I’ve now made challah a dozen times, so I’ve pretty much got the hang of it. This morning, I wanted to make a simpler, faster version, so here goes… no filling, no rolling out and rolling up into ropes… simply challah.
This recipe makes one large loaf, and takes about three hours to make.
6g (2 tsp) active dry yeast
40 g (2-3 Tbsp) honey
300g (1¼ cups) warm water (110 to 116 degrees F)
150g or so poolish*
60g (¼ cup) olive oil
One large egg, plus a second egg for the egg wash
10g (generous tsp) kosher salt
250g bread flour
250g all-purpose flour
Optional: 1 tsp ground cardamom, 1 tsp ground ginger, 1 tsp orange extract
Poppy seeds for sprinkling on top
Boil your kettle and turn the oven on to low/warm. Stand a medium-sized mixing bowl on your electronic scale, zero out, and add the honey. Carefully pour in 250g boiling water, and stir until the honey is dissolved. Set aside while you measure out the flours and salt in a separate bowl. When the water is hand hot, add the dried yeast and levain or poolish; mix well and set aside in a warm place until frothy. I suggest your oven – but make sure to turn it off first!
Put the bowl with the yeast mixture on your electronic scale, and zero out. Add 60g olive oil, and the first eggs. Beat with an electric hand mixer, then add the cardamom, ginger, salt, and flour. Beat until the mixture starts to come together as a wet dough. Scrape the sides as you go. Cover with plastic wrap sprayed with oil or Pam and set in the oven for 20 minutes, until squishy. This resting time allows the bread to autolyse; the fibers relax for better texture.
Turn the mixture out onto a floured counter. Knead the dough for five minutes, until it is smooth and elastic, slightly sticky but no longer picking up flour. Divide the dough in half (using your scales). Spray two bowls with oil or Pam, drop in the dough, and cover closely with plastic wrap sprayed with oil or Pam. Set aside in a warm place for at least an hour until the dough has doubled in bulk. [This is when to put it in the fridge overnight, if desired.]
If you fermented this overnight, bring it up to room temperature in the morning; this will take about an hour. Spread some flour on your counter, and dump the dough onto it. Using a dough scraper, fold the dough over on itself several times and shape gently into a log. Using your electronic scale, divide the dough into quarters of equal weight, about 250g. Fold each piece into thirds, then into a roll about 16” long; cover all four pieces with a towel, and let rest for 20 minutes. While it’s resting, beat one egg in a small bowl or container (for the egg wash).
Cut a piece of parchment about 12” x 18” – enough to fit the finished loaf. This will stop it sticking to the board or the baking stone. You can also arrange the parchment on a baking sheet if that’s easier. Pinch the four ropes together at one end – use a little of the beaten egg to get them to stick, if necessary. Stretching the rolls as little as possible, gently braid the four strands together to make a long loaf. When you get to the end, tuck the ends in underneath and stick together with another dab of the beaten egg.
Transfer the dough to a parchment-covered heavy baking sheet, or, if you’ll be using a bread stone, a baker’s peel. Beat the egg until smooth, and brush over the challah. Let the dough rise for another hour; 45 minutes into this rise, preheat your oven to 375°F.
Before baking, brush the challah again with the egg wash and sprinkle with sea salt and/or poppy seeds. Bake in the middle of the oven for 35 to 40 minutes. It should be beautifully bronzed; if your challah starts getting too dark too quickly, cover it with foil for the remainder of the baking time. The best way to check for doneness is with an instant-read thermometer — the center of the loaf should be 195 degrees.
Cool the challah on a rack before serving. It will cut more cleanly if perfectly cool, but hey, challah is designed for pulling apart and eating warm, so that whatever works for you.
This challah contains olive oil, so it will actually stay fresh longer than most white breads. Storage is not a problem, even though it’s a large loaf; I usually distribute portions to my neighborhood bread group, but IF any is left over, it does freeze pretty well. Slice whatever remains, and wrap 2-3 slices in plastic wrap, then pop into a ZipLok bag. Bring it up to room temperature before making into fabulous French toast.
Note: I use a POOLISH instead of sourdough starter, because it’s easier to keep going and makes a less ‘sour’ result. To start a poolish (or ‘polish; as my autocorrect insists on calling it), make a thick paste of 200g flour – all-purpose, bread flour, or a combination of the two – with water at room temperature. Add a good pinch of dried yeast, and beat incorporating air until the paste is sloppy but smooth. Leave it at room temperature for an hour or so to activate. Store in the fridge, and feed with more flour+water paste every day or so, depending how much you use in your (daily) bread-making. Baguettes require 250g, and other types of bread take 150-180g per batch. A poolish is like an undemanding pet: feed it every day, let it rest in the fridge, and bring out an hour before you need it so that it’s live and bubbling (and room temperature) before adding to the yeast mixture.