The best challah is tangzhong challah

For as long as I can remember, my mother baked fresh Challah every Friday. The bread was soft, never too sweet, and pulled apart with ease. While Los Angeles at the time was not famous for its bread, my mother was. The oohs and aahs after Hamotzi were quickly followed by everyone’s request for a second serving.

This early love of bread eventually led me around the world, with my equally food-passionate wife, tasting breads of every tradition — tasting the top “Baguette Grand Prix” competitors in Paris (yes, it’s a thing), joining tortilla tours in Mexico City, hunting pizzas around Italy — I became obsessed with how grain and water are treated around the world.

Join Avidan and Forward National Editor Rob Eshman for a Zoom demonstration on making TangZhong Challah Thursday, Sept. 10 at 6:15 ET/3:15 PT. Click here to register.

But it was not until COVID-19 struck that I was able to merge my love of international breads with my childhood favorite—challah.

With a busy career as a venture capitalist in San Francisco, I never had the opportunity to spend this much time at home with my wife and two young boys.

Before the pandemic I would hastily prep a challah dough and braid it before heading off to work, often short-cutting the process to fit my busy schedule. But shelter-in-place meant I got to create a challah recipe with weekly practice, modifications, and keeping a constant eye on progress. More important, it meant I got to share more of the tradition of making the challah by recruiting my boys to help.

Having tasted breads from around the world, I knew I would lean on techniques I had seen globally. Unfortunately, most were disappointments: the Parisian baguette method was too crunchy, the San Francisco sourdough technique was too tart.

As I imagined the fluffy bread of my youth, I thought of how Japanese Hokkaido Bread shared so many of my mother’s challah’s traits: soft, light and slighty sweet. While this bread is usually made with milk and butter, I knew that the core techniques could be integrated into a non-dairy challah (but if you substitute milk for water, the results are even better).

The method used to make such fluffy Asian breads is called Tangzhong, Yudone or water roux. It’s simply a slurry of flour and hot water. Integrating this gelatinous wheat paste allows for the dough to stretch even farther in its rising, creating the fluffiest challah you’ve ever had. While this dough is wetter and more difficult to braid than traditional Challah dough, the outcome is spectacular.

If you are up for the challenge, and are done posting pictures of your crusty country sourdough loaves, give this Asian-Jewish Challah a try.

Avidan Ross is a venture capitalist in San Francisco. Join Avidan and Forward National Editor Rob Eshman for a Zoom demonstration on making TangZhong Challah Thursday, Sept. 10 at 6:15 ET/3:15 PT. Click here to register.

TangZhong Challah

Ingredients

TangZhong
1/2 cup room temp water
30g flour(3 tablespoons)

Yeast Mix
1/4 cup room temp water for yeast
2 tsp active dry yeast
1 tsp sugar for yeast

Dough Mix
650g flour (approx. 4 1/2 cups)
3/4 cup warm water (90F–110F)
1 large egg (approx 50g)
3 large egg yolks (approx 60g)
115g honey (1/3 cup)
55g canola oil (1/4 cup)
15g salt (approx 2 tsp)

Egg Wash
1 large egg

Step 1. Make the Tangzhong

How: Whisk the 30g of flour into the 1/2c of water. Put in the microwave on high for 30s. Whisk. Another 30s on high. Whisk. This will create a hot paste. Put this aside to cool.

Why: Tangzhong is a wheat paste (glue) that gives the final product a very fluffy consistency. By precooking the wheat, there is adding gluten and ability to hold more hydration. It is the secret method for making Japanese milk bread. This is definitely not how my Israeli mother makes Challah, but I love to learn from global cooking methods.

Step 2. Prep the yeast

How: Mix 1/4c water with 1 tsp sugar and 2 tsp yeast. Stir, set aside.

Why: Apparently people used to worry that dry yeast wasn’t always active, so we feed it some sugar and water to confirm its bubbling. I usually bake with my sourdough starter, but I have found that my challah doesn’t benefit from the tang.

Step 3. Autolyse

How: While the yeast is eating and the tangzhong is cooling, combine the REST of the ingredients, EXCEPT the salt and yeast mixture. Stir enough to combine. This is not the kneading part. Let it rest for a minimum of 20 minutes, preferably 1 hour, and as long as 2 hours.

Why: Autolysing allows the flour to absorb the liquids and helps with gluten development. Salt inhibits this absorption, yeast will start leavening and we aren’t ready for that.

Step 4. Mixing

How: Add the salt, bubbling yeast, and cooled tangzhong to the dough that’s been resting. Set your Kitchen Aid mixer to speed 2 and mix for 4 minutes with the dough hook

Why: Time to mix it all up and get the gluten more developed!

Step 5: Rising

How: Let the dough rest for 10 minutes after mixing. Transfer the dough to a lightly greased bowl, gently folding into a large ball. Cover. Let the dough rise for 90 minutes.

Why: Dough becomes fragile after the mixing. Letting it rest will make it easier to fold and form. You can confirm this by doing a “windowpane test” after the rest vs immediately after mixing.

Step 6: Dividing

How: Transfer to a surface. Cut into 6 evenly weighted pieces. Roll each piece into a tightly skinned ball. You can use a light dusting of flour if needed to make the balls. Cover the pieces of dough, and let rest for another 5–10 minutes

Why: We will be making 2x challahs. Each will be a 3 strand braid. We are trying to keep the hydration on the dough high, so avoid using too much flour during the shaping process.

Step 7: Shaping

How: Roll the dough balls into long battard shapes. There are many ways to do this, but a baguette shaping video will be helpful. For one Challah you have 6 strands. Braid them following just about any 3 strand braid technique. Transfer to a lightly floured silicon baking pad or parchment paper on a cookie sheet.

Why: I don’t know why Challahs are braided, but it does look nice! Edit: A twitter follower says Challah braiding allows for easy tearing post bake. Interesting indeed. Braiding is good for sharing!

Step 8: LONG RISE

How: Cover the challahs with plastic wrap. Be careful of the wrap sticking. Either a light dusting of flour or olive oil will help. The wrap should also be loose but airtight. Rise for 2 hours!

Why: These challahs are going to rise a LOT. The Tangzhong and gluten will allow them to stretch without collapsing. By keeping it under wraps, we avoid the skins of the doughs from drying out

Step 9: Egg wash

How: Beat one large egg wish a pinch of salt. Brush the egg was on the challah. Some people do it twice.

Why: The egg wash will keep the exterior of the challah softer and a nice golden brown

Step 10: Baking!

How: Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees. Boil a pot of water. Roll two clean kitchen towels and place them in a small baking loaf tray. When the oven is hot, pour the boiling water onto the towels and place into the oven on a lower rack. Once the steaming towels are in the oven, slide the challahs onto the rack above them.

Why: Steam will allow the skin of the challah to stay moist, thereby allowing for even more expansion of the bread. This is usually not “needed” for egg-washed doughts, but we want all the fluffy goodness we can get!

Step 11: Cooling

How: Remove the towel tray after 10 minutes. Continue to bake the challah for a total of 30 minutes. Feel free to rotate halfway through. Remove. Put on a cooling rack. Rest for 30 minutes before slicing!

Why: If you slice the challah right from the oven, it will be a mushy mess.

The best challah is tangzhong challah

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