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Mama Hindas Challah

3 1/2 cups bread flour
1/2 cup warm water (100 to 110F)
2 3/4 teaspoons (1 package plus 2 teaspoons) active dry yeast
1 teaspoon plus 1/4 cup sugar
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1/4 cup vegetable oil, plus extra for oiling the bowl
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher (coarse) salt
1/3 cup raisins (optional)
Vegetable oil or vegetable cooking spray, for greasing the baking sheet (or parchment paper)
Egg wash: 1 egg yolk mixed with 1 tablespoon water
Poppy seeds (optional)


Set aside 2 tablespoons of the flour. Place the remaining flour in the large bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a flat paddle or a dough hook. Make a well in the center of the flour and pour in 1/4 cup of the warm water. Sprinkle the yeast over the water and add 1 teaspoon of the sugar. Using a fork, stir the water, yeast, and sugar together gently, keeping the mixture in the well (dont worry if a little flour becomes incorporated). Let stand until bubbly, about 10 minutes. In a separate bowl, beat the eggs, the 1/4 cup oil, the remaining 1/4 cup sugar, and the salt together with a fork. Add the egg mixture and the remaining 1/4 cup warm water to the flour mixture, and beat on low speed until incorporated. Then beat on medium speed until smooth and silky, 5 to 10 minutes. The dough should feel slightly sticky and, to quote Jeffrey Nathan in Adventures in Jewish Cooking, like a babys tush. If it is too sticky, add the reserved 2 tablespoons flour (or more if necessary), 1 tablespoon at a time, and continue to mix for a few more minutes. Oil a large bowl and place the ball of dough in it, turning the dough so it is oiled allover. Cover with a kitchen towel and set aside in a warm place until the dough has almost doubled in bulk, at least 1 hour. (Now to find a warm place: Mama Hinda used the top of her stove, but she had a pilot light. My garage on a summers day does the trick for me, but I have also used my oven, preheated at the lowest setting and then turned off.) When the dough has almost doubled, punch it down and knead it by hand for 1 to 2 minutes, incorporating the raisins, if using. For a braided challah, separate the dough into three equal portions and roll each portion out to form a strand 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 inches wide and about 12 inches long (lightly flour your work surface only if necessary). Braid the strands (see Notes). For a spiral Rosh Hashanah challah, roll the dough into a single rope about 34 inches long. Beginning at one end, wind the rope from the center of the spiral outward, keeping the center slightly elevated, like a turban. Tuck the end under. Lightly grease a baking sheet or, better yet, line it with parchment paper. Place the shaped dough on the prepared baking sheet, cover it with a slightly dampened cloth, and allow it to rise in a warm place for 1 hour. Preheat the oven to 375 F. Brush the top of the loaf with the egg wash, and sprinkle it with poppy seeds, if using. Bake until the top is brown and the bottom sounds hollow when tapped with your fingers, 25 to 30 minutes. Transfer the loaf to a wire rack and allow it to cool completely.

Source: www.cookstr.com