Halloween is in the air. It’s time to think about pumpkins. Pumpkin bread is delish. Pumpkin seeds are one of my favorites. There must be a way to make pumpkin challah. I did a little research online, and there are a few recipes out there. But they aren’t my recipe. So here’s what I did differently from my standard recipe:
- I cut back on the oil a little bit and added a half cup of pumpkin (after all, lots of recipes say you can use apple sauce or pumpkin in place of oil)
- I used a little less water, since I figured the pumpkin added moisture
- I added a little extra sugar
- I added a teaspoon of cinnamon and half a teaspoon of allspice, nutmeg and ginger
- I added a teaspoon of vanilla and a teaspoon of maple flavoring
OMG! Let’s just get that out of the way. This is the most awesome challah ever baked. It’s not for the timid, and certainly not something you’d dip in chicken soup. It’s a dessert challah in every sense of the word. Here’s what I did: I made the standard bread dough, with a teaspoon of cinnamon added with the eggs. When it came time to braid the dough, I stretched it out and spread a thin layer of margarine, then sprinkled on brown sugar and more cinnamon. I then cut that sheet into strips and braided those six strips into a standard challah shape. The rest of the process was the same. When it came out of the oven, it smelled amazing. We couldn’t wait to dig in, and we weren’t disappointed. But you can’t call it a cinnamon roll with the… icing! On a challah! Hell ya! I mixed up a quick icing from a cook book (powdered sugar, water, vanilla) and drizzled it on top, and OMG! Try it! Try it! Try it! It’s amazing!
The chocolate challah was good… I guess. It was sophisticated. It was grown-up. It wasn’t what you’d hope for when you hear “chocolate challah”. I was thinking it would be like chocolate-chocolate chip ice cream. It was more like a wine that’s described as fruity and sweet, but it turns out that to your unsophisticated palette, it tastes just like every other dry white wine. So this was round two for the chocolate challah. This time, in addition to the cocoa that I mentioned in week 4, I chopped up half a cup of chocolate chips (pareve) with a knife and added them in with the first cup of flour. I then added another half cup of whole chocolate chips in with the rest of the flour, figuring it would make for a dough speckled with delicious melting chocolate. The loaves were made and baked, and I excitedly cut into the first sample, and nothing. No chocolate speckles. No ewie-goowie. It was exactly the same as the first time, but I guess with a few hundred extra calories mixed into the batch. It was still good… I guess. Still sophisticated in its not-too-sweet cocoa undertones. But still not what I’m looking for. I’ll get there, and I’ll know I’m there when I can bake them for people without the “Ok, but I have to warn you that it’s not sweet or particularly chocolaty” warning. So, it’s back to the drawing board on that one.
I was getting increasingly irritated with the amount of time I was spending trying to roll my dough balls into braid-able strands. For some reason, my challah recipe produces a sturdier dough, which is great for braiding, but a pain in the #$% to roll. I was so fed up, I was actually going to look online for a machine that might roll out dough easier (not that I could ever convince the Mrs. to allow another gadget in the kitchen). A few nights ago, as I was laying it bed, it dawned on me — start with strands, not balls. Don’t cut the dough horizontally — cut it vertically (or vice-versa)! It changed my life. Seriously. I’m not getting as much upper body exercise as I was, but I can make a challah in a minute or two, rather than 10. In case you didn’t catch it, here’s what to do: Let’s say you have a recipe that makes 5 challahs, so you cut the giant dough ball into 5 smaller dough balls. Then you take 1 of the dough balls (which will make 1 challah), and stretch it a little into an oblong rather than a sphere. Now, rather than cutting it the short way, into six small ball-shaped sections, cut it the long way, into six long rope-shaped sections. This way, most of the work is done, and all you need to do is roll each strand for a few seconds to make it a little longer, and you’re there! Ta Da!
Chocolate chip challahs are everywhere. Where are the chocolate challahs? Seems like a pretty easy step to take. I took the standard recipe and added half a cup of cocoa powder just before adding the flour (cocoa is pareve and unsweetened). I ended up needing a little less flour in the end. The dough smelled awesome, and the final product was delicious. It wasn’t particularly sweet, but it was dark brown in color and had a very chocolaty aroma. Like a fine wine (not that I’m a wine drinker at all), you have to chew the bread and think about it as a chocolate bread to taste the cocoa undertones. It’s quite sophisticated, and not at all what you would expect from a “chocolate challah”. Give it a try!
We started buying whole wheat bread when we couldn’t find any kosher breads other than the Ezekiel bread at Trader Joes, and let me just say, you need to be in the mood to taste whole grains, sprouts and tree bark if you’re going to enjoy this bread. It really makes you appreciate the industrial revolution. I decided to try out whole wheat challah so that my wife will feel a little less guilty about eating it. If it were up to me, I’d figure out a way to refine flour even more, and maybe even add a little red meat in there (note to self: figure out a steak-challah recipe). But I must say, when I took the plunge and indulged by wife’s desire to be ‘healthier’, I was pleasantly surprised by the outcome. I’ll preface this by saying that I only made one batch of it, and I went off of advice that a friend gave a while ago — don’t make it 100% whole wheat. I replaced three of the eight cups of bread flour with whole wheat flour, and aside from a slightly browner ‘whole wheat’ appearance, you wouldn’t have known it was whole wheat. So, I don’t know what the final ratio of whole wheat to bread flour should be. Next time I make it, I’ll up it to four cups of whole wheat flour and see how it goes.
I wanted to figure out how to make my challahs look a little more professional. The first step, of course, is an egg wash brushed on top just before putting it in the oven, to give it a glossy shine. Another tip is a little cornmeal on the sheet pan or silpat to keep it from sticking. After that, it’s all about the braid. Anyone can do a three-braided challah — it’s just like braiding hair. It’s every bit as delicious as any other challah, but it’s a little flatter and not particularly impressive. It’s the classic “homemade challah” shape. But you don’t want guests to say “what a beautiful homemade challah.” You want them to say “there’s no way this is a homemade challah!” Watch enough food network and you know, “people eat with their eyes before their mouths”. The first “wow” factor will come from the bubbly and sophisticated shape of a 6-braided challah. I tried to learn it from Spice and Spirit — a cookbook that covers everything traditional and old-school in Jewish cooking. That was seriously confusing. I don’t know why I didn’t just google it. Anyway, here’s a much easier video tutorial. Do it a few times and you’ll be able to braid a challah in 15 seconds. I still need to refer back to the book to see how to start it (just like starting a lanyard back at summer camp), but it’ll get the wow factor!
Nothing Fancy. Nothing out of the ordinary. The classic egg challah is the one that got me excited to make challah, because every time I’d make it, the feedback was amazing! When my wife and I first tried making challahs it was hit or miss (more misses than hits). The dough would be tough to work with, wouldn’t rise properly or would be impossible to braid. It wasnt until my sister sent us her recipe that things finally clicked. I’m not going to give you the recipe right now. We’ll build up a little suspense. But I’ll tell you what’s in it, so that you’ll have a reference when I tell you how I adapted it to make different types of challahs. These ingredients, including 8 cups of flour, make 5 pounds of dough.
- 8 cups of bread flour
How does one start a blog? Really, it doesn’t have to be that good. After all, by the time a critical mass start paying attention, the first blog post is already so far back in the archives that people won’t even see it. It’s like the first batch of challah… not necessarily very good and soon forgotten, but still a growth experience. So, here we are. The first post. The first batch of challah. They’ll both get better. Each week the plan is to create a new batch of unique and gourmet challah by tinkering with the same original challah dough recipe handed down to me many many months ago via email from my sister. We’re about to embark on a journey of exploration, pushing the envelop, seeing just how far we can bastardize one challah recipe, and still be able to call it challah. Five pounds of dough, once a week, and hopefully zero pounds gained by this time next year. Is it possible? We’ll find out together. Sit back and enjoy the wild ride. These are my Adventures in Challah.