Sarah Schecht’s Challah

Who wouldn’t be curious about a challah described as follows: ”Her challah has a texture to rival that of the finest spongecakes. It is airborne, light as a zephyr, delicate as eiderdown.”

That’s Craig Claiborne, praising the challah of Sarah Schecht of Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, circa 1976. And there is a recipe! There are a few curious things about the recipe: it calls for what must be about 2 1/2 pounds of flour, but only makes one loaf. If you doubled the recipe and used 5 pounds of flour, you would only get two loaves? I usually get about eight or nine loaves from challah dough made with that amount of flour.

The rising times are a little different, too. A 45-50 min. rise for the sponge, then a 20 minute resting period after mixing and before kneading (an autolyse? Sarah was ahead of her time . . .), and then just a half hour rise before shaping a massive loaf. Another short 45 rising period and then it bakes at a low 325 degrees for an hour.

Other curious features: a hint of cinnamon, baking powder in addition to yeast, all-purpose flour instead of bread flour, and this unusual eight-strand braiding technique that I have never tried before.

I cut the recipe in half and made two medium and one very small challah.

Observations: a very wet dough that makes a very tender, delicately textured challah. Not a chewy challah. The amount of cinnamon is perfect–just enough to give a hint of flavor to the dough without being overpowering. I would make this challah again, but would use bread flour instead of all-purpose (for more chewiness), and I would have longer rising times. And I would bake at a higher temperature to get a darker crust. I tried the eight strand braid with one of the challahs, and was not that thrilled. I prefer the four strand or a six strand.

Modified Schecht Challah (I made half this amount of dough)

40-44 ounces flour (the original recipe calls for all-purpose, but I used 1/3 bread flour, 2/3 all-purpose, the volume should be about 8-9 cups)
1/2 tsp. baking powder (I skipped this ingredient–not sure the purpose)
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 Tablespoon salt ( scant 2 Tablespoons of Diamond Kosher salt)
1 tsp vanilla (I used some vanilla sugar)
3 eggs
3/4 cup corn oil
3/4 cup sugar
2 1/2 cups warm water

egg glaze: 1 egg
1 Tbl. sesame seeds

Make a sponge with 1 cup of the water, the yeast, 1/8 tsp. of sugar, and 1 1/2 cups (12-13 ounces) flour. Let ii rise 45-50  minutes.

Add the remaining 1 1/2 cups water, oil, eggs, sugar, cinnamon, and all but a cup of the remaining flour. Mix well and let rest for 20 minutes.

Knead, adding the extra flour as needed (the dough will be very sticky–don’t try to knead by hand, use a machine).

Dust the dough with flour and let rise in a covered bowl for 30 minutes.

Divide and shape the dough (there is enough dough for four loaves). Let the loaves rise, covered, for 45 minutes.

Glaze with beaten egg and sprinkle with sesame seeds.

Bake at 325 degrees (or 35o degrees or even 375 degrees, which I prefer) until the crust is golden. For a large loaf, this could take and hour at 325 degrees. I made smaller loaves and baked at a higher temperature, so it took about a half hour. I test the internal temperature of the loaf with an instant read thermometer and see if it is at least at 190 degrees F.

Sending this to YeastSpotting.

Check out this month’s Kosher Cooking Carnival at Our Shiputzim.

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11 Responses to “Sarah Schecht’s Challah”

  1. Xiaolu @ 6 Bittersweets Says:

    I’ve been wanting to make challah for a long time. Especially so I can use some of it for french toast or bread pudding. Your bread looks just perfect :).

  2. Rivki Locker (Ordinary Blogger) Says:

    Cinnamon in challah… That’s a first and it sounds FABULOUS. If I can convince my kids to let me try a different recipe instead of our usual favorite, this is definitely in the queue!

    • pragmaticattic Says:

      If you don’t want to rock the boat, you can try adding a teaspoon of cinnamon to your usual 5 lb. flour challah recipe, or you can do what lots of my friends do: sprinkle cinnamon sugar over some of the loaves. Cinnamon sugar on challah (and chocolate chips inside) is a bit of a thing here in my part of NJ–they don’t do this in Lakewood?

  3. Chavi Samet Says:

    An eight strand braid? Definitely one to try. I like the sound of a light as air challah. How sweet did it turn out?

    • pragmaticattic Says:

      Chavi, this is a sweet, but not too sweet bread. About as sweet as the Macrina challah. I think you would really really like this challah. And the amount of cinnamon in the recipe is perfect. Well worth adding this amount to any loved challah recipe. BTW, I love all your challah posts.

  4. Renee Says:

    I’ve been making this challah since first seeing the recipe several years ago. I follow the directions through to the first kneading — and then follow my own feelngs and ideas about how to bake bread; that is, I believe in small amounts of yeasts and several periods of rising times before shaping and putting the breads into the oven. Everyone who has tasted these challahs does like them.

    • pragmaticattic Says:

      Thanks, Renee! Very interesting. Thanks for sharing the advice on rising times. And you make smaller challahs and use different baking times, too?

  5. Bejma: Tunisian Challah « Pragmatic Attic Says:

    [...] challah recipes: Moroccan Challah (Joan Nathan) Yemenite Challah, Chubzeh (Maggie Glezer) Sarah Schecht’s Challah (NYT) Stollen-style Challah Food Processor Challah (Charles Van Over) Macrina Bakery Challah Russian [...]

  6. jon sandberg Says:

    I AM SARAH SCHECHT’S GRANDSON. SHE WAS SUCH A WONDERFUL PERSON AND INCREDIBLE BAKER. MADE BEST ONION ROLLS. I CAN STILL SMELL THEM.
    WITH LOVE, JON

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