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Tips for challah

Texture, shaping, rising, cooling, and storing:

The key to successful challahs is not so much in the braiding as in the actual dough. Dough should be firm, yet not hard, pliable but not too wet, very slightly sticky and easy to work with.

Using a rolling pin during the shaping process greatly enhances the challahs and the way they will turn out.

Whole wheat absorbs more moisture than white flour. Spelt is a lighter, airier flour and more sensitive and the final product can dry out quickly. Bake for less time when using spelt and rise for much less time.

Cover dough during all stages with a large plastic bag so it will not dry out.

Always use yeast that is fresh, whether it is fresh or dry yeast.

Never let the dough sit outside of the fridge if it will take you more than 2-3 hours to shape it. Rather, cover it in a large bag and place it in the fridge.

Cool finished challahs on wire racks, not on the baking trays.

Freeze challahs in heavy duty freezer bags, not thin nylon.

Tip for Well Shaped Challahs

Try sprinkling a very small, fine layer of flour over the strands of dough, directly before shaping them. I did it only after I connected the six strands at the top and made sure to leaves the ends of each strand unfloured. It seemed to help, although my usual challahs hold their shape pretty well even without this tip. Try it and see if it helps you, as it has helped many other women.

What advice do you have for experienced bakers who want to improve their challahs?

The key to good challahs is a very good dough. It should be soft enough to handle easily, but not too wet or too thin, and firm enough to shape with well. You should knead it for at least 5 minutes when you make the dough, 5 minutes from the time the mixture turns into dough. Turn on a timer to measure the time. Then let the dough rest, covered in plastic for 15 minutes, and knead once more for 2-3 minutes. Take challah, cover the dough and let it rise for 1 hour – 1.5 hours and start to shape!

What are your top 3 tips for someone who wants to start baking challah?

1. Read the book from the beginning to the end first so you see what is involved.

2. If you’ve never baked challah before, don’t do it the first time on a pressurized Friday. Do it on a day that you have more time. Don’t expect perfection immediately. Remember: the mitzvah is the separating the dough, IF you have enough quantity of flour (about 5 lbs. of flour in the dough – which is why the main recipe of the book is based on 17 cups of flour, i.e., 5 lbs.).

3. If your challahs are not pretty to start off with, don’t despair – neither were mine! There is hope! It will get better! And besides, you can always write to me on my “help-my-challahs aren’t coming out-hotline” at … Better yet – come to one of my live shows or see the challah video I did for those who like to see things up close.

Egg Glazing Tip

A nice tip that I can mention here, is that if you’d like your egg glaze to look 100% clean without that “drip” look so many of us have, you blend the eggs in your hand blender first, then smear them on. The egg glaze should go on evenly that way without drips. Of course, keep in mind that we are all human and most often, these things are not completely perfect – if you got to at least 80% perfection, you’re doing great!

One of the most often asked questions my readers send me is:

Can I freeze my challah dough?

To this I answer – it depends. I have heard that many do it and say that it works. Those I’ve heard or read about it from say that they shape the challahs and then freeze them before they are risen. The day they want to bake them, they put them frozen into the desired size pan and let them defrost and then rise. When risen, they bake it.

However, I have never had success with this method. I tried it and the challahs simply did not come out the same. As my very large challah dough is rising on my table as I type this to you, I prefer to bake them all, and only freeze them after they are baked and cooled off. If you use good quality heavy plastic freezer bags and have a good freezer, your challahs will always stay fresh this way. And best of all, it’s completely done and ready! Just defrost 4-5 hours before you will be eating them.

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