Whole wheat flour, brown sugar, a touch of honey and a filling of apple, leek and walnut. . .really there’s nothing conventional or traditional about this particular challah recipe, but the braiding.
Go figure. In search of more exacting proportions, I turn to Joan Nathan’s recipe, modified in part by my own go-to “Jewish Holiday Cookbook” by Gloria Kaufer Green, for her ‘Grandpa’s Challah.” The method for “filling” the braids is a genius touch provided by the inimitable Deb Perlman of Smitten Kitchen fame.
Olive oil? Vegetable shortening or margarine? Again, it’s a matter of debate or preference - with the caveat that butter not be used, so that the bread is “pareve” following the Jewish custom of preparation -- meaning it can be served with both meat and dairy dishes.
As with all bread recipes, success is ultimately in the touch and feel of the dough. In preparation the dough should be sticky, but not too. Soft enough for shaping, but not overworked. In other words, be prepared to add a dusting of flour.
As for distinctions between the four-strand, five-strand and six-strand braiding techniques, I turn you over to a Maya Sprague on YouTube:
Braiding a Six Strand Challah - YouTube
If the bread weren’t so delicious served warm out of the oven, you might consider this recipe as the basis for a rich holiday stuffing. Day old, the bread also makes outstanding French Toast or the start of a strata, perfect for a weekend brunch.
(about 4 1/2 teaspoons) active dry yeast
pareve margarine or vegetable shortening (plus 2 tablespoons for sautéing filling)
large eggs, lightly beaten
egg yoke for glazing
leeks, washed, trimmed and sliced
apple, peeled, cored and chopped
walnuts finely chopped
In This Recipe
Mix the yeast with 1/2 cup luke warm water and honey. Let the mixture rest for 10 minutes until it begins to foam.
In the bowl of an electric mixer, set with the dough paddle,combine about 4 cups of flour, remaining sugar, salt and margarine. Mix until ingredients form coarse crumbs.
Add the yeast mixture, the remaining 1/2 cup of water, apple juice and eggs and beat the loose dough until well mixed. Slowly add just enough of the remaining flour to form a soft slightly sticky dough.
Turn the dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead it for about 5 minutes, until it's satiny smooth. Place the dough in a oiled bowl, cover and let the dough rise until it's doubled in bulk.
To make the filling, chop apples, leeks and walnuts in fine pieces. Saute in about two tablespoons of margarine (or veg oil) until the leeks and apples are softened. Sprinkle with sugar.
Place mixture in a food processor. Using the pulse setting - just a few turns - lightly chop ingredients to form a spreadable filling, (but not a paste.)
To form loaves: on a lightly floured surface, punch down the dough and knead it to remove air bubbles. Divide the dough in half. Then divide each half into 3, 4, 5 or 6 pieces, according to how many strands desired for each loaf.
To fill braids: on a floured surface, working each piece of the divided dough, one piece at a time, with a rolling pin, roll into a flat rectangle. Spread filling evenly over the dough, stopping short of the edges. Then hand roll the rectangle (lengthwise) into a long tight log, trapping the filling tightly within. Strands should be at least a foot long. Then gently stretch the logs as far as feels comfortable.
For the simplest method of weaving or braiding the challah, use three strands and braid as you would hair. For more elaborate braiding techniques, google or go to http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=22p3wIHLupc
Gently brush the loaves with oil to keep them from drying. Cover loosely with wax paper or a towel, and let them rise in room temperature until doubled in size.
Before baking, gently brush the loaves with egg glaze, and if desired, sprinkle lightly with anise seeds.
Bake loaves in a preheated 375-degree oven for 40 minutes or until golden brown.