On the Chocolate Trail

A Shikker Challah

When I saw this recipe calling for brandy in challah, I had to try it. Liquor seemed such an unlikely ingredient for a challah.  Titled “Chaleh I,” it seemed to have been a standard Shabbat bread in the collection of over 1600 recipes previously published in the Forward and gathered by Regina Frishwasser (“editor recipe department”) for the Jewish American Cook Book of 1946. Perhaps not surprisingly for its day, the recipe simply calls for yeast without specifying a type. The instructions mention flour but do not distinguish type, all purpose or bread flour. It does not define the temperature for the “hot oven.” When it comes to the alcohol itself, the measurement is a “small glass of brandy.”

In my exploration of celebratory yeast breads for the #chocolatebabkaproject, I have been gathering and trying challah recipes. As a rabbi who had never baked a challah until recently, I had launched into a week of baking “A Challah A Day” and then more as often as possible. So, using my slowly growing challah baking confidence, I updated, halved, and clarified Frishwasser’s “Chaleh I” recipe. I also specify the iconic Slivovitz since Polish Jews were big distillers of this plum brandy. It is also kosher for use at Passover and frequently appears at Shabbat kiddush tables. I import baking wisdom about sponge starters from Marcy Goldman.  I hope that this challah’s shnaps will deepen your oneg, the joy of Shabbat, perhaps especially following Pesach. (And, if you try it, please give me feedback on the recipe.)

Ingredients for sponge

2 tablespoons or 1 ounce instant yeast

1 ½  cup water at 110º

1 cup all purpose flour

¼ teaspoon sugar

Ingredients for dough

2 pounds or approximately 9 cups of all purpose flour

1/16 teaspoon saffron

1¼ cup water

3 well beaten eggs, room temperature

½ teaspoon salt

½ cup oil

¼ cup Slivovitz or other brandy

Ingredients for glaze

1 egg plus one yolk, beaten

pinch of salt, pinch of sugar

Prep sponge:

Put yeast into 1½ cup warm water. Mix together and let stand to dissolve the yeast. Mix in the flour and ¼ teaspoon sugar in a large bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and leave for 30-60 minutes creating a thick paste. If the sponge rises above the bowl height, it is ok to stir it down. This will create a thick paste.

Prep saffron:

While the sponge rises, soak 1/16 teaspoon ground saffron (use mortar and pestle or fingers) in ¼ cup water, and allow to stand for 1 hour. 

Mix the Dough:

Stir the sponge in the bowl. Add the saffron mix, water, brandy, eggs, oil, salt and 5-6 cups of the flour to the sponge. Mix well. Let mixture sit for 15-20 minutes, covered with oiled plastic bag. Add more flour as needed. Knead on a lightly floured surface or silicon mat into a soft, pliable dough. Wash the work bowl with warm water and dry it. Oil it all around. Form the dough into a ball, roll it around in the bowl so it is covered lightly with the oil. Place the bowl inside an oiled plastic bag and put in a warm place to rise about 1 hour. Or refrigerate overnight. When ready to form braids let the dough come to room temperature first.

Form the braids:

Form the dough into six evenly sized balls using a food scale if available for two braided challah loaves of three braids. Set on the parchment paper lined pan in the plastic bag for 5-15 minutes. Shape the balls to braid into two loaves. Brush with well beaten egg glaze. Cover with oiled plastic bag. Keep in a warm place to rise for 1 hour, approximately double in size. After 45 minutes pre-heat the oven to 375º. Brush the breads with egg glaze again and sprinkle with poppy seeds or sesame seeds. When ready to bake, lower the oven temperature to 350º and bake loaves for 20-30 minutes. Cool on a wire rack.

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