A challah that’s more like a rustic country bread

I’ve been thinking lately about the beautiful Kiddush cups we use to sanctify the Sabbath and other holy days.

There are many styles of Kiddush cups — from the simple to the sublime. Some years back, the Contemporary Jewish Museum in San Francisco had an impressive competition and displayed some of these much loved chalices.

In our home, our favorite Kiddush cup was given to us as a gift. It is sleek and modern, with a delicate form but a sturdy presence.

Just as there are many styles of Kiddush cup, there are also many styles of wine. After Kiddush, we say the blessing over the challah. We prefer water challah, which is not sweet and uses no egg wash. It resembles a rustic country bread in texture and taste. For best results, use bread flour, widely available in supermarkets, and not all-purpose flour.

Water Challah

Makes 2 loaves

1 packet dry yeast (2¼ tsp. or ¼ oz.)

2 cups warm water

1 tsp. sugar

4½ cups unbleached bread flour, plus flour for the work surface

2½ tsp. kosher or sea salt

1 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil

photo/ed anderson

In a large bowl, add the yeast to the warm water and mix gently with your fingertips. Add sugar and mix, using your fingers as well. Set aside until liquid begins to foam, about 15 minutes.

While yeast is hydrating, in another large bowl, use a fork or whisk to mix the flour and the salt, then add ½ cup at a time to the yeasted water while stirring with a wooden spoon. If the flour becomes too thick to stir, massage the dough with your hands to consolidate.

Turn out the dough onto a floured flat surface. The dough should be very moist, so use extra flour to keep it from sticking to work surface or your hands. To knead dough, use the heel of one hand to push dough forward. Then use both hands to fold it back onto itself. Knead until the dough firms up but is still elastic, 5 to 7 minutes. (Use additional flour to prevent sticking.)

Lightly coat the bowl that the ingredients were originally mixed in with the 1 tsp. of olive oil. Place the dough in the bowl and flip it over to coat both sides with oil. Cover the bowl with a damp kitchen towel or plastic wrap. Let the dough rise until it has doubled in size, about 1½ hours.

Without taking the dough out of the bowl, pull one side up and fold onto the top the rest of the dough. Repeat 2 or 3 times. Cover again and let the dough rise until it has doubled again, about 45 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 500 degrees. (If using a baking stone, set the baking stone in the oven on the middle rack.)

Turn out the dough onto a floured, flat surface. Dust it liberally with flour to keep your hands from sticking. (Do not punch the dough down. You want it to retain as many air pockets as possible.) Cut the dough in half and then cut each half into 3 equally-sized pieces. Use your hands to shape each into a 12- to 15-inch long strand. Try to keep all six strands approximately the same length. You’ll use 3 strands for each loaf.

Pinch 3 strands together at one end and tuck the end under. Braid the bread as you would 3 locks of hair. Fold one strand over the middle strand. Then fold the remaining outside strand over what has become the middle strand, alternating strands until you reach the end.

If using a baking stone, pull the hot stone out of the oven and set it on the stovetop and place the two loaves on the stone. Or use a non-stick baking or cookie pan. Bake for 20 minutes on the middle rack. Reduce the heat to 400 degrees and bake until the loaves are golden brown, about 20 more minutes. Each loaf should sound hollow when tapped on the bottom.

Let cool on a wire rack.

Jodie Morgan

Jodie Morgan is a co-owner of Covenant Winery in Berkeley and has co-authored eight cookbooks with her husband, Jeff Morgan. Their latest is “The Covenant Kitchen: Food and Wine for the New Jewish Table.”