Challah with Tangzhong
Makes 2 loaves
This is my favorite challah recipe! The tangzhong method (a warm flour and water/milk paste incorporated into the main dough) is often used in Hokkaido milk bread or steamed baos, giving the bread a soft and fluffy texture. It works well with this challah recipe because it adds both moisture and elasticity to the dough. This recipe is adapted from the Cook’s Illustrated version.
Link to challah braid diagrams.
FLOUR PASTE / TANGZHONG
1 cup water
6 tablespoons bread flour (47 grams)
FOR THE DOUGH
2 large egg plus 4 large yolks (you can also use 4 whole eggs instead)
1/2 cup water
4 tbsp veg oil
857 grams (30 1/4 oz) bread flour
2 1/2 tsp instant or rapid rise yeast or active dry (1 packet)
1/2 cup sugar
2 tsp salt
Veg oil for coating
1 small egg
2 tbsp sesame or poppy seeds or flaky sea salt
MAKE THE TANGZHONG
In a microwave safe bowl, whisk 1 cup of water and 47 grams (6 tbsp) bread flour until smooth. Microwave for 20 seconds, then stir with a whisk. Continue to microwave in 20 second intervals until mixture thickens to form a smooth pudding-like consistency that loosely keeps its shape when whisk is lifted from the bowl. This could take anywhere from 40 seconds to 2 minutes. Let cool slightly.
MAKE THE DOUGH
In a large bowl, whisk together cooled flour paste, eggs and yolks, 1/2 cup water, and oil until well combined. Add the flour and yeast. I like to use my hands to mix the dough, but you can also use a stand mixer with a dough hook on low speed. Mix until all flour is moistened, 3 to 4 minutes. Let rest for 20 minutes.
Add sugar and salt and knead by hand or mix on medium speed for about 9 minutes. The dough is ready when you can stretch a small piece and see light through the dough without breaking it.
Lightly oil a large bowl. Knead dough briefly on counter and form into a ball, then place it in the oiled bowl. Turn to coat dough with oil. Cover bowl with plastic wrap. At this point, I like to let the dough rest in the fridge overnight (up to 3 days) wrapped tightly in a plastic bag, and let it rise and come to room temperature the day of baking (which can take up to 5 hours sometimes). But if baking the same day, let the dough rise until it doubles in volume, about 1 ½ - 3 hours. Ideally, you want to let the dough take its time to really expand to the top of the bowl.
Line two baking sheets with parchment paper and nest both on top of another baking sheet. This double layer of baking sheets keeps the bottom from browning too fast in the oven. Transfer dough to counter and divide in two. Take first half of dough and cut into equal portions, depending on how many strands you are braiding. Challah braiding diagrams can be found here. Roll each strip of dough into a long rope, tapering the ends of the rope as you roll.* Repeat with remaining dough. Braid ropes.
Pinch ends of the braid together and tuck ends under the braid. Carefully transfer braid to prepared sheets. Repeat with other half of dough.
MAKE EGG WASH:
Shake egg and pinch of salt in a glass jar for about 10 seconds. This will make a thin fluid egg wash that is easier to coat the bread.
Brush egg wash on both loaves and loosely cover with a large plastic bag. Let rise until the dough does not spring back fully when gently pressed (could take anywhere from 1 ½ - 3 hours).
Thirty minutes before baking, preheat oven to 350 degrees. Adjust oven rack to middle position. Brush loaves with a second coat of egg wash and sprinkle with sesame, poppy seeds, or flaky sea salt. Bake until loaf is golden brown (interior bread temperature should be 195 degrees), 25 to 30 minutes. Let cool on sheets for 20 minutes, then transfer bread to wire rack and let cool completely.
*Note: Flattening dough for each strand into a rectangle and then rolling the dough up lengthwise makes the loaf bake more evenly and fluffy.