Challah is another type of bread I'd never eaten before I made it this week (belatedly) for the Alpha Bakers' December Bread Bible project. I'm familiar with it from TV, films and books and have always thought of it as the bread that takes a central place in Jewish rituals. I had no idea it was a semi-sweet enriched bread rather than just a rather fancy plaited white loaf. That was a lovely surprise (although fancy plaited white bread is not to be sneezed at either). In fact I loved everything about making this bread and eating it as well. You'll see there's quite a lot of photos of the bread in its plaited state since I was mesmerised by how fantastic it looked, and that I made it!.*
*It may not be the best challah ever but it's my first and looks pretty good to me.
This bread starts, like many of Rose's other breads, by making a biga - a small piece of dough which ferments and develops flavour for up to three days in the fridge. I left mine for one day because I had to fit it around other commitments. It didn't look very big when I took it out of the fridge but it smelled yeasty and weighed exactly the amount the recipe stated it should.
I used butter rather than oil in my challah, as Rose suggests if you don't need it to be pareve. The recipe most of the Alpha Bakers made was actually the one on Rose's website rather than the Bread Bible recipe. Rose suggested this since she has improved the recipe since the Bread Bible was published.
I can't imagine that I'll ever get blasé about the sensuousness of bread dough. And it's amazing that this silky, vibrant dough emerges from the initial lumpy mix you see above.
Thankfully the Bread Bible includes step-by-step pictures to help the novice baker plait the four strands of dough (that's right, four!). I'm not sure if you've ever tried bobbin lace-making? It's a lot like making this plait (only with tiny thread and a dozen-plus bobbins).
I had to squish up the ends of my plait a bit to fit it into my little oven. It didn't seem to do any real damage. I call it 'shaping the loaf'. Look at those curves.
And soft and delicious.