I like my challah like I like my toothbrush: super soft and all to myself. If it's a good squishy loaf, I can eat it all in one sitting. And, please, hold the crust. It's a preference that goes way back to my summer camp days, when my friends and I would de-crust loaves and loaves of challah and devour their insides, handfuls at a time.
When I lived in New York, if I didn't have the time to make challah from scratch, I picked up a loaf of Zomick's because I love the doughy texture. Now that I live in North Dakota, I'm in the opposite scenario: no Zomick's in sight, but all the time in the world to make challah from scratch. So I've gotten much better at it in the recent weeks -- good enough to feel comfortable telling my challah to make babies with a pretzel, my second favorite bread.
And what a beautiful mix of DNA.
This bread has soft eggy sweetness on the inside and the delicious flavor of pretzel on the outside. It doesn't have a hard crust, so it is my favorite texture all around. The recipe uses lye, which is a powerful alkali that can be pretty dangerous if you don't take the proper precautions. It is way more powerful than the common household pretzel-making technique of using a baking soda bath, but I believe that this challah is absolutely worth living on the edge.
1 batch of this challah dough. Do add the cardamom. Follow steps 1 to 6 and meet back here. 1/4 cup food-grade lye 5 cups cold water Coarse sea salt, for sprinkling Protective eyewear
Once you have made your dough and it is fully risen, divide dough into 6 equal parts. Divide each of those into 3 parts, roll them out into 1-inch ropes, and braid them together. Place on floured baking sheets and freeze for 20 to 30 minutes, or refrigerate for an hour.
As the loaves chill, put on your gloves and eyewear, and prepare the lye bath. In a casserole dish, combine the 5 cups of water and the 1/4 cup of lye. Add the lye very slowly so that it doesn't splash. Gently stir it in.
Preheat oven to 400° F.
Prepare two baking sheets with greased parchment paper. Using two spatulas or your gloved hands, carefully dip each loaf into the bath, top side down, giving the top side 10-15 seconds before placing it onto a baking sheet. Sprinkle with salt. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, until loaves are golden brown and cooked through.