I made this to satisfy a craving for raisin bread that I had had for a while. I adapted the challah recipe from the new Better Homes & Garden cookbook which I ordered from Amazon before Christmas. The recipe's no longer kosher due to the changes I've made but I think it's still delicious, even if my braiding technique needs a lot of work! Fresh from the oven, the bread was crusty on the outside and tender inside (a bit like a toasty brioche).
The changes I made were: substituting milk for water and butter for margarine, and substituting some of the liquid (milk) and flour for a watery mashed potato mixture (boiled potato mashed with the water used for cooking) that I had left over from making focaccia a few days before. I also dispensed with poppy seeds (not my favorite and also the local supermarket doesn't carry them) and the eggwash (1 egg yolk + 2 tsp water) because I didn't want to waste an egg white.
- 4 to 5 cups all-purpose flour
- 1/2 cup potato mixture
- 1/2 cup milk
- 3 tablespoons sugar
- 3 tablespoons butter
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 2 eggs
- 3/4 cup raisins, soaked for 5 minutes in warm water
- In a large mixing bowl stir together 2 cups of the flour and the yeast; set aside.
- In saucepan, heat milk, butter, sugar, salt and potato mixture until butter starts to melt. Make sure the mixture doesn't get too hot otherwise it will kill the yeast later. The original BHG recipe suggests heating to 120 F / 50 C.
- Add milk/butter/potato mixture and eggs to the flour mixture. Stir with wooden spoon (I guess you could use a mixer but it's not really necessary) until smooth. The dough will be watery like pancake batter.
- Add raisins and remaining 2-3 cups of flour gradually to mixture until the dough starts to form a large ball and you can manage it with your hands.
- Turn out dough onto a generously floured surface, knead dough until it is no longer sticky. It should be smooth and elastic after 5-8 minutes. Shape into ball.
- Place in a greased bowl, turn once to coat dough. Cover with plastic wrap (clingfilm) and tea towel, then place in warm place to rise until doubled (1-2 hours) and the dough springs back when you poke at it with your finger.
- Punch dough down; turn out onto floured surface. Divide into 3 or 6 pieces. Cover and let rest for about 10 minutes.
- Roll each piece into a long strand/rope. Place 3 strands side by side. Braid. If you have 6 pieces, you can make a second 3-strand braided bread or if you're up to the challenge you could try braiding a 6-strand bread. (See this site for step-by-step instructions on braiding bread. Don't worry if your braids aren't pefect...mine were a bit hideous but luckily this doesn't affect the taste one bit!)
- Cover and let rise until doubled (about 1 hour). 15 minutes ahead of time, set your oven to 375 F/200 C.
- Place in oven and bake until golden brown, about 25 to 30 minutes. Bread is done when it sounds hollow when tapped.
- Immediately remove bread from baking sheet and cool on wire rack.