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Basic Challah recipe
Although this is a basic recipe, there are many variations of challah.
Yield: 1 large loaf
Variations for sweet challah: Add 1/4 cup honey to dough mixture, 1/4 cup of raisins, or sprinkle anise into dough.
General prep time: almost 2 hours
1. Using mixer or a food processor, mix flour, salt, oil and egg.
2. Mix yeast with one cup of warm water -- make sure the water is not too hot or it will kill the yeast.
3. Stir the yeast mixture until it starts bubbling. (Yeast should be stored in the refrigerator.) If it doesn't bubble, the yeast is dead. Let the mixture sit about a minute and then add sugar. Yeast feeds on sugar, if there is no sugar, the yeast will not be active so dough will not rise as much. Add the oil and the sugar to the yeast and stir together.
4. Beat the egg and add it to yeast mixture. Do not add salt to yeast mixture because it kills the yeast (salt should be added to flour mixture).
5. Slowly drizzle yeast mixture into flour mixture; let the mixer or food processor combine the ingredients.
6. Check the consistency to see if the dough needs more water or flour. It should be slightly sticky and should not tear apart too easily.
7. Continue mixing the dough until it is smooth and silky.
8. Knead dough with palms of hands, pushing down, out and over until you can feel the dough becoming smoother; dust dough ball with flour if it is too sticky.
9. When the dough is the right consistency and pulls apart without breaking, oil a mixing bowl; coating the dough ball with oil, cover it with a moist towel or plastic wrap and leave it to rise.
10. Wait 30 to 45 minutes for the dough to rise; be careful not to get the dough too hot or the yeast will die. After the dough has risen, it should double in size.
11. Work the risen dough ball into cylinder shape; use a dough cutter or knife to cut it into three sections.
12. Make sure each section is about the same size. Work each section in to a ball, then roll each ball into long cylinders (by rolling in and pulling out until the dough is the desired length -- about 12 inches). The coils of dough should be slightly longer than length of baking sheet.
13. To begin braiding, place all three strips of dough alongside each other, pinching them together at one end.
14. Start braiding dough, loosely, right over left. If the coils become uneven or bunched up, you can go back and re-braid.
15. Once you have finished braiding, fold the ends together and tuck them under the loaf so both ends of the loaf match.
16. Carefully lift the braided dough and place it on an ungreased baking sheet.
17. Let the challah rise again (about 20 minutes) -- but cover it with a towel so it doesn't dry out.
18. Prepare an egg wash by mixing one egg yolk and a tbsp of water and brush the mixture over the unbaked, risen challah.
19. Sprinkle desired topping (optional) over the top of the loaf. Poppy or sesame seeds and raisins are popular toppings.
20. Place the challah in a preheated 325 degree Fahrenheit oven and cook it approximately 30 minutes or until it is golden brown on top.
Serve your loaf with a decorative cover.
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