Ahhhh…TGIF. Almost. Before I breeze through the last day of the week, it’s time to make some serious bread.
Challah, that is.
Challah is too awesome to fly so much under the radar. It’s traditionally an egg bread made with white flour and sugar, kind of like brioche. It makes amazing French toast. There are also water versions, calling for no egg, as well as challahs filled with anything from raisins to chocolate chips.
And lately, whole wheat challah has begun to pop up in bakeries with more frequency, though it’s often put down by challah traditionalists, and who can blame them? Challah is an indulgence, a bread so good that spreading butter or jam on a slice can actually take away from the yeasty, fresh-out-of-the-oven perfection of the bread itself.
I was pretty hestitant to give the whole wheat thing a try. Why fix what ain’t broke? But in a world where whole grains are healthier and white bread is just an occasional indulgence, I wanted to have my challah and eat it too.
After much experimenting, this puppy was born.
It tastes surprisingly non-whole wheat-y thanks to two things: a generous amount of honey and vanilla along with a hybrid of whole wheat and bread flour. It’s mostly whole wheat, but I kept some of the bread flour in there to give the loaves that stretchy, chewy, yeasty texture that contrasts so nicely with a crisp crust.
See? Isn’t she pretty?
Okay, honestly, I did the best I could. Making the dough is the easy part, thanks to my best friend (a.k.a. the bread machine). Braiding it, on the other hand, can be a real struggle. As my son’s adorable friend asked, “Why does the chawwah wook so weiwd?” Well, kiddo, I tried.
Speaking of kids, they love it when you make the dough into shapes. I do the letters of their names, or Mickey Mouse. Though note I did not provide a photo of that attempt. The ears sorta fell off Mickey’s head.
But it’s all about the journey, right? The journey to fresh, warm, home-baked bread that you can feel virtuous about eating. And serve on pretty platters.
So how do you achieve healthy bread heaven? Take a look:
- 2 eggs at room temperature
- 1 cup warm (not hot) water
- 2 tablespoons honey
- 2 teaspoons vanilla
- 1/2 cup canola oil
- 2 and 1/2 teaspoons salt
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 3 and 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
- 1 cup bread flour
- 2 and 1/4 tablespoons yeast (if you use a packet, it’s pre-measured)
As recommended by bread machine manufacturers, start with the wet ingredients. Put them into the bread machine in the order listed above.
Once the wet ingredients are in add the salt and sugar and then pour in the flour.
Using your index finger, make a small well in the flour. Fill it with the yeast.
Select the dough cycle on your bread machine and press start.
Shortly before the dough is set to come out, line two cookie sheets with aluminum foil and spray liberally with cooking spray.
Once the dough is done (usually about an hour and a half, depending on your machine), take it out and put it on a floured surface.
Punch the dough down and let it rest for 5-10 minutes.
Using your hands or a sharp knife, divide the dough in half. Then, separate each half into three equal sections. Rolling each section between your palms, elongate each piece into a rope. Cross the ropes over each other into a braid and pinch the ends together.
Note: you can shape the challah any way you like, so you can also make rolls, round challah, or whatever suits you!
Once the dough is shaped, place it on the prepared foil-lined pans. Cover the dough in plastic wrap and let it rise, about one hour. Sometimes it takes an hour and a half, depending on the temperature and humidity of your kitchen.
When the dough is risen, preheat the oven to 350. Once the oven is ready, put in the challah.
10 minutes into baking, rotate the challah pans so that they bake evenly. Then, put the challah back in the oven for another 10-15 minutes until the tops are golden and the underside is medium brown.
Let the challah cool a bit before eating. However, if you are not eating it right away, wrap it in plastic or foil and then heat again before serving.