Yield: 6 loaves
Challah often uses 7 ingredients, alluding to the seventh day of the week, Shabbat. The quantity of flour used in the following recipe is sufficient to fulfill the mitzvah (Torah commandment) of Separating Challah. Use the whole wheat, oat, rye and spelt combination to make small 1-ounce rolls and small loaves for the whole week.
- 21/2 ounces fresh yeast, or 21/2 tablespoons instant dry yeast
- 8-9 cups very warm water, or half water and half sodium-free seltzer (see note below)
- 5 tablespoons sugar
- 5 pounds flour (21/4 kilo or 20 cups)
- 2 tablespoons salt
- 1/2 cup canola oil
- 2 eggs plus 2 egg whites
- 1 egg yolk diluted with a little water
- seeds for sprinkling (poppy or sesame)
Mix yeast with 1/4 cup warm water, 1 tablespoon sugar and 1/4 cup flour. Put in a warm place and allow to proof, about 10 minutes. It will become bubbly and start to foam. In the meantime, combine rest of dry ingredients in an extra-large mixing bowl. After the yeast has proofed, add to the bowl, along with 6-7 cups of water, the oil and the eggs. If using dry, instant yeast, simply add it to the dry ingredients, making sure that it does not come into direct contact with the salt.
Knead well, either by hand or with an electric mixer using a dough hook attachment, until the dough is soft, but not too sticky and it comes away from the sides of the bowl. You will need to add flour and/or water as you knead to reach this consistency. Allow dough to rest for 10 minutes and then knead for another few minutes. Allow dough to rest again for 10 minutes and then knead for a minute or 2.
Spray the top with non-stick cooking spray, cover with a plastic bag and set aside to rise until double in bulk, at least 1 hour. (If it is cold in the kitchen, this stage will take longer.) Punch dough down and set aside to rise a second time. Punch dough down and divide into 6. Take 4 of the pieces of dough and divide each one into as many strands as you want to braid for each loaf. While braiding these challahs, cover the remaining 2 pieces of dough with plastic wrap. This way they will retain their moisture and provide the best rising medium. Cover the 4 challahs with a towel and let them rise for 30-45 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 425F. Just before putting them in the oven, apply a glaze made of 1 egg yolk diluted with a little water, and sprinkle with sesame or poppy seeds or both. Position the challahs on a cookie sheet lined with baking paper and place on the middle rack in the oven, taking into account the height of the finished loaves. Now braid the last 2 challahs. (While the 4 are baking, these 2 will rise without rising too much, which makes them lose their shape.)
Bake for 10 minutes at 425F, then reduce heat to 375F and bake an additional 25 minutes. To test if done, remove and tap bottom of loaf – it should make a hollow sound. To avoid moisture from accumulating on the bottoms of the loaves, remove them immediately from the cookie sheet and cool on a rack. For challah rolls, 10-15 minutes at the highest heat is sufficient. Challah freezes nicely, but it must be well-wrapped.
Option: For loaves and rolls, you can use half canola and half olive oil. Sprinkle with mixed oats, black and white sesame seeds and/or poppy seeds.
Note: Most people find that high-gluten flour – the flour that makes our challahs rise so well – contributes to a faster surge in blood sugars. I racked my brain for a solution so that my family could enjoy the challahs they were used to and I wouldn't suffer from such a surge … and Heaven helped. I tried using sodium-free seltzer in place of half the water, and we now enjoy beautiful, light challah without the high-gluten content. This works just as nicely with a white/ whole-wheat flour combination or with whole-wheat flour on its own.
Variation: You can make the above recipe substituting whole-wheat, spelt, oat or any combination of higher-fiber flours.
The carb count will be a bit lower (due to the higher fiber count). However, the real gain is a more wholesome bread. Due to the density of whole wheat flour, this dough will call for a little more water – and again – using half seltzer and half water will give you a lighter and fluffier texture.