It’s World Bread Day today!
This very special event is being hosted by Zorra, and to celebrate, here is my most favourite bread recipe ever.
If I were forced to bake and eat only one bread for the rest of my life, I would
- Cry and protest
- Finally have an official excuse to bake every bread known, you know, so I could “pick the best bread”
- Come back to challah, over and over again
Update: Visit Zorra’s roundup of 246 entries from around the world!
The original recipe, in fact, is not mine but Ari’s from Baking and Books, a sweet blog devoted to delicious baked goods and reviews of books she’s read. She kindly let me post this (thank you so much, Ari!) on my little blog. I’ve made some slight modifications but the essentials remain unchanged. If you want to impress and win people over, convert friends to carb-lovers and even bread monsters, this is the recipe. It’s that good.
Honey Vanilla Challah with Cardamom
a.k.a. In Jackie’s opinion, the best challah ever
Minimally adapted from Ari’s Honey Vanilla Challah
Makes 1 spectacular loaf
– 1/2 tbsp (1 1/2 tsp) active dry yeast
– 4 tbsp granulated sugar
– 1 tsp salt
– 4 to 4 1/4 cups of all-purpose flour (I used King Arthur)
– 1 cup warm milk
– 2 eggs
– 4 tbsp olive or vegetable oil + ~1 tsp for greasing the bowl
– 1/4 tsp vanilla extract
– 1 tbsp honey
– 1/2 tsp ground cardamom
– 1 egg, lightly beaten
– sesame seeds, poppy seeds, pearl sugar, or just plain 🙂
In a large bowl using a whisk combine the yeast, sugar, salt, cardamom and 1 cup of the flour. Add the warm milk, 2 eggs, 4 tablespoons of oil, then the honey and vanilla. Vigorously mix the ingredients until smooth, scraping the sides of the bowl halfway through, about 3 minutes. Add the remaining flour, 1/2 cup at a time, switching to a wooden spoon when the dough becomes too thick for the whisk. Continue mixing the dough until it is too stiff to stir.
Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead until soft and springy, about 4 minutes. If the dough is sticky, dust with flour 1 tablespoon at a time – just enough to prevent it from sticking to the surface. The dough is done when it’s smooth and small air bubbles show under the skin. If you press your thumb into it the impression should bounce back. This is a slightly firm dough, which is exactly what you want for easy shaping later on.
Place the dough in a deep container lightly lightly greased with 1 tsp of oil. Turn the dough once to coat the top and cover with plastic wrap. Allow it to rise at room temperature until doubled in bulk, about 1 1/2 to 2 hours. The actual time will depend on the warmth of your kitchen.
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or lightly grease it with non-stick spray. Gently deflate the dough by pressing your fingers into it, then turn it out onto a lightly floured surface and shape (see below).
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F and place the shaped dough on your baking sheet, cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rise until almost doubled in bulk, 30 to 40 minutes.
Just before the rising time has finished lightly beat the egg that was reserved for the glaze. Gently brush the dough with a thick layer of it and add your choice of topping if desired. Place the dough in the oven and bake for 30 to 35 minutes, or until the bread is a deep golden brown and sounds hollow when you thump it on the bottom. Transfer to a baking rack to cool.
– This was one of the first breads that I ever baked, which means I’ve messed around with this recipe… a lot. Fortunately, it is very forgiving and the homemade baked love will always shine through.
– Ari suggests when you first combine the ingredients, add the oil first, then use the same measuring spoon to add the honey. In this way, residual oil on the spoon will make the honey slide right out.
– Milk: I’ve used everything from skim to low-fat to whole. Whole milk seems to be best but the other types are okay too. I have yet to try soy milk.
– Sugar and honey ratio: by mistake I once switched the amounts of sugar and honey such that I added 4 tbsp of honey and 1 tbsp of sugar. I had to compensate with the extra moisture from increased honey, but this made a wonderful loaf as well.
– 4 tbsp = 1/4 cup
* * *
Shaping and variations
These are some of the ideas that I’ve tried and not an exhaustive list by any means.
For a three-stranded braid (from Ari’s honey vanilla challah post):
Divide into 3 equal portions, and roll each portion out into a smooth, thick strip about 20 inches long, with the ends slightly thinner than the middle. Lay these ropes side-by-side, not quite touching.
Beginning in the middle and working towards you, braid the lower half of the three ropes. To braid, alternately move the outside ropes over the one in the center – left over, right over, left over -until you come to the end. Now go to the other side of your working space and braid the other half, this time moving the outside ropes under the center one. Braid tightly – you don’t want any gaps. When you finish braiding each side crimp the tapered ends together, then tuck them under.
Then there’s the apple-honey challah, one of Ari’s own variations, that I shaped into a spiralling, rounded loaf:
Another rounded loaf, but woven:
Learn how to weave the woven challah with this useful tutorial.
You could also make the three-stranded braid, and shape it into a ring (pinch the ends of the braid together):
Then comes a day when you decide to bake three loaves of challah, all at once. The top left loaf is a three-stranded braid shaped into a ring, the top right loaf is a six-stranded braid, and the bottom loaf was baked in a 9″ x 5″ loaf pan. Divide the dough into two portions, one of which is twice the size of the other (you can divide the dough into thirds, and then put two of the thirds together to create the bigger portion). Split each portion into thirds and make a total of two three-stranded braids, one large and one small. Lay the smaller braid on top of the larger braid and bake.
The six-stranded braid is my favourite. I think it looks stunning:
I learned how to do the six-stranded braiding by watching this very helpful video. Her way of topping the challah with sesame seeds is a great idea and results in less burnt, scattered sesame seeds on the baking pan.
My most recent variation – honey vanilla challah with cardamom, topped with perlesukker (pearl sugar):
Yup, that’s sugar and not pretzel salt. It makes the loaf look very pretty!
Someone once asked me which was the correct way to enjoy challah: sliced, or ripped apart with bare [clean] hands? I say it depends on how patient you are ha ha. I hope that you will give challah a try and enjoy it as much as I do. Happy baking!