Sunday, May 27, 2012

May Daring Bakers' Challenge - Challah

This month's Daring Bakers' Challenge was particularly fun for me, but I am not going to lie - it wasn't a surprise to me like it was for the other members of the Daring Kitchen.

May’s Daring Bakers’ Challenge was pretty twisted – Ruth from The Crafts of Mommyhood challenged us to make challah! Using recipes from all over, and tips from “A Taste of Challah,” by Tamar Ansh, she encouraged us to bake beautifully braided breads.

You see, Ruth is my sister. And we chatted about this challenge a lot in the weeks leading up to it's announcement on the forum, planning, proofreading, photographing, video-ing different braiding techniques... but there was one thing, in all of that planning and helping out, that I didn't do.

Bake any challah.

I don't know why.

So once the challenge "officially" started, I knew I had to get down to work!

Ruth provided us with several different recipes in her challenge write-up, but the real challenge was not the recipe, rather, the creation of a beautifully braided or shaped loaf of enriched (with eggs, sometimes butter or margarine, too) bread.

For my first attempt, I wanted to try something special. So I used this recipe for a sweet challah dough, and tried my hand at making a cinnamon swirl four strand braided challah.

The recipe makes enough dough for two loaves, so, working with half of my dough, I made four (approximately) equal portions.

Meanwhile, little miss mixed up a filling of cinnamon and brown sugar for me.

I then rolled each of the four sections into a snake, then flattened each snake out to a few inches wide.

Each of these long, flat snakes was then spread with one tablespoon of softened butter and a quarter of my brown sugar-cinnamon filling.

Now, if I'd been thinking things out better, I would have made each flat strand even wider, and rolled -them up cinnamon-bun style. But I didn't think it through that well. What I did was enclose this filling into the strand, making, basically, a long, filled strand of dough. Not a bad idea, but a little messy, and, as you will see in a bit, it didn't yield me the swirls I was hoping for.

Anyway, a few minutes and a bunch of mess later, I had my four cinnamon-sugar filled strands.

Which I then proceeded to braid together... create a very long, lopsidedly braided loaf of challah.

Side note here - I took many, many photographs and videos of Ruth creating many different braided loaves. I watched closely as she braided and unbraided countless strands into countless loaves. I listened as she narrated. I paid pretty close attention.  She made it look so easy.

It wasn't easy.

Fun? Yes. Easy? Not in the slightest.

With the other half of my dough, I tried creating a four-strand round loaf (again, as I'd watched Ruth do).

Not bad (for a first attempt), but it wound up lopsided!!

But the baked up beautifully.

Don't get me wrong - they're still a bit lopsided and misshapen, but they smelled delicious and I was pleased with them.

And the cinnamon swirl one was fun to cut into.

Yeah, we ate half of that one within the first afternoon. And it was a BIG loaf. It was absolutely delicious.

The round one was great too - and with this one you can really see how light and airy the bread was, even as an enriched and heavy sounding dough.

Now, I knew I'd want to try again. Not only to keep practicing (as I obviously need to...), but to try at least one of the recipes that Ruth had provided.  So, one night when I was contemplating making dinner rolls, I decided to instead use Ruth's "easy" recipe to make challah rolls!

Little miss was very hands on this time.

She loved rolling out the snakes. She actually loved pretending she was Aunt Ruth rolling out the snakes, and tried narrating her process, much as she'd heard her aunt do while we were filming before...

These snakes were knotted into rolls, and, I dare-say, I didn't do too badly this time!

I have a lot more work ahead of me before I will be able to create loaves as beautiful as many of the others created in the Daring Kitchen this month (check them out here - I promise it'll be worth your time!!), but I am still pretty happy with the results we saw (and ate!!) this month.

Ruth, thanks for including me in the preparation for this month's challenge, and for choosing something so fun and beautiful and versatile!!

And stay tuned - I made a delicious dinner using that round loaf above, and I'll share it with you in the next post!

Sweet Challah
(from Challah Recipes)

1 scant tablespoon (1 package) active dry yeast
1 3/4 cups lukewarm water
1/2 to 3/4 cup sugar (depending on how sweet you want your bread)
1/2 cup vegetable oil
4 large eggs + 1 large egg (for egg wash)
5 cups bread flour
3 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
approximately 1 tablespoon salt
Poppy or sesame seeds for sprinkling (optional - I omitted)

In a large bowl, dissolve the yeast in the warm water. Add the sugar and the oil and mix well with a whisk or a wooden spoon. Beat in 4 of the eggs, one at a time; then gradually stir in the bread flour, 2 cups of the all-purpose flour, and the salt. When you have a dough that holds together, it is ready for kneading.
To knead the dough by hand, place the dough on a lightly floured surface. Knead well, using the heels of your hands to press the dough away and your fingers to bring it back. Continue, turning the dough, for about 10 minutes, or until the dough is smooth and elastic, adding the remaining 1 1/2 cups of all-purpose flour or as needed.
To knead by machine in an electric mixer fitted with the dough hook, knead for 5 minutes on medium speed, or until smooth. You can also process half the dough at a time in a food processor fitted with the steel blade; process for about 1 minute.
After kneading, place all the dough in a large oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and let it rest in a warm place for 1 hour, until almost doubled in size. You can also put the dough in an oven that has been warmed to 150 degrees for a few minutes and then turned off.
When the dough is almost doubled in size, remove it from the bowl and punch it down -- the rougher you are, the more the dough likes it. Return it to the bowl, cover it again and let it rise in a warm place for 30 minutes more. Or, if you have to go out, let the dough rise slowly in the refrigerator several hours or overnight and bring it to room temperature when ready to continue.

This makes enough dough for two loaves. When you are ready to shape your loaves, divide the dough in half, then each half into as many pieces as you need strands for braiding.
Once the loaves have been braided, let them rise another hour, uncovered. Fifteen minutes before putting the loaves in the oven, beat the remaining egg and brush it gently over them. Five minutes later, lightly brush them again. Then sprinkle with poppy or sesame seeds (if desired) and let dry a few minutes.
While the dough is rising this last time, preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Bake the loaves on the middle rack of the oven for 10 minutes. Then reduce the temperature to 375 degrees and bake for 30 minutes more. Turn off the oven and leave the loaves in 5 minutes longer to get a dark-golden crust. Remove and cool on a rack.

Easy Challah

(from, as provided by Ruth in the challenge)

4 cups all purpose flour

1 cup warm water
1 package (2¼ teaspoons) package rapid rise yeast (I used active dry)
½ cup sugar
2 large eggs
1 tsp. salt
1 egg beaten with 1 tsp. water

Measure flour, sugar and salt into a large mixing bowl.
In a separate bowl (or in the bowl of your stand mixer) combine water and yeast, allow to sit 5 minutes until foamy.
Add 1 ½ cups of the flour mixture to the water and yeast mixture, beat until well combined. Cover with a dish towel, let stand 30 min.
Add two eggs to the dough, beat again.
By hand or with your dough hook knead in the remaining flour mixture (as needed - I didn't need all of it). Knead approximately 10 minutes.
Transfer to oiled bowl, cover, let rise one hour.
Punch down dough, knead approximately 3 minutes.
Divide dough in two. Shape each half as desired (3, 4, or 6 strand braid).
Place loaves on parchment covered or greased cookie sheets, cover with a towel, allow to rise one hour.
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Brush loaves with egg wash.
Bake at 400 degrees for 10 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 375 degrees, bake until golden crust forms (about 25-30 minutes).
Transfer to a wire rack to cool.



  1. Wow - they look stunning. I really love your little rolls - beautiful.
    I made challah once for a Fresh From The Oven challenge and was really pleased with the results.

  2. your loaves look delish! pretty cool that both you and your sis a wizards in the kitchen :)

  3. Very nice - you did a great job helping to put together this challenge!

  4. I love the cinnamon idea. Wish I'd thought of that. I want to have a go at the round loaf, but I feel confused just looking at it! The videos are really helpful though.

    Looking forward to seeing what you did with the loaf. :) Oh, and those rolls are little stunners!

  5. Hi, thanks for your kind comment on my blog:) Your challah looks stunning, especially the one with the cinnamon swirl and the shape of the round loaf!

  6. How fun to be "behind the scenes" - lucky you! Your loaves turned out great and I love the rolls. I'm going to have to try those!

  7. challah with cinnamon surprise filling = genius! i think that your lopsided loaves look as good as any symmetrical ones esp the 4-strand round loaf.

  8. OMG, you made ROLLS!!! Too flipping cute!!!! I wanted to try a filled loaf, but didn't get it done this time. The cinnamon filling sounds wonderful, and it turned out very pretty. Great job, Shelley!! :)

  9. wow...your round loaf looks too cute...thats on my agenda next...
    this challenge was super fun!!

  10. The cinnamon filling is amazing and so are those little ones... Perfect!

  11. omggg! I'm totally loving your swirls! I was kinda disappointed not to see any swirls in mine. Somehow I magically thought that the chocolate filling would spread in the dough but I guess I had to roll each roll up instead of just pinching them. haha.. Oh wells!! Perfect job on your challah!! Since you tried a both recipes, which was your favourite?

  12. YUM! I love your cinnamon swirled challah (that's my next challah for sure) and I love even more the rolls you made! That was one thing I wanted to try but didn't get around to doing... And I love how you got your daughter in there too - pretending to be Aunt Ruth, so stinkin' cute!

  13. These all look amazing! Those rolls are absolutely darling. What an extra-special little touch for a weeknight dinner! Oh, and don't even get me started on the cinnamon-roll challah. I'm pretty sure I'm addicted, and it's all Ruth's fault!


  14. Yay for cinnamon...your swirls came out much better than mine! :-)

  15. I think they look great! Plus the cinnamon swirl one must have tasted so good and the round one is so perfectly airy.

  16. I made cinnamon swirl Challah on my 6 braid bread. Your bread texture is so soft and amazing. I made 3 kinds and had loads of fun making it. Jayanthi(

  17. I know I read through that whole write up and somewhere thought i saw Ruth was taping with her sister. Well, you did a great job with the videography . I loved that round loaf, but I couldn't get it right. This cinnamon/brown sugar looks so good. I might try it and your loaves turned out perfect. Thank you for being behind the scenes and taping that all that awesome footage- helped me out so much :)

  18. Oh, I love the little ones! So cute! I thought about rolling a filling into my strands but just didn't have time. Beautiful bread

  19. Wow you've got the perfect braid. This is beautiful. thanks for visiting my blog as well:)


  20. As always you did a brilliant job,I too thought that the actual braiding was harder than watching it done
    but I too loved doing it and I know I will be trying this again

  21. Your loaves are gorgeous! I like the minis the best.

  22. Hi Shelley
    What a thrill to be able to work on the challenge with your sister. I'm going to return to this recipe now that I have made it once - so much fun. I came to it late this month - new job and a newly refurbished kitchen which is very exciting. Your rolls look fabulous :)

  23. How fun to help your sis out! And I'm a sucker for any bread plus cinnamon combo :) yum!

  24. Wow! you tried the round Challah, too.
    Thanks for visiting my Challah post on my blog!

  25. Mmmm - the filled cinnamon one sounds delicious - and the little knot rolls are so cute! Beautiful bread :-)

  26. You can never go wrong with cinnamon and brown sugar! Beautiful.

  27. I love how high the round loaf is, and I think they all look great. Those buns are especially cute!

  28. You got creative with three different versions, i really like the one with the cinnamon filling. Great job!

  29. Filled strands! Yummy! I bet it was difficult, too! Great result!

  30. Shelley, by the looks of those braids, one would think you've been doing it your whole life! I'm in love with that 4-strand round loaf, I'll have to watch the videos of Ruth doing it, agaib,,but I'll have to wait until the humidity lifts before I even attempt it. The cinnamon filling looks great too! Same thing happened to me when I filled challah with chocolate and cinnamon a few years ago. I was hoping for circle like swirls, but just got little lines, but all that mattered was that it tasted good :)

  31. Wowo they looks so perfect and love the filling.

  32. I think when I get around to trying my hand at making Challah again, I'll try your cinnamon sugar version, because, despite not getting the swirls you wanted, it still looks delicious!

  33. wow, I am definitely going to have to try the cinnamon idea!

  34. Shelly, I need to try the Cinnamon challah. I need to try that rounded challah.

  35. We'll have a braiding party, you me and the kiddos, and you'll be a pro in no time! Thank you for all of your help, and thank you for playing with me this month!!

  36. I tried the same method as you did for the cinnamon filling but with raisins and ended up not as pretty as I had hoped. More lines than swirly for me. Oh well, it still tastes great, right?

  37. I'm a sucker for braidy bread, so I think they all turned out beautifully! The cinnamon sounds amazing. You and Ruth put together such a great challenge!

  38. The cinnamon swirl challah looks so good I will try that next time. Great job!


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