Holla for Challah!

My mother-in-law buys challah pretty regularly from Central Market for Sunday dinners. She pronounces it "halla," which sounds hilariously ghetto coming from her (I keep waiting for her to say something at the table like, "Pass that HOLLA back, girl!" but have the feeling I'll probably be waiting for a long time). I think that "halla" is probably the most accurate way to pronounce it. I say "Calla," just because the dictionary says it's OK. Enough about pronunciation...

This recipe is adapted from Baking with Julia, which admittedly, has been sitting on my bookshelf until recently, when I watched Julie and Julia. I picked out the challah recipe because my husband loves the stuff, and unlike Central Market, I will make it with love, which always makes everything taste better, right? (ha!) It makes 2 gorgeous, billowy, golden-brown loaves.

2 tablespoons (approximately) unsalted butter, melted
1 1/2 tablespoons active dry yeast
1/2 cup tepid water (80 - 90 degrees)
1/3 cup sugar
1 stick butter, room temperature
1 cup whole milk
1 tablespoon mild honey
2 1/2 teaspoons salt
4 large eggs
6 1/2 cups (approximately) high-gluten flour, bread flour, or unbleached all-purpose flour

Brush a large mixing bowl with some of the melted butter. Reserve the rest for coating the top of the dough.

Whisk the yeast into the water, adding a pinch of sugar. Let it rest until the yeast has dissolved and is creamy, about 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, cut up the butter into little pieces and combine with milk in a small saucepan. Heat over medium heat until butter is melted. After the butter is melted, add sugar, salt, and honey and combine well. Wait until the mixture is no hotter than 110 degrees and add yeast. Mix well with a wooden spoon, then add 5 cups of flour. Mix for 3 minutes before adding additional flour. You want to add enough flour to be able to handle the dough, or until it pulls cleanly away from the bowl, if you're using a stand mixer with a dough hook. A word of caution about stand mixers: I have the typical Kitchenaid stand mixer and it couldn't handle the volume of this dough without the dough creeping up over the hook. I mixed it in the mixer until I could handle it, then kneaded it by hand. Knead for about 10 minutes, form the dough into a ball, and plop into your buttered bowl. Cover with a buttered piece of plastic wrap, then cover with a kitchen towel. Let rise 1 - 1 1/2 hours, until doubled.

Punch down, and let rise again 45 minutes to an hour, until doubled.

Punch down and shape into 2 loaves. You can leave them round, or separate each dough piece into 3 or 4 pieces, roll into long pieces, and braid *, which is what I do - FANCY, I know!

Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper and transfer your shaped loaf to one of the baking sheets. Repeat with the other piece of dough. Cover with a towel (a cotton tea towel would be good - something that's not covered with lint) and let rise at room temperature for about 40 minutes until soft, puffy, and almost doubled.

Position the oven racks to divide the overn into thirds and preheat to 375 degrees. Whisk together 1 large egg, 1 egg yolk, and 1 tablespoon of water or heavy cream, and mix really well. The recipe says to whisk it until it's broken up and then push the glaze through a sieve, but I'm not doing that. Brush the tops and sides with glaze; let set for 5 minutes and brush again. Reserve the leftover glaze for brushing the loaves during baking. If you're topping the loaves with anything (sesame, poppy, caraway seeds, etc.), dust them with the topping. Sprinkle coarse salt over the loaves.

Bake for 20 minutes. The loaves will expand and expose some of the inner dough, so brush the newly exposed dough with the reserved glaze. Bake 15 - 20 minutes longer, or until loaves are golden and sound hollow when thumped on the bottom. If they start browning too quickly, cover with foil. Cool before slicing.

* You can do a three-strand braid, which is like braiding hair, or a cool four-strand braid. Here's how:

Strand A Strand B Strand C Strand D

You may want to anchor the strands at the end with something heavy, like a coffee cup. Start with Strand D, bring it to the left over Strand C (it's the new Strand C), then bring Strand B all the way to the right, over Strands C and D (it becomes the new Strand D). Now, you'll repeat on the opposite side. Bring Strand A over Strand B (becoming the new Strand B), then bring Strand C all the way to the left, over Strands A and B (becoming the new Strand A). Then repeat the process. Sometimes, especially when I repeated the process, it seemed like it wasn't going to work, like something didn't get crossed correctly. I've determined that it's because I've spent my whole life making three-stranded braids, so my brain just gets a little wonky. Just stay the course - it will work out!

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