The slightly sweet, cake-like challah's braided shape makes it look as sophisticated as it tastes. When I realized it was Chanukah, I knew I wanted to try baking a loaf.
Day 9: Challah with Poppy Seeds
Difficulty: Impressive Challenge
Baking bread requires focus and patience. If you've got both of those, this challenging recipe becomes rather simple. There are no fancy ingredients, and the Kitchen Aid stand mixer does the kneading.
This bread is more cake-like than other breads I've made due to the relatively high quantity of eggs and sugar. If you stick to the recipe I'm sharing, that's adapted from one of my most trusted Williams Sonoma baking books, you'll have success. But, here are a few potential culprits to watch out for.
- The yeast. Make sure you use the right kind, and make sure it's alive. It is also important that the water it's dissolved in is hot enough to activate the yeast.
- Make sure the dough rests in warm enough place, free from any drafts, and for enough time.
- Technique in braiding the dough. Lucky for me, I made two braids (with this recipe, you can make one giant one, or two smaller ones). I messed up the first one, but got the hang of it for the second one.
- Bake it for the right length of time. This bread will brown before it is ready to be taken from the oven, so you will have to watch the clock, as well as do the other suggestions in the recipe. Otherwise, you bread will be cooked on top and not inside!
- 2 packages (5 tsp.) active dry yeast
- 1 cup warm water (105° to 115°F)
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 3 eggs, plus 1 egg, beaten, for glaze
- 5 cups all-purpose flour
- 2 tsp. salt
- 8 Tbs. (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room
- 1 Tbs. poppy seeds or sesame seeds (optional)
- In the bowl of your stand mixer, dissolve the yeast in the warm water and let stand until foamy, about 5 minutes. Add the sugar, 3 eggs, 4 1/2 cups of the flour, the salt and butter. Place the bowl on the mixer, attach the dough hook and knead on low speed, working in the remaining flour as necessary to keep the dough from being too sticky, until the dough is smooth and elastic, 5 to 7 minutes. Do not be tempted to add too much flour. The dough should stay soft and will become less sticky with kneading. Remove the dough from the bowl.
- Form the dough into a ball and transfer it to a lightly oiled bowl. Cover the bowl with a damp kitchen towel and let the dough rise in a warm, draft-free spot until it doubles in bulk, about 2 hours.
- Line a half-sheet pan or rimless baking sheet with parchment paper. Punch down the dough. Using a plastic pastry scraper, scrape the dough out onto a clean work surface. To make a 4-strand braid, cut the dough into 4 equal pieces with a sharp knife or a bench scraper. Using your palms, and starting in the center and working outward, elongate 1 piece by rolling it gently against the work surface with even pressure until you have formed a rope as long as the prepared pan. Repeat with the remaining 3 pieces.
- Line up the 4 strands in front of you horizontally. Cross the strand farthest from you across the other 3 strands so that it is nearest you. Cross the strand that is now next to it across the other 2 strands away from you. Position the outside strands so that they are away from the center ones, and position the center 2 strands perfectly horizontal. Bring the strand nearest you down between the 2 horizontal strands. Bring the strand farthest from you up and across to the opposite side. Again, bring the strand farthest from you down between the 2 straight strands. Bring the strand nearest you up and across to the opposite side. Starting from the strand nearest you, repeat the braiding until you reach the ends of the ropes. Pinch them together at the top and at the bottom, and tuck the strands under at the ends.
- Place the braided loaf on the prepared pan, cover with a dry kitchen towel, and let rise again in a warm, draft-free spot until the loaf doubles in size and is spongy to the touch, 45 to 60 minutes.
- Position a rack in the lower third of an oven and preheat to 350°F.
- Brush the braid gently with the beaten egg and sprinkle with the seeds. Bake the braid until it is nicely browned and sounds hollow when tapped on the bottom, 30 to 35 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack and let cool completely. Makes 1 large braided loaf.