“I have to learn how to braid bread, no question about it. If I can learn it without wasting and throwing away flour, I’d be the happiest amateur Challah bread maker this side of North America.” This was the promise I made early this year when I began the painful journey into yeast breads. As an absolute beginner and having spent only two weeks in learning, I was already itching to make Challah.
Funny, you say, for someone who lives in Montreal, you’d think learning how to make a genuine baguette would be # 1 on her list. Oh no! To me, Challah bread is a far “sexier” specimen!
I admit there are challenges to baguette making – from shaping, to getting an excellent crust, and coming with with a texture that would delight the eyes, nose and taste buds of Monsieur Lionel Poilâne. He’s le plus célèbre bread maker in the world, according to Peter Reinhart, himself a recognized authority and bread master. Monsieur Poilâne is known for his miche which he sells in his bakery in Paris’ Latin Quarter. Mr. Reinhart says that people from all over make it a point to come to rue du Cherche-Midi just to get their hands on a Poilâne bread. I probably would too, if I get the chance to travel to Paris again.
But for the time being…
Ah yes, I was talking about Challah. It’s only fitting because today marks the first day of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, and I bet all the Jewish delis and bakeries in Montreal and around the world are looking very festive with these delightful braids that always look attractive on bakery shelves. You almost don’t want to touch them because they look like manna from heaven.
I believe that majority of Challah breads are eaten plain or with something sweet like raisins, laced with a bit of rum or sweet liqueur. When I made the round Challah above, I was in an experimental mood and wanted to test if the braids would hold diced red pepper and green onions. I cut my dough into four equal strips and spooned my pepper and onions throughout the length of the strip. Before that I coated them in butter so that the Challah would remain moist as it baked.
I had to pat myself on the back. When it came out of the oven and I set it on the rack to examine, I was filled with joy. I kept staring at it, my smile changing into a wide grin. I broke out in a girlish giggle. Who would have thought? Not bad for a first try! And the taste? Above average!
Since I’m not Jewish and certainly NOT a Challah expert, I’ll point you to a couple of web sites where you can have a recipe for the bread and a procedure for braiding. As you learn how to bring in the “ropes” together, you’ll want to try the 3-braid, 4-braid and 5-braid as your confidence grows. I’ll also post a youtube video on braiding Challah.
A tip for you: braid the strips tightly and snugly. Don’t do a lazy braid (the kind that you do quickly with your hair because you’re in a rush), but braid in such a way that there are no holes in between. Remember that once braided, the bread needs to rise one more time. If the braids aren’t tight, you’ll end up with a funny, loosey-goosey shape.
This is where I got the recipe (which I modified, by adding the diced red pepper and green onions): http://www.sugarlaws.com/braided-bread. This web site is owned by Sugarlaws, and she has wonderful recipes in there. She has a special culinary talent, that much you can tell if you visit her web site and linger longer.
This is where I got the procedure for making round Challah: http://www.chabad.org/theJewishWoman/article_cdo/aid/560778/jewish/Weaving-Round-Challah.htm. This is a step-by-step guide. Note she puts golden raisins inside every strand.
And here’s the youtube video for doing a 5-braid (this isn’t for a round Challah). It features California chef Tina Lu whose credentials scream “versatile!” She’s a baker, chocolatier and pastry chef all rolled into one.