Saturday, August 1, 2009

The Bread Project - Lender's Romanian Challah

As I have talked about before, I have been on a long search for a challah recipe that will create the kind of chewy, soft, non-cake-like loaves that one can purchase in certain stores in NY and that Daniel reminisces fondly over having eaten in Israel.

In digging through several Israeli cookbooks last week, I found pictures of a bakery in Jerusalem called Lenders. Now generally I have bad associations with bread products and the name Lenders (if you want a piece of bread with a whole in the middle, Lenders "bagels" are just fine. If you want a bagel, please look elsewhere.) However, I showed Daniel, the Israeli challah expert, a picture of Lenders bakery, and he thought that based on the image any recipe from them would be a-okay. So I decided to give the recipe in Joan Nathan's The Foods of Israel Today a try.

There were some interesting oddities about this recipe...

The dough, unlike every other challah recipe I've ever seen contains NO EGGS! The reason is that interestingly, most Israeli challot don't have eggs in them because as Mr. Lender explains, "In old Jerusalem people were poor and mostly dependent on outside contributions. Eggs and sugar were out of the question...It was already a luxury to have bread with white flour on the Sabbath." In spite of the lack of eggs, the dough adhered quite nicely and looked pretty darn good and smooth. (must have been the 4 T of vegetable shortening)

After two rises, it was time to braid.

The recipe makes the requisite two loaves, and Joan Nathan's instructions on how to do a four strand braid are much clearer than in her other cookbooks.

They really came out quite nicely.

I was feeling pretty good about things, until I got to the part where the braiding instructions throw a giant curveball - this challah is double decker. See my astonishment in the video below:

Woah indeed.

When fully braided, the challot were brushed with a mixture of cornstarch and water instead of the usual egg wash. Then another rise, another brush of the mix, a sprinkling of sesame seeds, 45 minutes in the oven, and voila-

The results? I definitely missed the egg wash on top, but the bread itself was really very, very good. It had that soft quality that good challah has, where you can almost see little tendrils as you pull it apart. The flavor was excellent, although the corn starch water combination gave it a slightly funny color.

If I were to do this again (which I think I will), I would break the rules slightly and add an egg wash. I really missed the sheen and the bottom egg goo that challah usually gets. Other than that, I highly recommend it. And for vegans everywhere, in its original form, this should definitely be the challah of choice. (Plus, it made a mean French toast the next day. I stuffed it with some Laughing Cow and pomegranate jelly. Delish.)

Braiding on Foodista

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