The reason I’m baking this wonderful 5 strand plaited wholemeal challah bread is because I’ve been gifted some wonderful baking products from the brilliant on-line store Divertimenti.
Divertimenti is one of those fancy cookware stores in London. It’s actually a beautiful shop that always has the most diverse and interesting products on display and they’ve branched out into on-line sales to help all us lockdown baking fanatics! They sent me a Nordic Ware Naturals Loaf Pan that’s made from pure aluminium so it has superior heat conductivity, as well as galvanized steel rims to prevent warping. What I love about this pan is how wide it is. A lot of loaf tins are tall and narrow which don’t really allow for the bread to expand properly. Baking in this kind of pan means the bread comes out with generous sized slices, which is always important in this household!
The also sent me an oblong Banneton Bread Proving Basket which I will no doubt use over the next few weeks and report back, plus I received a DE Buyer Dough Scraper. Dough scrapers are the kind of tools that you always see people use but I actually never got round to buying one and let me tell you what a massive difference it’s made to my life. Just makes fiddling around with wet or sticky dough SO much easier.
5 strand plaited wholemeal challah bread
Challah is a traditional jewish bread made for eating on the sabbath. It’s a slightly sweet bread made with eggs that is very similar in taste and texture to brioche although it is eaten mainly as a savoury bread. Tradition would dictate that 2 loaves were baked, one for eating on the Friday evening and the other for the Saturday as the sabbath doesn’t actually end until after sundown on the Saturday night and the law tells us that we’re not supposed to ‘work’ on the sabbath, which includes baking bread. I guess the inclusion of honey and eggs into the bread guarantees a longer shelf life for the loaves. The recipe below is easily enough for two loaves but if you want to impress with a bit of a centrepiece bread then go for one large 5 strand loaf, it’s surprisingly easy to do yet looks complicated enough to elicit a few wows from the crowd.
This recipe has 3 proves and calls for the bread to rest in the fridge overnight so you need to make it the evening before you want to eat it. (That’s Thursday night for all my Jewish friends!!)
300g strong white bread flour
400g wholewheat bread flour
1 and a 1/2 teaspoons salt
80g unsalted butter
2 generous teaspoons of honey
2 teaspoons fast action dried yeast
3 large eggs – beaten
8ft oz warm milk
1 egg beaten for the glaze
place the flour and salt in a large ceramic bowl and rub in the butter, then stir in the yeast and the salt
place the honey into the milk and warm it gently, then pour this and the beaten egg to the flour
using a rubber spatula, bring it together until a dough forms, then turn it our onto a lightly floured surface and knead for 10 minutes until soft. It will be very sticky at first but a little flour sprinkled on your work surface will help. Oil the bowl.
place the kneaded dough back into the oiled bowl, cover with cling film and let it rise until doubled in size, which should be roughly an hour.
knead again for 5 minutes, then place it back in the bowl and let it rise again, till doubled
once risen, remove from the bowl and gently roll out into one long fat sausage and divide into 5 equal portions… I weighed each of my portions and they were roughly 250g each.
to create the 5 plait loaf is pretty easy but worth watching this video first…
gently roll each portion into a long sausage shape and connect them all at one end. Fan them out into the 5 strands with an obvious gap between the second and third strand so you have 2 strands to the left and 3 strands to the right. This two/three split is the key as you pass the furthest strand on the right (where you’ve got 3 strands) over into the gap and push left slightly so you now have 3 strands to the left and 2 strands to the right. Now you repeat the process from the left, passing the furthest strand on the left over towards the gap in the middle and scoot it to the right so you’re back to the original pattern of 3 strands on the right and 2 on the left.
repeat until there’s no dough left and tuck the ends under until you have a neat loaf, then carefully tip and roll onto your baking tray
brush with beaten egg and refrigerate over night then in the morning, brush with egg again and bake on 190c for 15-20 minutes until golden and risen… if your loaf is anything like mine it will be very long and slightly too long for the oven, so watch it as it will burn where it touches the oven
Eat and of course, enjoy!