Birthday Brunch Preparations: Challah

January 2011

Nothing warms a table like fresh bread, especially when snow is falling, and winter winds are still blowing over the bleak city.  My January birthday brunch needed some warmth via a lovin’ oven.

Whole Wheat Challah
Adapted from The Art & Soul of Baking by Cindy Mushet
This is a heartier, less sweet variety than most challah recipes.

Makes 1 larger braid and 2 smaller loaf pans

1 ½ cups warm water
4 Tablespoons local honey
3 teaspoons active dry yeast
4 large, local, free-range eggs, at room temperature
6 Tbs olive oil
2 ½ cups Saint Vincent unbleached flour
2 ½ cups whole-wheat, pastry flour
1 ½ teaspoons salt
1 large egg, lightly beaten
4 teaspoons poppy seeds


Combine the warm water and honey in the bowl of a stand mixer and sprinkle the yeast over the top.  Whisk by hand to blend well.  Let the mixture sit still for 5-10 minutes, until the yeast is activated and foamy or bubbling.

Add the eggs and oil and whisk by hand until well blended.  Stir in the flour and salt.  Mix on low speed for 2 minutes, scraping down the bowl as necessary, until the dough begins to come together.

Knead by hand for 6-8 minutes, until the dough is smooth, silky and elastic.  You may need to add a little extra flour, a tablespoon at a time, toward the end.  The dough should begin to pull away from the sides of the bowl but still be slightly tacky.

Lightly oil a tub or bowl, scrape the dough into the bowl, and brush the surface of the dough with a little oil.  Cover with plastic wrap or a damp, lint-free, cotton towel, and let the dough rise until doubled in size, 45-60 minutes.

Turn the dough onto a lightly floured work surface.  Press down the dough firmly to expel some of the air bubbles, but don’t knead the dough again or it will be too springy and difficult to shape (if this happens, simply cover the dough with plastic wrap or the towel and let it rest for 15-20 minutes to give the gluten some time to relax).

Divide the dough into nine pieces.  Six of them should be equal in size, and three should be slightly larger.

Work with one piece at a time and keep the others covered to prevent a skin from forming.  Using flattened hands, roll each piece back and forth, forming a rope about 15 inches long with tapered ends.

Line a baking stone with parchment paper and lay the ropes on the sheet with the ends facing you.  On the ends furthest from you, pinch together three ends at a time.  Braid the dough, pinching the loose ends together at the bottom.  Repeat with the other strands.  Gently stretch out the ends and tuck them under just slightly.

Cover the braids loosely with plastic or the towel.  Allow the braids to rise until they are almost double in size and look like they have taken a deep breath, 40-50 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F and position an oven rack in the center.

Gently brush the entire surface of the braids with the beaten egg wash.  Avoid pools or drips of glaze.  Sprinkle the braids with poppy seeds if desired.

Bake for 20-25 minutes, until the top and bottom are golden brown.

Transfer to a rack to cool.

Serve and slice at a birthday brunch!


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