Challah Bread (The Vegetarian Epicure)

When I was a teenager I opened up my mother’s classic Amy Vanderbilt Cookbook (the one with illustrative line-drawings by Andy Warhol), and dared to make yeast-raised white bread. I say, “dared” because she had never made such bread and I would be flying blind, with only that cookbook serving as my flying instruments. By making my own bread, I realized why people baked bread in the first place. I found it insanely delicious. By comparison, the perfectly good supermarket white bread on which I was raised seemed best suited to tossing to the ducks at the pond. I became comfortable with baking bread, cutting my teeth with several loaves of basic white bread and English Muffin bread.

Then I saw this recipe in The Vegetarian Epicure. When I learned that I would soon be meeting my future spouse’s aunt, I visualized the braided loaf: golden with egg, glazed and covered with sesame seeds and knew I wanted to make this festive bread to bring to dinner.

1 package yeast
2 teaspoons sugar
1 ¼ cups warm water, divided
4 ½ – 5 cups hard wheat, white flour, divided
2 teaspoons salt
2 eggs
2 tablespoons melted butter
1 egg yolk
sesame or poppy seed

Dissolve the yeast in ¼ cup of the water and add the sugar. Sift 4 cups of flour together with the salt into a large mixing bowl and add the two eggs, melted butter, and the rest of the water, as well as the yeast mixture.

Stir vigorously until all is well blended. Dust a large board with about ½ cup flour and turn the dough out to knead. Knead in as much of the remaining flour as needed to make a smooth, elastic, non-sticky dough.

Grease a large bowl and put the dough into it, turning once so both sides are greased. Cover and leave it to rise in a fairly warm place for about 1 hour. Punch down and let it rise again until doubled in bulk.

On a lightly floured board, shape the challah: first divide the dough into 2 parts – one slightly larger than the other. Then cut the larger part into 3 equal pieces. Roll the pieces into strips and form a fat even braid. Place in the middle of a buttered baking sheet. Now repeat this procedure with the smaller piece of dough, and place the second braid on top of the first.

Cover with a light tea towel and let it rise for about ½ hour. Brush the yolk heavily with the egg yolk and sprinkle generously with poppy or sesame seeds. Bake at 375° for about 50 min.

You will have one very large and impressive challah, golden brown and shiny.


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