Back before there were children and too many things to do, mastering challah bread seemed like a worthwhile waste of time. Then the boys came along and I think it was in Azerbaijan, when we were trying to make Easter special, that Mike first separated the dough into balls and flipped them into bunnies?
Half challah, half bunny; we tied shiny bows around the bunny half and gave them to the kids’ little friends that we’d invited over for Easter. The adults ate the braided half.
In Zambia where the UK influence ran strong, the Easter Bunnies became Hot Cross Bunnies. There is probably a religious conflict in making hot cross bunnies out of challah, but the truth is we were just having fun. And they are super cute.
The bunnies turn out different every year, i.e., you can see the darkening effect of the egg wash compared to this lighter finish without it. Sometimes I forget the egg wash.
The dough is a little sweet, but not too much, and even better with a smudge of butter.
Here they are enjoying the sun in Zambia underneath the jacaronda trees.
They take a little time and the bunny flip takes some practice, but I feel very proud of myself when they come out of the oven :).
Almost Grandmother’s Challah
The recipe is from Epicurious.com. It can be cut in half. The whole recipe will make 2 challahs, or 6-8 bunnies and a nice challah.
- 1/2 cup plus 2/3 cup warm water
- 2 tablespoons dry yeast
- 1 tablespoons plus 3/4 cup sugar
- 5 large eggs
- 3/4 cup vegetable oil
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 7 1/2 cups (about) all-purpose flour
- 1 large egg yolk
- 1 tablespoon water
- Combine 1/2 cup warm water, yeast and 1 tablespoon sugar in large glass measuring cup and stir until yeast dissolves. Let yeast mixture stand at room temperature until foamy, about 10 minutes.
- In large bowl of heavy-duty mixer fitted with whisk attachment, beat 5 eggs until blended. Add oil, salt and 3/4 cup sugar and beat until pale yellow and slightly thickened, about 4 minutes. Beat in 2/3 cup warm water. Add yeast mixture and beat until blended. Remove whisk and fit mixer with dough hook. Add enough flour 1 cup at a time to form smooth dough, beating well after each addition. Beat on medium speed until smooth and elastic, about 5 minutes, adding flour by tablespoonfuls if sticky. Turn out onto floured surface and knead 2 minutes.
- Lightly oil large bowl. Add dough, turning to coat with oil. Cover with plastic wrap, then with clean kitchen towel. Let dough rise in warm draft-free area until doubled in volume, about 1 hour.
- Punch down dough. Cover with plastic and clean kitchen towel and let rise 30 minutes.
- Line 2 large baking sheets with parchment and grease lightly. Turn out dough onto lightly floured surface. Divide dough into 2 equal portions.
- For Challah Braid: Divide one portion into 3 equal pieces. Roll each piece into 9-inch-long rope. Braid 3 ropes together; pinch ends together to seal. Place on a baking sheet lined with parchment.
- For Bunnies: Divide one portion into 6-8 pieces, depending on how big you want your bunnies. Roll each piece into a rope, then fold and twist about 2/3 of the way from the folded end. This end is the body. The loose ends become the head and ears. You can plump up the face a little if you want, but don’t overthink it too much. Just plop it down on a parchment-covered baking sheet and prod it a little bit into a bunny.
- Place baking sheets in a warm area and cover with a towel. Let rise until almost doubled, about 30 minutes.
- Preheat oven to 400°F. Whisk yolk with 1 tablespoon water to blend, and brush dough with egg mixture. Add little snipped bits of raisins for eyes. Bake 10 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 350°F and bake until bread is golden brown and sounds hollow when tapped on bottom, about 35 minutes. Transfer loaves to rack and cool completely. (Can be prepared 1 day ahead. Wrap tightly in plastic and store at room temperature.)
- ICING: Mix 1 cup of confectioner’s sugar, 1 tablespoon of soft butter, 1-2 Tablespoons of milk, and a pinch of salt in a small bowl. If you want more icing, double the amounts, and adjust as needed for consistency. Pipe the crosses using a pastry bag or Ziploc with the corner snipped off.
Eat warm from the oven or keep stored in a Ziploc for a few days. They refresh nicely with a few seconds in the microwave, although the icing will smear a little. They look their best on Day One.