Wheat Stalk Challah with Parmesan Topping

From Spiritual Kneading Through the Jewish Months: Building the Sacred through Challah by Dahlia Abraham-Klein Yield:  12 "stalks"
Prep Time:  45 minutes Rising Time:  1 hour 20 minutes Cook Time:  30 minutes

Wheat Stalk Challah with Parmesan Topping

This challah from Spiritual Kneading Through the Jewish Months: Building the Sacred through Challah by Dahlia Abraham-Klein (Shamesi Press), is shaped to look like stalks of wheat for the month of Sivan. If you prefer a pareve challah, just omit the Parmesan topping.

Ingredients

Challah:

4 tablespoons active dry yeast

¾ cup (150 grams) organic sugar plus 2 tablespoons organic sugar

4½ cups (1.1 liters) warm water

5 pounds (2.25 kilograms) organic white flour

1½ tablespoons sea salt

1 cup (230 milliliters) olive oil, plus more for greasing

Topping:

2 cage-free organic eggs, beaten

Grated Parmesan cheese (optional)

Instructions

  1. In a large bowl, combine the yeast with the 2 tablespoons of sugar and the warm water. Cover the bowl and allow the mixture to start activating. Yeast activation should take about 10 minutes; it will be bubbling and foamy.
  2. Set 1 cup of flour aside. Sift the remaining flour, sugar, and salt into the bowl. Then pour the oil onto the flour.
  3. Combine all the ingredients, using a spatula. When it begins to form a dough, it is time to knead. At this point, you can remove the dough from the bowl and knead on the kitchen counter if it’s easier for you, or directly in the bowl.
  4. To knead the dough: grab the side of the dough furthest away from you and fold it toward yourself. Fold the dough in half and use your body weight to push the dough into itself. If you find that the dough is sticking too much to the surface and preventing you from kneading properly, dust the dough with flour. Give the dough a quarter turn (90°). Grab the other side and fold it in half. Again, with a lot of weight behind it, push the newly folded half into itself. Repeat this process for 10–15 minutes, or until the dough is smooth, silky, elastic, and the dough does not stick to the surface.
  5. After the dough is thoroughly prepared, lay it on the countertop while you grease the bowl with a fine layer of oil. Next, turn the dough in the oil several times so that the dough is greased lightly on all sides.
  6. Cover the bowl with a large plastic garbage bag or kitchen towel and allow it to rise for 1 hour.
  7. Make the blessing on hafrashat challah.
  8. Knead the dough again for a few more minutes and then divide the dough into 8 equal parts. Use the remaining flour for the surface area and hands to prevent sticking.
  9. Roll out into logs that are about 16 inches  long. They should look like baguettes.
  10. Starting from 2 inches from the bottom of the dough, cut into the dough in a 45-degree angle until the depth of the cut is about ¼ inch from the kitchen counter. Be careful not to cut all the way through the dough. The cut will look like a V shape. Lay the piece you’ve cut over to one side.
  11. Continue to cut into the dough, at 1-inch intervals, separating the cut pieces at opposite directions until you have reached the other end. There should be a total of 6 slits. This should look like a sheaf.
  12. Cover the loaves again and let them rise in a warm place for 20 minutes.
  13. If you cannot bake the challahs immediately, then this is the time to wrap the shaped dough in plastic wrap to prevent drying. You can store it in the coldest part of the refrigerator for up to 48 hours. On the day of baking, remove the dough from refrigerator and let stand on kitchen counter until it comes to room temperature, about one hour.
  14. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Prepare your egg wash (see Notes from the Test Kitchen) and decorate the top of the challah with grated Parmesan, if you want a dairy challah.
  15. Bake in your preheated oven for about 30 minutes, or until loaves turn golden brown and shiny. Bread should have a nice hollow sound when thumped on the bottom.
  16. Remove from the oven and cool on a rack. Wait at least one hour before serving. If you are freezing the challah, wrap in waxed paper and foil. It can be stored in the freezer for up to 2 months.

Kitchen Tips

Notes from the Test Kitchen

To make an egg wash for this topping beat the eggs with 2 tablespoons water. Using a pastry brush, brush the egg wash lightly but thoroughly over the loaves.

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