In my post about baking crackers I mentioned my love for the cookbook Baking with Julia and the fact that my copy of the book falls open at a few, often-baked, recipes. One of the pages that the book opens to most easily is page 93 and the recipe for challah that Lauren Groveman contributed.
In the introduction to the recipe, Julia and Lauren encourage you to think of challah as sort of an Eastern European version of brioche, a butter- and egg-enriched slightly sweet bread. Of course, unlike brioche, challah is also the symbol of the Jewish sabbath.
I love baking this bread; it’s no more difficult than any other bread recipe and the dough is soft, smooth and golden, and smells rich even before it is baked.
I especially like the way this dough feels when I knead it (I do most of the kneading in my KitchenAid standing mixer,
but always do the final knead by hand because the dough is so smooth to the touch).
I also love the way the dough rises. The addition of sugar and milk and eggs makes the yeast very active and the dough always rises robustly each time it is shaped and left to its own devices.
Braiding the loaves is another part of making this bread that I look forward to. Once the dough has finished its second rise, I divide it into 6 even pieces and use three for each braid. I have found that it is helpful to use a kitchen scale to weigh out the dough because I am not good at judging equal pieces using my eyes alone.
The final rise takes place after the bread is braided. Before putting them into the oven the loaves get glazed with an egg and cream mixture
and dusted with coarse salt and, if you like, sesame seeds.
When the bread comes out of the oven it smells irresistibly sweet and bread-y.
I always have trouble waiting for it to get cool enough to slice. It’s lucky the recipe makes two loaves.