Zingerman's Braided Challah | The Jewish Week | Food & Wine

Zingerman's Braided Challah

The iconic Michigan bakery shares two of their popular challah recipes: Topped with rum-soaked raisins, or flavored with sesame, poppy, aromatic anise and honey for a Moroccan bite.
Zingerman's Braided Challah

Zingerman's Braided Challah/ Antonis Achilleos

1 loaf

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Challah is a braided soft bread enriched with eggs, oil, and honey, first made in this form by Ashkenazi Jews in 15th-century Europe. The braiding was an adaptation from a local Teutonic bread. Challah started as a plain bread that, over the course of the 15th century, became more enriched. It was not sweetened until the early 19th century, when sugar became more available and more affordable all over Europe. Then, as now, challah was used to celebrate the Jewish Sabbath and other religious occasions.

We love our challah as it is, but we also bake two fancier versions. For the Jewish High Holidays we bake a challah studded with rum-soaked raisins and shaped like a turban. The spiral of the turban represents the circularity of life. We also make a Moroccan version of challah, flavored with sesame, poppy, and aromatic anise and brushed with a honey syrup to give it a touch of extra sweetness. We refer to the Jewish High Holidays at the bakery as “Challah Daze” because we’re making so many challahs. Having the first taste of the season is something we look forward to.

Challah is wonderful as a daily bread too. The Bakehouse staff chose it as the number 1 bread for French toast.

Ingredients

Rum-Soaked Raisins (for Raisin Turban Challah)

1/2 cup (95 g) Flame raisins (packed)

1/2 cup (95 g) Golden raisins (packed)

2 Tbsp (25 g) Dark rum

Seed Mix (for Moroccan Challah)

2 Tbsp (18 g) Sesame seeds

2 Tbsp (18 g) Poppy seeds

2 Tbsp (18 g) Anise seeds

Honey Wash (for Moroccan Challah)

1/4 cup (55 g) Honey

1/4 cup (55 g) Water, warm


Dough

3/4 cup (165 g) Water, room temperature

5 (75 g) Egg yolks

2 Tbsp plus 1 tsp (30 g) Corn oil

2 1/2 Tbsp (55 g) Honey

1 1/2 tsp (5 g) Instant yeast

3 cups plus 3 Tbsp (455 g) All-purpose flour

1 1/2 tsp (9 g) Sea salt

Medium rye flour for dusting

Cornmeal for dusting

Sesame or poppy seeds for sprinkling tops (optional)

Egg Wash

1 Large egg

1 Egg yolk

1 Tbsp Water

Steps

1. If making the Raisin Turban Challah, soak the Flame and golden raisins in the rum the night before baking.

If making the Moroccan Challah, make the seed mix and divide in two. You’ll knead one set into the dough and use the rest to coat the top of the braid. For the honey wash, evenly mix the honey and warm water together, and let cool.


Mix the Dough

1. In a large bowl, combine the water, egg yolks, corn oil, honey, yeast, and half of the all-purpose flour. Mix with a wooden spoon until the mixture becomes a thick batter. Add the remaining flour and the sea salt and mix until the dough becomes a shaggy mass. Scrape the dough out of the mixing bowl onto a clean, unfloured work surface.

2. Knead the dough for 6 to 8 minutes (page 34). It will become smooth and firm during the kneading process.

3. Basic Challah: Place the dough in a lightly oiled container, cover with plastic, and ferment for 1 hour.

Raisin Turban Challah: Knead the rum-soaked raisins into the dough until they are evenly distributed. Place the dough in a lightly oiled con¬tainer, cover with plastic, and ferment for 1 hour.

Moroccan Challah: Add one set of the seed mixture to the dough. Knead until the seeds are evenly distributed. Cut the dough into small pieces with a dough knife or bench scraper and knead them back together repeatedly until there are no pockets of seeds or streaks of plain dough. Place the dough in a lightly oiled container, cover with plastic, and ferment for 1 hour.


Shape the Basic Challah

1. After 1 hour of fermentation, turn the plain dough out of the container onto a lightly floured work surface and divide into six equal pieces. Shape each piece of dough into a round, cover, and let rest for 5 minutes.

2. Now we start braiding the challah. Form each piece into a 10-in [25-cm] long cylinder with tapered ends. Toss the strands with medium rye flour and shake off the excess. Attach three of the strands together at one end, pressing together firmly. Repeat with the three remaining strands. Then attach the two groups of strands together so that three stick out to the left and three stick out to the right.

3. Finally, shape the loaf into a six-strand braid, as shown in the illustration. Place the braid onto a cornmeal-covered work surface. Make the egg wash by beating together the egg, egg yolk, and water, and brush the braid with some of it.


Shape the Raisin Turban Challah

1. After 1 hour of fermentation, turn the raisin dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and gently shape into a loose round. Cover and let rest for 15 minutes. Then flip it over and shape into a cylinder about 21⁄2 feet [76 cm] long. As you roll it out, one end should remain blunt while the other is tapered to a point.

2. Roll the whole cylinder in medium rye flour. The rye flour won’t get absorbed into the dough, so you’ll be able to see the definition of the shape. Roll the cylinder into a turban shape, beginning with the blunt end in the center and rolling the tapered tail around it gently. Be careful not to roll the turban too tightly, or it may pop out as it proofs or bakes.

3. Tuck the last bit of the tapered end under the bottom of the turban and pinch it there. Place the turban on a cornmeal-covered work surface. Make the egg wash by beating together the egg, egg yolk, and water, and brush the turban with some of it.


Shape the Moroccan Challah

1. After 1 hour of fermentation, turn the Moroccan dough out onto a lightly floured surface and divide it into five pieces. Shape each piece into a round, cover, and let rest for 5 minutes.

2. Make a five-strand braid as follows: Shape each piece into a 10-inch [25-cm] long cylinder with tapered ends. Toss the strands in medium rye flour and attach the strands together at one end, pressing firmly. Braid as shown in the illustration ending by attaching the strands together. Brush the braid with the honey wash and roll it in the remaining seed mixture. Place it onto a cornmeal-covered surface, right side up. The Moroccan Challah does not get an egg wash.


Proof and Bake the Challah

1. Let the loaves ferment for 11⁄2 hours, until they are at least 11⁄2 times their original size.

2. Preheat a baking stone in your oven to 325°F [165°C] for 45 minutes.

3. When fully fermented, brush the Basic Challah and Raisin Turban with egg wash a second time (and sprinkle with sesame or poppy seeds, if desired). Transfer to a lightly floured peel. Load onto the baking stone to bake for approximately 25 minutes, or until golden brown and the internal temperature is at least 190°F [88°C].

4. Remove the challah from the oven, place on a wire rack, and cool completely.


Reprinted with permission from Zingerman’s Bakehouse, Copyright 2017 by Amy Emberling and Frank Carollo published by Chronicle Books.