I love challah. It is delicious for sandwiches, toast and of course for making challah french toast. I wanted to bake my own challah so I searched for the perfect challah recipe. I tried a number of different recipes and learned they are all very similar. Still, each time my challah was not quite what I wanted it to be. It was often too dense or too dry.
Since the recipes were all very similar, there had to be something else I needed to do. I started to experiment by making slight changes to the recipe and it worked. I now enjoy my home-made challah.
Here are the changes I made:
Switch to Bread Flour
Flour is important. Bread flour has higher levels of protein and creates a better loaf than all-purpose white flour. Challah will tend to rise more using bread flour.
Many recipes say to either add all of the flour or add enough flour so the dough is no longer sticky. I say NO! Add the flour a little at a time but make sure the dough remains sticky.
Rolling the Strands to Braid
This is one of my favorite new tricks. Before, I would divide the dough into 3 balls and roll the dough by hand into 3 large strands, which I would then braid. Now, I roll out each ball with a rolling pin and then roll them like a loosely rolled jelly roll to create the three strands. The strands are more even and this adds more air into the challah - making it less dense.
The Time for the Second Rise
I know it is easy to get impatient and once the challah is braided it is tempting to just bake it, but wait... don’t skip the second rise of the dough. After braiding it, place it on the baking sheet and cover it loosely with plastic. The dough should rise but not double in size this time. Finding the right amount of rising time for the second rise is important and the room temperature and humidity make a difference. This really comes down to trying different rise times. Last time, I made 2 loaves. I let one challah rise for 30 minutes and the other for 60 minutes. The challah that I let rise for 60 minutes before baking came out significantly larger and better.
Protect the Bottom from Getting Too Brown
I have tried to bake challah with a silicone mat, with parchment paper and directly onto a non-stick baking pan. My favorite has been the parchment paper, with the silicone mat a close second. Baking it directly onto the tray may cause the bottom to get browner than the rest. This is really personal preference as I realize some may like the bottom to be more done. If that's the case, use the non-stick baking pan.
Dry challah is one of the most common complaints and something I struggled with as well. Since not all ovens are the same, I decided to cut down just a little on baking time. My last recipe called for 35 minutes, I baked it for 30. It came out fully cooked and perfect.
The lesson for me was don't give up after the first try! It takes time and practice to make it come out the way you like.
Good luck with your next challah baking! Please let me know if these tips help and if you have any more.