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The Holiday Countdown: Hey, Challah

By Jackie Burrell
Wednesday, December 1st, 2010 at 1:45 pm in Cuisine, holidays.

Challah (Photo by Mark DuFrene/Bay Area News Group)The holidays have arrived! Hope everyone’s Thanksgiving was grand. Now it’s time for those wintry festivities. Tonight is the first night of Hanukkah.  Christmas baking has begun. And families everywhere are bustling, no matter what their religion. So we’re launching our annual 12 Days of Holidays, a round-up of fun crafts, recipes, activities and survival strategies drawn from our own pages and across the blogosphere. And to honor the start of Hanukkah, we’re leading off with a salute to challah, the braided bread that graces the table at shabbat, Jewish holiday feasts – and non-Jewish dinners too, because that bread is so darn yummy.

We’re leading off with a video on how to do that beautiful braiding , with a little help from our own videographer Mario Sevilla and Market Hall Bakery’s Neucimar “Nel” Dias da Silva, who makes it look easy. In fact, it’s a great activity to do with kids. Jewish food guru Joan Nathan, author of ““Quiches, Kugels and Couscous: My Search for Jewish Cooking in France,” who’s highlighted in the story (yep, that link takes you there too!) , was telling me that when her kids were young, she found that drawing them into the kitchen to knead bread dough and braid challah was the perfect fun, calming, de-stressing activity  during the holidays and even just after a busy day at school. Cool idea. Do give it a try, especially since Nel was sweet enough to share his delicious recipe for challah — it’s right after the jump.

We’ll be sharing some of Joan’s recipes later this week too. This blog post, by the way, is part of the All About Parenting “Holiday Survival” Blog Carnival. Be sure to check it out!

Makes 2 loaves

5 cups bread flour
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon instant yeast
2 large eggs
2 large egg yolks
5 tablespoons honey
6 tablespoons California extra virgin olive oil
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons lukewarm water
Egg wash: 1 egg and 1 tablespoon water
Poppy or sesame seeds

1. In a large bowl stir together the flour, salt and yeast.

2. Whisk the eggs, yolks, honey, oil and water.

3. Pour the liquid ingredients into the dry and stir with a wooden spoon until they all come together. Transfer to a floured surface and knead approximately 10 minutes.

4. Form the dough into a ball and transfer to a large oiled bowl. Mist with spray oil, cover and let proof at room temperature, 45 minutes to 1 hour.

5. Remove the dough from the bowl and divide it into 2 equal pieces, then break each into 3 more pieces, for a total of 6. Form each into a ball and let rest 10 minutes, covered.

6. Roll the pieces into 12-inch long strands that are thick in the middle and thin toward the ends. Braid them using a 3-strand braid method.

7. Line a sheet pan with parchment paper and transfer the loaves to the pan. Brush with a mixture of 1 egg and 1 tablespoon of water. Mist with spray oil, cover and let proof at room temperature for about 1½ hours or until loaves have almost doubled in volume.

8. When ready to bake, preheat oven to 350°. Brush loaves again with the egg/water mixture, sprinkle with poppy and/or sesame seeds. Bake 20 minutes, rotate pan and continue baking 20 more minutes, or until a thermometer inserted in the center of the loaf registers 190°.

— Courtesy Neucimar Dias Da Silva, Market Hall Bakery

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