Growing up in South Africa, my grandmother used to buy us Kitke (or as I knew it as a child plaited bread). I loved it. The mere novelty of food being plaited just completely overwhelmed my childish brain. Kitke is a Jewish bread and for some reason is known as Kitke in South Africa and as Challah in the rest of the world. Hence why I found it almost impossible to find when we first moved to the UK. Of course, as part of this baking endeavor, I had to stretch myself and try it. The recipe I used is from The Shiksa in the Kitchen and the original can be found here (the plaiting instructions can be found here). I found this a pretty good recipe, but I found that I didn’t add enough flour, which made the dough very sticky to work with, and the bread didn’t have as much definition as I would have liked. It is however a good recipe, but the next time I make it I will tweak it a little. I have added my notes on what to tweak in italics.
For the Dough
- 1 ½ cups lukewarm water
- 7 g packet of active dry yeast
- 1 tsp Sugar
- 1 egg
- 3 egg yolks
- 1/3 cup of honey
- 2 tbsp Canola Oil
- 1 tsp salt
- 4 ½ to 6 cups of plain flour (This is where the trouble started)
For the egg wash
- 1 egg
- 1 tbsp cold water
- 1/2 tsp salt (I may leave out the salt next time, I like the glaze to be slightly sweet)
Sesame Seeds, Poppy Seeds (and who wouldn’t want those)
I’ve split the method into sections, just to keep track of where you are in the process.
Activating the yeast
Pour ¼ cup of the lukewarm water (about 110 degrees) into a large mixing bowl. Add 1 packet of Active Dry Yeast and 1 tsp of sugar to the bowl, stir to dissolve. Wait 10 minutes. The yeast should have activated, meaning it will look expanded and foamy. If it doesn’t, your yeast may have expired, which means your bread won’t rise—go buy some fresh yeast!
Making the dough
Once your yeast has activated, add remaining 1 ¼ cup lukewarm water to the bowl along with the egg, egg yolks, honey, canola oil and salt. Use a whisk to thoroughly blend the ingredients together.
Begin adding the flour to the bowl by half-cupfuls, stirring with a large spoon each time flour is added. When mixture becomes too thick to stir, use your hands to knead. Continue to add flour and knead the dough until it’s smooth, elastic, and not sticky. The amount of flour you will need to achieve this texture varies—only add flour until the dough feels pliable and “right.” If you plan to add raisins or chocolate chips to the challah, incorporate into the dough as you knead.
This is the part where it all fell apart for me. I had no idea when to stop adding flour, and I was a little too cautious. I think the next time I will try the standard way for other dough and make a well in the flour and start adding the liquid to make a dough. I think I’ll start with 5 cups of flour and hope for the best! That being said, the recipe is great. I did still manage to make scrumptious kitke/challah, It just wasn’t the prettiest.
Place a saucepan full of water on the stove to boil.
Meanwhile, remove the dough from your mixing bowl and wash out the bowl. Grease the bowl with canola oil. Push the dough back into the bottom of the bowl, then flip it over so that both sides are slightly moistened by the oil.
First Dough Rise
Cover the bowl with a clean, damp kitchen towel. Place the bowl of dough on the middle rack of your oven. Take the saucepan full of boiling water and place it below the rack where your dough sits. Close the oven, but do not turn it on. The pan of hot water will create a warm, moist environment for your dough to rise. Let the dough rise for 1 hour. (By the way, this method of rising the dough is genius! It rose beautifully and I didn’t need to worry about if it was warm enough of if it didn’t have a draught, it was just amazing!)
Second Dough Rise
Take the dough bowl out and punch it down several times to remove air pockets. Place it back inside the oven and let it rise for 1 hour longer.
Take the dough out of the oven. Flour a smooth surface like a cutting board. Punch the dough down into the bowl a few times, then turn the dough out onto the floured surface. Knead for a few minutes, adding flour as needed to keep the dough from feeling sticky. Now your dough is ready to plait braid.
I split my dough in half, and made 1 medium size loaf and about 8 medium size rolls.
Braiding a Challah/Kitke
Making the strands
My strands were a bit of a mess, the dough was too sticky and I needed up having to coat practically the entire kitchen in flour to make sure it didn’t stick. Braiding the loaf is simple enough, there are plenty of more complex ways of braiding, but the simplest is to braid the dough in the same way you would braid hair.
For a simple braid, you need to split the dough it into 3 equal size portions. Then roll each section into strands. To roll strands, the Shiksa says:
Take one of the portions and roll it out with a rolling pin until it is flat and about 1/4 inch thick. Don’t worry about the shape of the dough, it doesn’t matter. Put the smaller part of the dough towards the top of your rolling surface, with the widest part towards the bottom.
Using both hands, put pressure on the rolling surface and pull the dough back towards you, rolling it back into a strand shape. Keep even pressure on the dough as you roll so that no air pockets collect in the strand.
Once your strand shape is created, roll it back and forth with both hands to erase the seams and smooth out the strand. As you roll, angle your hands outward and apply gentle pressure to taper the dough on the outer edges. By doing this, your strand should end up slightly thicker in the middle and thinner on the ends. This will help make your braided challah tapered at the ends, which creates a beautiful shape.
Further taper the strand by grasping one end between your two palms and gently rolling the dough back and forth. Repeat for the other end of the strand.
Braiding the Kitke / Challah
This is exactly the same as braiding hair. When I was a child and I first learned to braid hair, I eventually learned it by remembering that each of the 3 strands wants to be in the centre. So, connect the 3 strands at the end furthest from you. Then, place the left hand strand into the centre position. Next, place the strand that is now on the far right, in the centre and so on. If you get stuck, the easiest is to refer to the Shiksa’s article.
After you’ve braided your challah, place it on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper (this will catch any spills from your egg wash and keep your challah from sticking to the cookie sheet).
Note: I usually only put a single challah braid on a cookie sheet, since they tend to expand a lot when baking. (this was a brilliant tip)
Prepare your egg wash by beating the egg, salt and water till smooth. Use a pastry brush to brush a thin layer of the mixture onto the visible surface of your challah. Reserve the leftover egg wash.
I put my sesame and poppy seed toppings on at this stage.
Let the Loaf Rise
Let the braid rise 30 to 45 minutes longer. You’ll know the dough is ready to bake when you press your finger into the dough and the indentation stays, rather than bouncing back.
Preheating and First Bake
Heat oven to 350 °F / 175 ºC. The challah needs to bake for about 40 minutes total, but to get the best result the baking should be done in stages. First, set your timer to 20 minutes and put your challah in the oven.
After 20 minutes, take the challah out of the oven and coat the center of the braid with another thin layer of egg wash. This area tends to expand during baking, exposing areas that will turn white unless they are coated with egg wash.
Turn the tray around, so the opposite side is facing front, and put the tray back into the oven. Turning the tray helps your challah brown evenly—the back of the oven is usually hotter than the front.
The challah will need to bake for about 20 minutes longer. For this last part of the baking process, keep an eye on your challah—it may be browning faster than it’s baking. Once the challah is browned to your liking, take the tray out and tent it with foil, then place it back in the oven. Remove the foil for the last 2 minutes of baking time.
Take the challah out of the oven. At this point your house should smell delicious. You can test the bread for doneness by turning it over and tapping on the bottom of the loaf—if it makes a hollow sound, it’s done. Let challah cool on the baking sheet or a wire cooling rack before serving.
This recipe will make 1 very large challah, 2 regular challahs, or 24 mini challah rolls.