Saturday, May 26, 2012

Braided Challah (Daring Bakers Challenge, May 2012)

Here's the brief for this challenge: "May's Daring Bakers' Challenge was pretty twisted - Ruth from The Crafts of Mommyhood challenged us to make challah! Using recipes from all over, and tips from "A Taste of Challah," by Tamar Ansh, she encouraged us to bake beautifully braided breads."

With free time being so scarce these days, I like to put 150% effort into the baking projects that I take on. This particular recipe held special significance for me because it was my first Daring Bakers Challenge. I was hesitant at first to join the Daring Bakers, because I knew for sure that I would not be able to dedicate much time to this blog this year because of a massive uni workload. However, seeing other bloggers proudly showing off their masterpieces on each month's reveal date filled me with such senses of envy and longing that I caved, and signed up at the end of April. And behold - I have completed my very first challenge - a raisin and cinnamon swirl challah!

The Challah is a braided loaf traditionally eaten on Sabbath and other Jewish holidays. The bread is made with a yeasted dough enriched with eggs, sugar and oil. Ruth from The Crafts of Mommyhood, who is our host for this challenge, provided us with various recipes for the dough (including her own "go-to" whole wheat version), as well as helpful tips on braiding the loaf. After a little bit of research, I settled on Maggie Glezer's Chernowitzer Challah recipe, after seeing it being used by Lisa for her 'Chocolate Cinnamon Raisin Swirl Challah'. If that description alone isn't enough to get you must be made of stone.

Cinnamon rolls are one of my very favourite carby treats, and I can pretty much eat raisins as my daily servings of fruit for the rest of my life. And so I followed in Lisa's footsteps, and made my Challah a cinnamon and raisin swirl one, without the chocolate. I was worried that it might be too much of a good thing, and anyway, I live with a bunch of mutants who don't like chocolate. The swirl pattern didn't come out at all. I think it was because the filling lacked a binding agent, which was what the chocolate did in Lisa's recipe.

This is actually my second attempt at making this recipe. The first time, I allowed the dough to rise for far too long (I think it was over 4 hours) because I'd slept right through my alarm. Whilst the bread still tasted all right, it was visually unappealing - sorta flattened and pathetic-looking. That was lesson number 1: don't over-proof your dough. Lesson number 2 was to cover the bread with foil 20 or 30 minutes into the baking, to stop the surface of the bread from browning too much. I'm in love with the burnished hue of my second loaf, but my first loaf honestly looked like poo, if you'll pardon my bluntness.

I really like the colour of my second loaf!

So, how did it taste? Allow me to divulge some embarrassing info about myself. For a while, I tried to convince myself that I hated the taste of bread. That it was basically a tasteless lump of gluten, and in addition to being so bad for my waistline, was terrible for my health and I would do well to avoid it for the rest of my life. Let me say now that, oh man, I was totally bullsh*tting myself. Who was I trying to kid? I LOVE bread. If I could be like my naturally super-skinny friend who habitually downs plates of pasta, I would happily eat bread for all three meals, plus snacks. 

Unfortunately, cruel fate has gifted a carb-lover like myself with the metabolism of a tortoise, and consequently, I limit myself to breadstuff only occasionally. This loaf was totally worth the carb-overload. Calling it "raisin toast" would be the ultimate insult. It's a dense, heavy loaf, and although the crumb may feel dry to the touch, it actually tastes very moist. The raisins have become all plump and juicy from absorbing the liquid from the surrounding dough, and despite all the sugar I stuffed into the dough, it is not too sweet to make a sandwich out of. In fact, I think it would go quite well with a sharp, salty cheddar. The only thing I would change is to increase the amount of cinnamon, as I couldn't really taste it.

Here's a walkthrough of the recipe, with accompanying pictures. I really do apologise for not posting more frequently. I truly appreciate the time you have taken to read through my humble blog. I do hope you give this Challah recipe a go, because it is fantastic and completely worthy of a Daring Bakers Challenge! :D

Recipe tutorial: Raisin and Cinnamon Swirl Challah
Makes one 950g loaf; adapted from Maggie Glezer's recipe


For the dough:
7g instant yeast
500g bread flour (+ extra in case your dough is too wet)
170g warm water
2 large eggs + 1 for glazing
110g vegetable oil (I used corn oil)
1.5tsp (8g) salt
55g white granulated sugar

Warm water not pictured

For the filling:
1tbsp ground cinnamon
Tiny sprinkle of ground nutmeg
1/4 cup white granulated sugar
1/2 to 1 cup raisins, according to taste
50g melted butter (omit, or replace with vegetable oil to keep recipe dairy-free)

Butter not pictured


1. Make the yeast slurry by whisking together the instant yeast, 100g of flour, and the warm water.

Leave the yeast slurry to stand, uncovered, for 20 minutes in a warm environment (e.g. inside the microwave, or an oven which has been turned on for a minute or two). Bubbles should start to appear in the slurry after that time.

2. Make the dough by whisking two eggs, 55g of sugar, oil, and salt into the yeast slurry.

Add in the rest of the flour, and stir with spoon until it comes together. You may need to add a little more flour if the dough is too sticky.

At this point, either transfer the dough to a stand mixer with the dough hook attachment and turn that on for 10 minutes, or do it the old school way like me and knead it with your hands for 10 minutes. Note that the dough will be extremely sticky at first, but should become firmer and less sticky with kneading.

3. Ferment the dough once it has been sufficiently kneaded by placing the dough into an oiled bowl, covering the bowl with cling wrap, and leaving it in a warm environment for 2 hours.

Dough before fermentation/the first proofing

The dough is done fermenting when it has double in size, and when you stick a finger into it, the dough does not bounce back up.

Oh, be quiet!

4. Punch down the dough

and give it a good knead until it feels supple and springy. Weigh the dough, and divide the total weight by six to form six portions. Shape each portion into a ball, and allow it to rest until cling wrap for 5-10 minutes.

5. Now we are going to shape and fill each strand with the cinnamon sugar and raisins. Start by mixing together the cinnamon, nutmeg and sugar.

Roll each dough ball until it is roughly 30cm long, and then flatten to form a rectangle. Brush the top with melted butter (or oil) and sprinkle with the cinnamon sugar filling.

Top with raisins:

And pinch the dough together to form six filled strands:

6. Braid the strands together to form a pretty loaf (this video shows how to braid a six-stranded loaf). Cover with cling, place in a warm environment, and allow it to rise for a second time for around 1.5 hours:

Before the second rising

After the second rising

7. Around 15 minutes prior to baking the loaf, preheat your oven to 180 degrees Celsius (350 degrees Fahrenheit), and place your baking rack towards the bottom of the oven. Brush the topside of your risen loaf with a beaten egg, then place in the oven to bake for 45-50 minutes. 

Note that: in order to get a nice sheen that extends into all of those crevices, you have to brush the loaf with another layer of egg-wash 20 minutes into the baking. At the 30 minute mark, if you notice that the top of your loaf is getting too brown, cover the whole loaf loosely with a piece of foil.

8. You can tell when your loaf is fully baked through by tapping on the underside. If it sounds hollow and resonant, it's done baking!

9. Cool completely before slicing. I waited for almost 24 hours before I cut into it, but 5 hours should suffice. Serve as is, or toasted and spread generously with butter or butter substitute spread. And remember, old leftover challah = excellent French toast and bread pudding!


  1. Welcome to the Daring Bakers and what a great first challenge. Your challah looks great! I must try it as a sandwich with your salty cheddar recommendation.
    Thanks for the kind words at my blog. All the best in your studies!

  2. Your challah looks amazing - love the burnished colour.

  3. That looks so gorgeous, love the colour on it!! I really want to try my hand at baking breads..

    1. Thank you! Baking bread at home is so rewarding :)

  4. Your challah looks absolutely perfect! And thanks for the tip about over proofing the dough. I sometimes forget about doughs too!

  5. Awesome job!!!! You did an awesome job on your challah (especially starting your Daring Bakers resume off with one of Lisa's recipes!!) I love the cinnamon and chocolate swirls, and I bet they tasted amazing! I cannot wait to see all the other creations you come up with for Daring Bakers!

    1. Thank you! Yes, it was so good I ate almost half the loaf by myself xD