Simple starts: Challah bread for New Year's Day

01 Jan 2011

Braided challah

After last night's gorgeous revelries, I woke up full of a strange certainty: I wanted to make bread. Christmas was full of sweet extravagance: tarts, custards, cakes, truffles so boozy and calorie loaded they made your head spin after two bites.  Slouching out of bed at 11am with my pink PJs and mild hangover, all I wanted was to absolve myself of that decadence with the reassuring simplicity of home-baked bread. So I skipped breakfast, I skipped coffee and by the time D was also up and eating his cereal my fingers were sticking together with yeasty dough.

I don't make bread often - my generally low GI/low carb diet demands (I'm a dieting baker, the most tragic thing to be by far). So to celebrate the rare occasion I chose a festive bread, the Jewish challah. Known as 'chalka' in my native Polish tongue, this braided loaf is generally broken during the meals of the Shabbath and, as I found out only after I baked it, is often made for the Jewish new year! The two loaves looked looked so magnificent, so... regal coming out of the oven! We sliced one up and devoured it in its entirety over lunch, slathered with generous helpings of butter and home-made plum jam. Hello, 2011. You're delicious.

RECIPE

Makes two medium-large loaves

1. Mix the salt, flour and sugar together in a medium bowl. Add in the yeast. Mix together and make a well in the center. In a medium jug combine the warm water, eggs and oil. Pour into the bowl and mix just to make a sticky dough.

2. Flop out into a floured surface and knead just until smooth and elastic. Place in a clean, lightly oiled bowl and cover with plastic film. Leave to rise in a warm spot for 1 to 1.5 hours.3. Remove the dough and knock it back with your fists. Divide it in two and then divide each piece into three pieces. Roll those into strips (try suspending the dough from your hands and letting gravity stretch it to the right length).

3. Place the strips onto an oiled baking sheet and braid the pieces, pinching them together at each end. Cover with cling film and leave to rise again for 30 minutes.

4. Preheat the oven to 230 degrees centigrade. Brush the loaves with egg white and generously sprinkle on the poppy seed.

5. Put in the hot oven for 10 minutes, then turn the temperature down to 200 degrees and bake for another 20 minutes. Take out, let cool a bit, enjoy.