It takes chutzpah for me to post a challah recipe. My niece Ariel (see Hugs and Cookies) is the one known for all manner of gorgeous eggy braids, coils and pull-apart rolls. She even uses special challah flour.
While I’ve made competent challahs using a traditional recipe, this recipephany is remarkable because it produces the same rich taste and pillowy-soft texture without kneading. You stir it up using only a wooden spoon or (my preference) a dough whisk. What starts as a gloppy, blobby Jabba-the-Hutt mass turns smooth and elastic while it rises. It stops just short of braiding itself.
I discovered this recipe recently after lying awake in the wee hours thinking of how my paternal grandmother, Lena, dealt with her insomnia: she baked.
She loved to make strudel. When she couldn’t sleep, she would escape to the kitchen to roll and stretch dough as a way to ward off worries and night demons. For the filling, she would grab whatever fruits, nuts or chocolates she had on hand. Her relaxing baking session ended with both a flaky pastry and a cleared head ready for sleep.
I thought I’d try out Lena’s Baking Therapy for Insomniacs. Starting a dough without actually baking it seemed like a good option, and just the idea of challah was comforting. So I found a simple recipe in The New Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day, a game-changing bread book I learned about from artisan baker Dan Friedman. I stirred it up (“Wake up, yeast! Stretch, gluten!”) and went back to bed. A high dough greeted me in the morning like a dog with a leash in his mouth. Soon I had a golden loaf ready to be sliced and slathered with Apple Butter, Pressure Cooker Fast.
Why do I use a loaf pan? My mom would often buy two challahs: a ceremonial free-form braid for Friday night, and a standard loaf for sandwiches and toast the rest of the week. I rarely see sandwich loaf-style challah in stores any more, and I miss it. And for the home baker, it’s practical, easy to make, and the shiny golden braid on top clearly announces its challah-ness.
So if you can’t sleep and want a cloud-like bread ready for you in the morning, try this out. It bakes up like a dream.
No-Knead Challah Loaf
Makes one large 9″ x 5″ loaf or two 8″ x 4″ x 2 1/2″ loaves. If you prefer a braided loaf, one recipe makes two 3-braid challahs or one very large 6-braid challah. Or, mix and match braided and loaf-pan challahs. This recipe doubles well, so you can bake one or two loaves and keep the rest of the dough tightly covered in the fridge to bake within a few days.
- 7/8 cup water, lukewarm*
- 1 ½ teaspoons instant yeast (SAF Gold works best with sweet doughs like this.)
- 1 ½ teaspoons kosher salt
- 2 eggs, lightly beaten
- ¼ cup honey
- ¼ cup oil
- 3 ½ cups all-purpose or bread flour (*Bread flour may require about ¼ cup more water to keep it stretchy.)
1 egg beaten with one tablespoon of water
- Stir together water, yeast, salt, lightly beaten eggs, honey, and oil in a 4-quart bowl using a wooden spoon or a dough whisk (my preference).
- Mix in flour. The dough should be moist and tacky, and look like a gloppy mass. Mixing will only take a minute or two. If you’re using breadflour, you may need to add a little more water to keep it stretchy.
- Cover bowl completely with plastic wrap. Let sit at room temperature until the dough rises and slightly collapses or flattens, about 2 hours. Use the dough now, or refrigerate it for up to five days.
- When ready to bake, grease a 9″ x 5″ x 3″ loaf pan. Dust the dough with flour and shape it quickly into a ball by stretching the surface of the dough around to the bottom on all sides, rotating the ball as you go. (If using two 8″ x 4″ x 2 1/2″ pans, divide dough in half and follow instructions for each loaf.)
- Cut dough into thirds. Lightly dust each third with flour and roll and stretch it into about a foot-long rope. Connect the ropes at one end and braid. When finished, tuck the ends under and place into the prepared pan.
- Let rise for 90 minutes or until doubled in size. Refrigerated dough will probably need more rising time. In the meantime, preheat oven to 350°.
- Brush the top with the egg wash. If you want, sprinkle with coarse sea salt and/or your favorite challah toppings. Bake about 30 minutes, until top is golden brown and sides pull away a little from the pan. (After first 10 minutes or so of baking, you can brush on more egg wash, especially unglazed areas where the dough has puffed up.) Let sit in the pan for a couple of minutes to let the dough shrink, then run a knife around the sides and remove. Cool completely on a rack before slicing.