Kitchen Fail: Challah Bread

Jewish holidays are counted from sundown to sundown.  This means that Shabbat, which is Saturday, starts every Friday at sundown.  It’s a day of rest so observant Jews will start to prepare for Shabbat on Friday morning by cleaning, shopping and cooking so that there will be nothing to do on Saturday but rest, relax and visit with loved ones.  It’s a tradition I love.

When I lived in Israel, Friday was kitchen cleaning day.  We’d make breakfast for the kibbutz and then pull out all the leftovers from the week, heat them up and set about cleaning the kitchen.  We cleaned the kitchen every day, of course, after lunch but Fridays was the massive clean day.  We scrubbed the floors, scrubbed the pots, scrubbed the ovens, washed out the walk-ins, cleaned the potato peeling machine, disinfected the countertops…  It was glorious.  We’d always get done earlier on Fridays and that was nice, too.  We always ate with my cousin who’s a wonderful cook and often her daughters and grandchildren would join us as well.

Growing up, my grandmother would make sure that Friday nights included a fresh challah bread, Shabbat candles and Shabbat wine.  She’d almost always have dessert, too.  When I knew her, Grandma wasn’t working at my grandfather’s store, so she had some time to shop and cook on Fridays.  I love the idea of Friday night family dinners but find that by the time I go to work, pick up the baby and get home, the last thing I want to do is cook a big meal.  So for a while, I made an effort to buy a challah on the way home.  But now, with the baby, even that’s bigger endeavor than before- no more running in, now it involves taking her out of her carseat, carrying her, wrestling her back into her car seat…  just more complicated.  Plus, my husband started working on Friday nights, leaving me and the baby to our own devices.  Which, while nice, does not encourage me to cook a big meal. (It encourages me to eat things like cereal or peas for dinner.)

But Friday nights felt wrong.  At the very least we needed bread, if not the family gathering.  Imagine my delight to find this no-knead challah bread recipe.  It takes most of the work out of the bread.  Plus, it’s much less time for rising.  Of course, it’s still not something I can throw together at 4 and eat at 5 but it is possible for me to make several loaves on a weekend, freeze them and then defrost and bake on a Friday afternoon.  Problem solved, right??

Well…..   This is a “kitchen fail” post.  The first time I made it, I decided to halve the recipe.  No need for four loaves of bread if it’s not good (wasn’t sure how it would turn out)!  So I halved the recipe but somehow in my mind, half of 7 was 5.  Yeh, not so much.  I ended up with some very, very stiff dough.

I kept it because it just felt wrong to throw it away.  So I tried to make flatbread with it.  I rolled it out thin.I brushed it with some olive oil and sprinkled some grated parm, oregano, seasoning salt, dried onion and garlic powder for a savory kind of flatbread.  I used butter, cinnamon and sugar on another in order to try a sweeter flatbread.

The savory one wasn’t bad but it was kind of bland.  And the texture was just….. wrong.  Not really crisp, not really soft.  Kind of a pita-like consistency but not quite right. I eventually admitted defeat and threw out the bad dough.

BUT, please do try the actual challah recipe because it’s in fact, quite good and pretty easy.  Just do your math correctly.

No-Knead Challah
from Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day by Jeff Hertzberg and Zoe Francois
Makes four 1-pound loaves. The recipe is easily doubled or halved (you know, assuming you can do math)

1 3/4 cups lukewarm water
1 1/2 tablespoons granulated yeast (2 packets)
1 1/2 tablespoons salt
4 large eggs, lightly beaten
1/2 cup honey
1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted (or neutral-tasting vegetable oil such as canola), plus more for greasing the cookie sheet
7 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
Egg wash (1 egg beaten with 1 tablespoon of water)
Poppy or sesame seeds for the top

Mix the yeast, salt, eggs, honey, and melted butter (or oil) with the water in a 5-quart bowl.

Mix in the flour without kneading, using a spoon, a 14-cup capacity food processor (with dough attachment), or a heavy-duty stand mixer (with dough hook). If you’re not using a machine, you may need to use wet hands to incorporate the last bit of flour.  I used a dough hook and my trusty mixer.

THIS is what the dough should look like- sticky and wet. NOT dry and stiff.


Cover (not airtight), and allow to rest at room temperature until the dough rises and collapses (or flattens on top), approximately 2 hours.

The dough can be used immediately after the initial rise, though it is easier to handle when cold. Refrigerate in a lidded (not airtight) container and use over the next 5 days. Beyond 5 days, freeze in 1-pound portions in an airtight container for up to 4 weeks. Defrost frozen dough overnight in the refrigerator before using. Then allow the usual rest and rise time.

On baking day, butter or grease a cookie sheet or line with parchment paper, or a silicone mat. Dust the surface of the refrigerated dough with flour and cut off a 1-pound (grapefruit-size) piece. Dust the piece with more flour and quickly shape it into a ball by stretching the surface of the dough around to the bottom on all four sides, rotating the ball a quarter-turn as you go.

Divide the ball into thirds, using a dough scraper or knife. Roll the balls between your hands (or on a board), stretching, to form each into a long, thin rope. If the dough resists shaping, let it rest for 5 minutes and try again. Braid the ropes, starting from the center and working to one end. Turn the loaf over, rotate it, and braid from the center out to the remaining end. This produces a loaf with a more uniform thickness than when braided from end to end.
Allow the bread to rest and rise on the prepared cookie sheet for 1 hour and 20 minutes (or just 40 minutes if you’re using fresh, unrefrigerated dough).

Twenty minutes before baking time, preheat the oven to 350-degrees F. If you’re not using a stone in the oven, 5 minutes is adequate. Brush the loaf with egg wash and sprinkle with the seeds.

Bake near the center of the oven for about 25 minutes. Smaller or larger loaves will require adjustments in baking time. The challah is done when golden brown, and the braids near the center of the loaf offer resistance to pressure. Due to the fat in the dough, challah will not form a hard, crackling crust.

Allow to cool before slicing or eating.

9 thoughts on “Kitchen Fail: Challah Bread

  1. Your challah looks wonderful. I used to make my challah in the kitchen aid mixer, but it was way too much dough. I now just throw it in the bread machine and use 3 cups flour. That is enough for 1 loaf. I put it on dough. You can get bread machines really inexpensively now and just use the dough mode.

  2. I enjoy your writing about your experiences in Israel. I’m a Christian, and we know that the Jewish nation is God’s chosen nation. We were adopted into the Beloved. You are still His Beloved nation and He has not forgotten.

    I admire people that can bake bread successfully. I think I’ve made one loaf successfully. After that one loaf I had a few failures and quit trying. I love bread and baking bread fascinates me. Blessings to you.

  3. Thanks Mum!

    Carol Ann, Israel is actually a really interesting place, religiously speaking- so many different faiths in one place. When they get along, it’s really something to see.

    kuby2u, my grandmother had a bread machine back in the day- it make these oddly shaped loaves, sort of cylindrical. I haven’t gone back to them since- I assume the technology has improved.

  4. haha, i did that same thing with the math a few days ago making a half-recipe of banana bread, only it was with baking powder, and I managed to multiply instead of divide, so I didn’t realize it until it was in the oven and blowing up the size of a blimp!

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