping at the Mall of America. I just put it in the refrigerator to slow it down, and it was ready to braid three hours later, when we came home.

This is where trepidation really set in. Last time I tried challah, I attempted a four-strand braid, but I got so confused I had to keep unbraiding it and trying again. It didn't look pretty. This time I was going to practice with Play-Doh, but that turned out to be unnecessary. This challah is a double-decker version: a bottom three-plaited layer, topped by the same thing, only smaller. It looks fancy, but it's easy.

Brushed with an egg wash and sprinkled with poppy seeds, it looks like someone who knows what she's doing made it, rather than all-thumbs BBC.

After I stacked the layers neatly, I slid the pan in the oven. 18 minutes later, I turned on the oven light, afraid of what I might see. Had the top layer fallen off? Had the whole thing exploded? (I do have an abnormal fear of things exploding, even though, as far as I know, challah is not in the habit of exploding).
Anyway, no and no. It still looked pretty.

Maybe not perfect, but pretty. As a bonus, this recipe makes two loaves of bread. I made the second one without poppy seeds, just to be devil-may-care.

To be perfectly honest, the top layer of the second loaf slid to the side while baking, so it can only be viewed from one angle. From its best side, though, it still looks shiny and pretty. Not to be too pleased with myself, but I do like the way they turned out.
We had the lopsided one for dinner, with a very good beef and wild rice soup with root vegetables. My cameraman forgot to take pictures of the soup, but he ate it up, along with the bread, which he pronounced quite satisfactory.


Chai18 said...

Wow, I have to say your challah looks professional and i can imagine it tasted amazing, having eaten challah every sabbath since i can remember Ive never seen a double decker challah its quite impressive. Though my favorite challahs are still the pull-apart kind, more fun to eat and easier to make. Two thumbs up!

If, for some reason, you dont eat the challah while its fresh, it makes great french toast when its stale

Lien said...

Your Challah looks fantastic!! It's an easy braid with the effect of a more complicated one. We all loved this recipe here too. Glad you enjoyed it!

Melinda said...

Stunning, Marie! So pretty. I would have to just stare at those precious loaves a good while before I would let anyone cut into them!
Did this Challah recipe taste different to Rose's recipe?

TNelson said...

Really beautiful! You've inspired me to try this again!


Doughadear said...

Marie,I remember your first Challah and although it ultimately tasted great, as bread bakers we like the loaves to look prefect and these last two are prefect challahs if I do say so myself.
I just love it toasted the next morning and if some lasts to the weekend, you might want to make French toast with blueberry maple syrup for a real treat.

Natashya said...

It looks just perfect! Mine slid a little as well but it still tasted wonderful.

breadbasketcase said...

I've heard it said before that challah makes fantastic French toast. If I have any left by this weekend, that is definitely my breakfast plan.

My favorite kind of recipe--an easy one that looks harder than it is! I checked out your challah--it looks fantastic!

breadbasketcase said...

Stunning!? You are a person who knows how to give a compliment!
In my opinion, Rose's recipes are always the gold standard and nothing ever quite compares, but this was actually quite delicious, and had the advantage of staying together in the oven.

Marty said...

I've been reading your blog for a while and it is always inspiring. Thank you. Now if the house next door comes on the market, let me know. As a neighbor I would be more than happy to taste your baking results and give you a somewhat honest opinion. Never lower than 4 stars.

breadbasketcase said...

Did you make this recipe or another one? It's funny how easy it is to forget old recipes when you're trying new ones all the time, isn't it?

That was very tactfully put. I had some women friends for dinner tonight and most of the second loaf got eaten up tonight. It makes such good toast--I'm hoping that I'll have some left for weekend French toast; the blueberry maple syrup idea sounds delicious.

breadbasketcase said...

You are one intrepid blogger! It looks like you post nearly every day, which means that you must cook nearly every day. I especially like the closeup photo of your challah, all shiny and beautiful.

If you're willing to give me four stars minimum, I'd love to have you living next door. Right now I have three slices of pie that I should give to someone who would appreciate them because I sure don't need to eat any more.

Anonymous said...

That's the best looking Challah I've seen! I just wish I could sample a slice, but then I probably would n't want to stop at one slice! Speculaas next on the list! Jeannette.

Kim Ode said...

Simply, wow. Those are amazing loaves. I've never tried making challah, headed off by all the tales of slipped and lopsided braids - not that it still woudn't taste good, but we eat with our eyes. You've inspired me to give it a shot, if only for the thrill of pulling something like this out of the oven.

breadbasketcase said...

I wish you could sample a slice too--I think that you could probably eat a whole loaf of bread and it wouldn't have as many calories as one piece of sour cream apple pie with ginger whipped cream (my latest project).

Now that I've made one successful challah, I'm a big believer. The double-decker approach is very clever because it looks intricate but doesn't require you to go outside your braiding comfort level, which, in my case, is quite limited. I hope you give it a try!

Jude said...

Nice challah -- This loaf was so much fun to make, wasn't it?

breadbasketcase said...

It really was fun, and it made me so happy when I turned on the oven light and saw that it actually looked like challah!