How does one start a blog post during a worldwide pandemic? I guess you take a deep breath, and take it one step, or in this case one delicious bite of Challah bread, at a time.
The last time I posted, I was in my master’s degree program, in Boston, doing long distance marriage with my husband. That was three years ago.
Tonight, my 7-month old daughter is sleeping soundly in her crib, while my 1-year old pup is laying at my feet, and my husband is playing a video game. How quickly life changes.
The truth is, I have so many posts that I have been yearning to work on these last three years, but I have never found the time. I am so excited to share my stockpile of treasures with you now!
So, to really get into this properly, we have to go back many years, to when my love affair with Challah bread began – high school.
At a ridiculously easy distance of 15 minutes from my house, a tiny Jewish bakery graced our city. Full of delicious homemade meals, the temptations in that little shop were difficult to overcome.
Now, living in South Florida, we had the luxury of finding decent challah bread in most supermarkets. I had supermarkets just around the corner from my home, each offering their own version. But no, I wasn’t satisfied with just any Challah. It was worth that extra drive to have the fresh-baked, dreamy, dense real thing.
When I went off to college, I realized that much of the world in general outside of Florida was not privileged with access to stellar Challah. I learned to make Challah bread for the same reason I learned to cook many other dishes. I was craving something excellent, something delicious, and I couldn’t find it anywhere.
It took me three years and countless tries to find a Challah recipe I was happy with. One night, frustrated with my studies, and cautiously optimistic about yet another Challah recipe, I discovered a treasure. This recipe is a modified version from, wouldn’t you know it, an adaptation of Brizel’s bakery recipe in Jerusalem, from an old article many years ago. I like to make the holiday version, with raisins and rum, for a little extra love.
When I tell you that it has been a over a decade since we first tried this, and we’ve never bothered to look at another recipe again, I mean it. It is dense, delicious, soft (and stays that way for days). It has been vetted and devoured by many friends and family members. Most days, I won’t bake this – because I know I’ll eat it.
To this day, whenever I bake this bread, my husband and I stop to share in the delicious scent that we both agree “smells like home”. In these trying times, I hope this recipe can be a source of comfort and blessing to you and yours, and that you enjoy it as much as we have.
Luscious Challah Bread
- Electric Stand Mixer
- 7 tbsp dark rum (we use Myers's)
- 3/4 cup dark raisins
- 1/2 cup golden raisins
- 1 tbsp active dry yeast
- 1 3/4 cup warm water (~105 degrees)
- 3/4 cup sugar
- 1/2 cup vegetable oil
- 5 large eggs, divided
- 5 cups unbleached bread flour
- 4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
- 1 tbsp salt
- The night before beginning the recipe, or at least 1-2 hours in advance, soak the dark and golden raisins in the rum. Cover with plastic wrap.
- In the bowl of an electric stand mixer fitted with a paddle, dissolve the yeast in the warm water. Add the sugar and oil and stir to combine. Beat in 4 of the eggs, one at a time, on med-low speed (I use level 2 on my KitchenAid).
- In a separate bowl, combine all of the bread flour, 2 cups of the all-purpose flour, and the salt.
- Add the flour mixture gradually to the yeast mixture, stirring to combine. When the mixture comes together to form a dough, stop the mixer and switch to a dough hook.
- Turn the dough hook to knead on to the lowest setting, set a timer for 5 minutes and gradually add another 1.5 cups of all-purpose flour. You should be left with a smooth and elastic dough. If you would like to knead by hand – knead well for about 10 minutes.
- Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and pat down a well in the center. Add the raisin and rum mixture, and another 1/4 cup of flour. Knead the mixture into the dough. IF the dough is too sticky, add the remaining 1/4 cup of flour as needed.
- Place the dough into a large oiled bowl, and turn it around in the bowl a few times to grease the dough. Cover with plastic wrap, and place in a warm location for 1-2 hours, until the dough is almost doubled in size.
- Remove the dough, and punch it down (the harder the better! take some aggression out). Return it to the bowl, cover again, and rest for another 30 minutes in a warm place.
Braiding a 6-braided Challah
- Divide the dough into two – there will be two loaves.
- Take one of the halves, and split it into 6 equal portions. Using your hands, roll each portion out on a lightly floured surface until it is about 14 inches long.
- Take the 6 strands and join them together at one end. Group into two sets of three strands.
- Take the outside right strand and bring it over the two in the right group, into the middle empty area.
- Take the second strand from the left, and bring it over to the far right.
- Now, take the outside left strand into the middle.
- Take the second from the right strand over to the far left.
- Repeat this alternating pattern until you are done braiding. When you have run out of length for braiding, join the strands and tuck the end under.
- Repeat this process for the second loaf.
Rise and bake
- Place the braided loaves on an aluminum-lined (trust me, line it) greased baking sheet, and rise, uncovered, in a warm area for 45 minutes.
- At this point, you can stop and freeze one of both of the loaves if you'd like to bake it later. If you'd like to bake one or both now, continues as follows.
- Beat the remaining egg, and brush the loaves. Continue to rise for another 15 minutes, while you preheat your oven to 400 degrees.
- 5 minutes before popping into the oven, brush again with your egg wash.
- Add your loaves to the center rack of your oven. Bake at 400 degrees for 10 minutes, then lower temperature to 375 degrees. Bake for another 25-30 minutes, or until your crust is a deep golden brown.
- Enjoy, and try not to eat it all the same day! Friendly tip – buy some delicious butter to go with, and if you like cafe con leche (essentially a Cuban coffee latte) – this pairs excellently.