Adapted from a Leah Cooks Kosher recipe
Jan bought some salmon while she was in Seattle—a package of three different salmon for a tasting. She wanted it with fresh crackers for her birthday dinner. Miriam’s TMJ is so bad lately that she could not eat the crackers. I decided to make challah, a very soft Jewish bread, for her to eat with her fish.
Instead of making a large braided loaf, I decided to make individual challah in a muffin pan. I tried several different braiding patterns that I found on the internet, but some only work if you bake them on a flat surface. In a muffin tin, I found that the double strand twist pattern worked best.
Looking at many recipes on-line, I found something wrong with most of them. Many used only the egg yolks—I do not like having the problem of what to do with the rest of the egg whites, so I prefer to use only whole eggs. Other recipes used too much sugar, honey, or too much oil.
I finally chose one by Leah. The first thing I needed to do was to reduce her recipe to a third—she was making bread for many people for several meals. I then altered it to make it just a little bit healthier. With diabetes, even my sweet breads need to be a bit less sweet.
After Dinner Note: The last time I tried to make challah, it tasted OK, but it turned out very dense and chewy. This bread turned out light and fluffy. It was so popular with my family that I had to make it again two days later.
Karl’s Challah Rolls
4 cups AP flour, separate uses
2 Tbs. white sugar
½+ Tbs. Kosher salt, separate uses
½ Tbs. active dry yeast
4 large eggs, separate uses
¼+ cup vegetable oil, separate uses
1 tsp. vanilla
1 cup warm water
1. In a large bread bowl, sift together 3 cups of flour, the sugar, ½ tablespoon of salt and the yeast.
Tip: In this recipe I am not “proofing” my yeast. I use a yeast from a jar that I already know is active. If you use yeast from a packet, you run the risk that your yeast is old and dead. Be very careful to check the expiration date.
2. Separate the yolk from one of the eggs. Place the yolk in a small bowl and set the white aside for later in a cup.
3. Add the remaining eggs, oil and vanilla to the bowl with the egg yolk and whisk until well blended.
Tip: You want to use vegetable or another neutral oil for challah. A strong flavored olive oil might make a good bread, but it would not taste like “challah.”
4. Make a “well” in the flour mixture and pour the egg mixture and water into the hole.
5. Using a wooden spoon, stir the wet ingredients into the dry until you have a smooth batter.
Tip: Stir in only one direction, until all of the lumps of dry flour are fully mixed in. If you stir in one direction and then the other you will break the gluten sheets that are forming as you stir.
Note: Of course, when you are trying to make tender biscuits, you stir back and forth because you want to break up these sheets.
6. Cover the bowl with a damp towel and let the dough rest for 10-20 minutes.
7. Spread half a cup of the remaining flour onto a clean smooth work surface—I use a pastry marble.
8. Scrap the dough out of the bowl and onto the floured board.
Tip: Use a spatula or bread scrapper to free the dough from the bowl. You do not want to tear the surface of the dough as you transfer it to the board.
Note: Leah’s video has a good demonstration of this whole process.
9. Knead the dough for ten minutes. Add the remaining flour as you work to keep the dough from sticking to the board.
Tip: Depending on the size of your eggs, the temperature, and the humidity, you may need more or less the one cup. You want your final dough to be fairly soft, but you do not want it to stick to the board as you are working it.
10. When you have finished kneading, form the dough into a tight ball.
11. Clean your bread bowl and rub about a teaspoon of oil around the insides. Place the dough top side down into the oil to coat it and then flip it over to coat the bottom with oil.
Tip: The oil keeps the dough from drying out and crusting as it raises.
12. Cover the bowl with a damp towel and set the bowl in a warm place to raise.
Tip: If it is a cold day, turn your oven on low for one minute and place the bowl in the over to raise. Be sure to turn the oven off before putting in the dough or you will half bake it. I speak from personal experience here.
13. When the dough has doubled in volume—1-2 hours depending on many factors—punch the dough down and turn it out onto a lightly floured board.
14. Form the dough into a ball and use a board scrapper to divide the dough in half.
15. Form each half into another dough ball.
Tip: Pull the smooth sides around, so that the cut side of the dough is pulled into the center of the dough ball. When you cut the dough you are also cutting the gluten sheets. You want these cuts inside the dough, so that the gasses—that give your dough its lift—are trapped inside your bread not leaking off into the oven.
16. Cut the first dough ball into 6 wedges.
Tip: Cut the ball in half and then each half into three equal pieces.
17. Push the tip of each wedge into the middle and pull the smooth outside around to form a small dough ball.
18. Roll each dough ball in to a snake about 14 inches long.
Tip: As you work the dough the gluten tightens up and wants to pull it back into whatever shape it is in. You have to let it rest and relax, before continuing to stretch it out. Take the dough balls one at a time, roll them into a 6 inch bar and set them aside. When you finish with the sixth dough ball, the first will be ready to roll into a 10 inch snake. Continues until you have 14 inch snakes.
19. Fold the dough snake in half and pinch the ends together.
20. Twist the strands together by turning the closed end a full turn.
21. Take the split/pinched end and fold it under the twisted dough about two thirds along the strands length.
22. Fold the closed side of the strands over the split ends and under the strands.
23. Place the dough twists, ends down, into the Pam-ed cup of a muffin tin.
24. Repeat steps 16-23 for the other eleven pieced of dough.
25. Take the cup with the egg white and add a pinch of salt and one tablespoon of water. Stir it well to break up the egg white.
Note: Leah mentions in her video that she doesn’t know why some people add salt and water to the egg wash. The answer is chemistry. The salt and the water prevent the proteins in the egg whites from binding together as easily. You want a sheen of egg across your bread, not clumps of cooked egg white in the crevices.
26. Let the rolls rise for 15-20 minutes and then bake at 350º F for 20-25 minutes, until golden brown on top.
27. Remove the rolls from the muffin tin and cool on a wire rack.