by Eddy Robey M.A.

Apple and Honey Challah
  All of life is full of happy expectations on Friday. Our best clothes are ready and waiting for us to shower and don them. There are clean shiny surfaces and freshly vacuumed floors. Early in the day the table is set with gleaming white linen and the good china. The shiny candlesticks stand tall and wait their turn to begin the festivities. Our noses are aware that it is almost time. The vapors of Soup and a Roast Chicken or Brisket blend with the tang of Lemon Oil on the furniture against the background of the most luxurious perfume known to man, the scent of fresh baked Challah.
Though Mama is sure to dab a bit of something from Paris behind her ears, on this night, she has created the aroma of heaven with her hands.
This is a Challah worthy of the Sabbath bride.
As befits her status, it is flavored with Saffron, the most exquisite of spices. Let us welcome her with candlelight and singing.
Note: It would be a good idea to read the chapter on Bread, before making this recipe.
1 1/2 cups Apple Juice
1 teaspoon crumbled Saffron, or 1 teaspoon Turmeric mixed with 1/4 teaspoon Paprika
1/3 cup Honey
2 1/2 tablespoons Fast-Rising Dry Yeast
2 Eggs plus 2 Egg Yolks
1/4 cup Vegetable Oil
1 1/2 teaspoons Salt
7 cups Bread Flour (approx.)
1 tablespoon Double-Acting Baking Powder (optional)
1 tablespoon Cornstarch, mixed with 1/3 cup Water
1 cup White Raisins, plumped (optional)
If you are going to use Raisins, place them in a small bowl with enough boiling Water to cover, and set them aside to plump. In a large, glass measuring cup, combine the Honey, Saffron or Turmeric-Paprika mixture, and Apple Juice.
Heat for one minute in the microwave, and then allow to come to lukewarm temperature.
Whisk in 1/2 cup of the Flour and the Yeast.
Set aside until it is foaming and growing. This step is called proofing the Yeast.
Whisk the Eggs and Yolks with the Vegetable Oil, and add to the Yeast mixture.
In a large bowl, thoroughly mix the Baking Powder, Salt, and Flour. The Baking Powder makes a loaf with a lighter texture than one which only uses yeast, but is not necessary, if you would like the Challah more firm.
Now we need to combine the dry ingredients with the wet ones, and there are three ways to do that.
The first and easiest one is to put the dry ingredients in the bowl of your food processor, pour in the wet ones, then pulse the dough until it holds together in a ball around the blade. Continue to pulse for one minute beyond that.
The second way is to fit your electric mixer with the dough hooks, put the dry ingredients in the bowl, then the wet ones, mix at a slow speed until the dough holds together in a ball, and continue to mix for 2 more minutes.
The third way is to make a well in the center of the dry ingredients in their bowl, pour in the wet ones and mix the dough by hand until it becomes elastic to your touch. The end texture of the dough, no matter what the method should be very slightly sticky.
Depending on ambient humidity, this dough will absorb up to 2 more cups of Bread Flour, mixed in a bit at a time, but do not make it too dry or your bread will be dry. The stickiness will disappear after the first rise.
At this point, mix in the Raisins, if you are going to use them. Form the dough into a ball in a large bowl.
Spray the top of the ball with a light coating of Vegetable Oil, cover the bowl with Cellophane wrap or waxed paper, and set aside in a warm place (about 80 degrees) for about an hour to an hour and a half, or until doubled in size. The top of the refrigerator is usually warm enough, or a sunny windowsill will work.
An alternative method is to put the bowl in the refrigerator overnight, where it will rise very slowly and should be doubled by the next morning when you remove it and allow it to come to room temperature before the next step.
When the dough has doubled in size, uncover it and push your hand into it gently, until it collapses.
This step is called "Punching Down the Dough," but do not be rough about it.
Remove a small piece of the dough and set it on a bit of tinfoil.
Put the foil on the floor of the oven, where it will burn. No Bread is Kosher, unless you perform this Mitzvah. Now we are ready to shape the loaves.
Oil two baking Sheets.
Remove about one quarter of the dough and set it aside.
Divide the remaining dough in half, and then divide each half into thirds, making six pieces.
Roll each of the pieces between your hands, until they form strands about a foot long.
Take three of the strands and place them on a baking sheet. Pinch one end of each together, and then form a braid, pinching the other ends together when the braid is finished.
Tuck the pinched ends underneath the ends of the loaves so that they don't show.
Repeat with the other three strands using the other baking sheet.
You will now repeat that process using the quarter of the dough you had set aside earlier, making two tiny braided loaves and placing them on the sheets at the end of the large loaves.
Spray the loaves lightly with Vegetable Oil and cover with Cellophane wrap or waxed paper. Allow the loaves to rise again until they double in bulk. Using a pastry brush, cover the risen loaves with a thin layer of the Cornstarch and Water mixture.
Place in an oven that has been preheated to 350 degrees. When placing the sheets, make sure that the small loaves are near the door of the oven.
After 30 minutes, open the oven door and quickly remove the two small loaves with a spatula. Do not try to use your hands, as you will get burned.
Close the oven again and allow the two larger loaves to finish baking for another 30 minutes. They are done when they area rich golden brown and give a hollow sound when thumped with your finger.
No matter how wonderful they smell, allow the loaves to cool on a rack for a minimum of 30 minutes before cutting. The fibers are very fragile when loaves first come from the oven and will turn to mushy paste if they do not have time to firm whilst cooling. This will give you the two full size and two miniature Challahs needed for Shabbas.
Special Notes: The burnt offering should be wrapped in a bit more foil and discarded respectfully. It is not to be eaten.
The Bracha for a larger batch is this: Boruch atoh adonoy, Elohaynu melech ho-olom, Asher kidshonu b'mitzvosov V'tzivonu l'hafrish challahmin ha-isah.
  Copyright 2002 Eddy Robey
Excerpts from It's Not Just Chicken Soup.
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