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Challah Bread– 6-Strand Braids

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Challah Bread– 6-Strand Braids

Challah is a braided Jewish bread eaten on Sabbath and Jewish holidays. There are different braid patterns depending on number of strands used in braiding the bread. Because of Jewish dietary restriction, Challah is usually parve (containing neither dairy nor meat, important in the laws of Kashrut). Also, Challah for Jewish New Year is coiled instead of braided, sometimes referred as  ‘Turban Challah’.

How did my first challah turn out? The look was… weird, actually kinda ugly. I think I braided my challah too tight, didn’t giving each strand space to breath and expand to form the nice round curves. Also, the oven temperature was too high. I had to trim off the burnt bottom of the bread. The crumbs? It’s soft, but not as soft as I would like. Oh well, at least the family didn’t mind and finished the loaf. I sure had fun braiding the bread though.

Challah Bread (makes 1 large loaf)

Ingredients:

for the sponge:
7/8 cup water
2 cups unbleached bread flour
1 tbsp sugar
1 tsp salt
1 1/2 tsp dry yeast

for the dough:
all of the sponge
2 eggs– beaten
2 cups unbleached bread flour
4 tbsp sugar
1 tsp salt
4 tbsp vegetable oil

Egg wash (mix well):
1 egg yolk
1 tbsp water

Method (kneaded by Zojirushi bread maker):

To make the sponge:

  1. Add water to the bottom of bread maker loaf pan. Then sprinkle in flour ensuring covering all the liquid. Make an indent in the middle and add in yeast. Add sugar and salt in separate corners.
  2. Select “Dough” course and press “Start”. Check the dough when it is kneading: scrap down any dry flour, add 1 tbsp water if it’s too dry. When the dough course completes, unplug the cord and let it sit inside the loaf pan for 8-10 hours. Do not open the lid. The sponge will eventually collapse and look bubbly and sticky after 8-10 hours.

To make the dough:

  1. Add all other dough ingredients to the sponge in the loaf pan. Select “Dough” course and press “Start”. When the course completes, remove dough from loaf pan and place in a large bowl. Cover the bowl and rest in a warm place until the dough is almost double in size.
  2. Transfer dough to a lightly floured work surface. Knead gently to push out the air, then divide into 6 portions. Roll each portion to a 16-inch thin log and start braiding. Please check out this wonderful 3-4-5-6-7-8-9 strand braiding video from The Bread Kitchen.
  3. Place braided challah on a baking pan lined with parchment. Loosely cover the bread and place in a warm place until it almost double in size. Apply egg wash and bake in preheated 375°F oven for 40 minutes (if the top browns too quickly, tent the top with a piece of aluminum foil after 30 minutes). Remove from oven and cool completely on a rack.

Regina’s Note:

  • Braiding the bread: I  braided my challah too tight, so the pattern was not as obvious and kinda ugly. Next time I will braid a little loose so the curves will pop up after baking.
  • Oven temperature: I find 40 minutes/375°F is too high and too long for my challah. the top is very brown and the bottom is burnt ( I had to slice off the burnt bottom). So maybe 40 minutes/350°F on next trial will work out better?
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Never have I had a chocolate babka before until one of the parents in MERC Chinese School gave me one to try– and man, that was GOOD! I searched online about this bread, and found out it is a Jewish Easter bread filled mostly with bittersweet chocolate. Well, I am not a Jewish, but I made this bread for Easter Sunday’s breakfast. A lot of butter was used making babka, to a point that when I remove the bread from loaf pan/muffin pans I see there’s lots oil at the bottom of the pans (I used non-stick pans and I didn’t spray!) Luckily we don’t eat babka on a regular basis. Despite that, the bread is very rich and chocolatey. Chocolate babka is best when enjoyed fresh hot from the oven– as the streusel topping is crunchy while the bread is buttery soft, moist and chocolatey. Since only bittersweet chocolate is used, the babka doesn’t taste awfully sweet at all, just the way I like it. It’s not that difficult to make. Try it, my friend; your Easter baking will never be the same… 🙂

Chocolate Babka

Chocolate Babka

Chocolate Babka

Chocolate Babka

Chocolate Babka

Chocolate Babka

Chocolate Babka Recipe (makes 1 loaf and 12 muffin size pieces– adapted from Epicurious.com)

Ingredients:
For dough:
3/4 cup warm milk
1/2 cup plus 2 teaspoons sugar
3 tsp yeast
3 1/4 cups flour, plus extra for dusting
2 eggs
1 egg yolk
1 tsp vanilla extract
3/4 tsp salt
10 tbsp (1 1/4 stick) unsalted butter, cut into pieces and softened

For egg wash (mix well):
1 egg yolk
1 tbsp heavy cream or whole milk

For chocolate filling (mix together):
5 tbsp unsalted butter, very well softened
8 oz bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped– see note below
4 tbsp almond meals– toast in dry frying pan on low heat until pale golden, cool
1 tbsp candied orange peel– finely chopped

unsweetened cocoa powder

For streusel topping (combine flour and sugar, then cut in butter using a fork or butter knife until it resembles crumbs):
1/2 cup flour
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/4 cup (4oz, 1 stick) unsealed butter (room temperature)– cut into small pieces

Method:

  1. To make dough: Stir together warm milk and 2 teaspoons sugar in bowl of mixer. Stir in yeast and let stand until foamy, about 5-8 minutes. (If yeast doesn’t foam, discard and start over with new yeast.)
  2. Add 1/2 cup flour to yeast mixture and beat at medium speed until combined. Add whole eggs, yolk, vanilla, salt, and remaining 1/2 cup sugar and beat until combined. Reduce speed to low, then mix in remaining 2 3/4 cups flour, about 1/2 cup at a time. Increase speed to medium, then beat in butter, a few pieces at a time, and continue to beat until dough is shiny and forms strands from paddle to bowl (the dough will be very soft and sticky).
  3. Scrape dough into a lightly oiled bowl and cover bowl with plastic wrap. Let dough rise in a draft-free place at warm room temperature until doubled in bulk, 1 1/2 to 2 hours (I sit my bowl on top of a big pot filled with hot tap water at the bottom of the pot– just be sure the water doesn’t touch the dough bowl).
  4. Line loaf pan with 2 pieces of parchment paper (1 lengthwise and 1 crosswise), and liner for muffin pans.
  5. Punch down dough with a lightly oiled rubber spatula, then divide the dough into 1/3 (for loaf pan) and 2/3 (for 12 muffin molds) portion.
  6. For loaf pan: Roll out 1/3 of dough on a well-floured surface with a lightly floured rolling pin into a 13×10 inch rectangle, with the long side in front of you. Brush egg wash on the long side farthest from you.
  7. Dust cocoa powder evenly over the dough, leaving a 1/2 inch space all around. Spread remaining 1/3 of the chocolate filling evenly on top of cocoa powder. Starting from the long side nearest to you, roll up the dough tightly like a jelly roll. Pinch firmly along egg-wash side to seal.
  8. Bring ends of log together to form a ring, pinching to seal. Twist entire ring twice to form a double figure 8 and fit into lined loaf pan.
  9. For muffin pans: Roll remaining 2/3 of dough on a well-floured surface with a lightly floured rolling pin into a 15×10 inch rectangle, with the long side in front of you. Brush egg wash on the long side farthest from you.
  10. Dust cocoa powder evenly over the dough, leaving a 1/2 inch space all around. Spread remaining 2/3 of the chocolate filling evenly on top of cocoa powder. Starting from the long side nearest to you, roll up the dough tightly like a jelly roll. Pinch firmly along egg-wash side to seal. Divide dough log into 12 even pieces.
  11. Take a piece of dough, hold it with one hand and twist the dough with the other hand (so it looks like a cinnamon twist). Carefully place the dough into lined muffin mold. Repeat with remaining pieces of dough.
  12. Loosely cover pans with greased plastic wrap (buttered side down) and let babkas rise in a draft-free place at warm room temperature until dough reaches top of pans, 1 to 2 hours. (Alternatively, let dough rise in pans in refrigerator 8 to 12 hours; bring to room temperature, 3 to 4 hours, before baking.)
  13. Put oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 350°F. Meanwhile, prepare streusel.
  14. Brush tops of dough with remaining egg wash. Scoop some streusel topping on the top. Bake until tops are deep golden brown and bottoms sound hollow when tapped (when loaves are removed from pans), about 35-40 minutes. Transfer loaves to a rack and cool to room temperature (please note muffin pans take a little less time to bake).

Regina’s Note:

  • Bittersweet chocolate: it’s better to use good quality chocolate for this recipe. Also, use a food processor for the chopping– just be sure to freeze the chocolate and blade before chopping.
  • Babka tastes best when warm, reheat in toaster or toaster oven when it is cold.
  • According to Martha Stewart, unbaked babka can be frozen for up to 1 month. After 2nd rise in the pan, wrap the pan with plastic wrap, followed by foil. When ready to bake, remove from freezer; let stand at room temperature for about 5 hours, and bake.
  • Alternatively, this recipe yields 2 loaf pans– I don’t have second loaf pan so I used muffin pans.
Chocolate Babka

Chocolate Babka

Chocolate Babka

Chocolate Babka

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