Jewish Dopers: Tips and Tricks for Challah, Please

The Background
One of my Jewish friends recently has had to move to a nursing/rehab facility. We’re all hoping she’ll get through rehab and be able to return home in a month (fall, back problems, elderly - she didn’t break anything but did give herself a good whack on the head. Is weak and unsteady since and it’s hoped rehab will help with that).

She doesn’t keep kosher these days, which is probably good because there’s nothing kosher about the facility - she chose it mainly for the quality of the rehab program they run.

Anyhow - nobody really wants to be in a place like that, no matter how clean and nice, and a lot of people don’t visit. It’s 10 minutes away from where I work, so I’ve been dropping by about every other day to say hi, visit for awhile if she’s up to it, and just to keep an eye on her.

I thought bringing in a mini-loaf of challah would help cheer her up, even if it’s not kosher.

The Bread
I’ve been baking bread for a long time (decades) but I’ve never specifically tried challah. Any tips/tricks/cautions?

I’m looking at the recipe in Engle and Blair’s The Jewish Festival Cookbook, with the exception of the saffron which I do not have and do not anticipate obtaining in the near future. Although if anyone has a different recipe to recommend please let me know.

I use a slightly modified version of this recipe to make challah every Friday.

My changes are:

[li]two eggs in the mix, no additional yolk[/li][li]1/4 cup of honey, not sugar[/li][li]slightly less than 1/4 cup of oil[/li][li]2 tsp of salt, not 1-1/2[/li][li]only one egg wash, not two.[/li][/ol]Also, I speed up the rising process by doing it in the oven at about 150 F. Two rises (not three), then bake. The whole process from start to finish is only 2.5 hours.

The reason to use slightly less oil and slightly more salt is to give a chewier texture that I much prefer to the “cakier” mouth feel the standard recipe provides. I was surprised at the big imorovement these small changes made to the texture.

I’m not Jewish but I have made challah, and as far as ingredients and baking go, it’s pretty much like any other standard enriched bread. The recipe I was taught to make it with is pretty close to what commasense posted if you include his/her modifications - there’s only one tablespoon of sugar and a couple tablespoons of oil. The most challenging part was getting the braiding right. In class we did 3, 4, and 6 strands and a crown loaf. I stick to the 3-strand at home!

It makes terrific French toast.

I’ve been braiding my own bread creations for years, now - I don’t expect that to be much trouble for me. Basically, it’s a simple bread with eggs and oil but it’s more specific type than I usually aim for.

Sesame seeds!

It should be easy for you then.

Poppy seeds!

I put 1/2 tsp of soy lecithin in mine, and 1 tbsp of malt powder. Makes the inside softer, and the crust crustier. I also add a tsp of vanilla for flavor.

Honey is a must. Not sugar.

I use Fleischman’s Rapid Rise yeast, and one rising is enough. I braid the loaf, and put it directly into the oven at 375’F. My oven runs a little cold, though so it’s probably really at ~360-365’F.

Dampen the strands before you braid them. They bake together better.

I wash with just one egg yolk, and so I put the extra white in the dough.

My loaves are perfect. I get requests all the time from people to make the challot for them when they are having family or guests over,

I know you said it should only be a month, and she doesn’t keep kosher, but all the same, know that Passover starts on April 8, and lasts 8 days. I would not take bread even to a fairly non-observant Jew during Passover.

Also, even though your kitchen is not kosher, and the challah will not be kosher to someone with very strict observance, “she doesn’t keep kosher” is not a license to do something like put butter and chicken fat together in it. I would advise keeping the loaf “parve,” by not using any dairy ingredients in it, or any animal fat-- don’t worry about the eggs and honey, they are parve.

Got it. There is no shortage of matzo at that time, if she wants some I’ll bring it but based on knowing her for a few years I’m not entirely sure she’ll ask - as I recall she isn’t terribly enthused about it. Hanging out at the Federation with their kosher kitchen and dining areas I’m reasonably sensitive to the issues.

Since the vast majority of my bread would count as vegan (nothing but water, yeast, a bit of salt and sugar, vegetable oil, and flour) that shouldn’t be an issue. Very rare that I use dairy or eggs or any sort of animal fat.

Thought I’d update this:

Trying my first loaf(s) of challah this morning. Go me! So far so good. I’ll let ya’ll know how it turns out later.

The recipe said “set aside to double in size, about 2-3 hours”

45 minutes later it’s The Blob ready to engulf innocent bystanders.

OK, it’s double now, regardless of time elapsed, so on to next step…

And… it’s out of the oven!

To be honest, I’ve already eaten half of one of the two loaves. Hey, it’s homemade bread. Verdict: definitely looks and tastes like challah.

Next time: better egg wash. Met with some of my friends today, some of whom are experienced with this type of bread, and they gave me better instructions for the egg wash. So… that next time, and I’m also thinking of 1 more egg than I used. I think that would punch it up just a bit.

But definitely a success.