My State Fair Quest:
Be Minnesota’s Best Challah Baker

My boss told me that a few weeks ago, and my response was something like when you tell your kids or your dog to do something, and they kind of tilt their head and look at you like you’re speaking another language.

My next response was, to quote Barney Stinson, Neil Patrick Harris’s character in How I Met Your Mother:

I have a really high opinion of my challah. And it’s good. Like, I don’t miss It Takes The Cake good. Possibly an irrationally high opinion of my challah, but I stand by it. I have a recipe that has been working for a long time, and I’d put it up against anyone in the state.

But there’s a wrinkle: The challah competition at the Minnesota State Fair is under the auspices of the Agriculture-Horticulture-Bee competition. That means, the only sweetener in the challah is honey; no sugar. So I started researching how to get this done.

Conventional (internet) wisdom says that per one cup of sugar, you can use ½ to 2/3 cup of honey. That’s not an insignificant range to be dealing with. Also, it suggested reducing other liquids in the recipe, so it required testing. Several challot were made and tested. After all, it was done in the name of science. We were willing to sacrifice.

Test one:
We reduced the oil from ½ to ¼ cup, and swapped the ½ cup of sugar to ¼ cup of honey (as I’ve written in the past, we use the cheap stuff; good, raw, organic honey hasn’t worked for us in this recipe). I also reduced the roughly 5 tablespoons of honey added after the sugar to 4 tablespoons – another ¼ cup. The result was excellent; good texture and sweetness. But there was one not-so-minor problem: I added a pinch of sugar in with the yeast and warm water to proof the yeast. It was a mistake I realized immediately after adding it to the rest of the ingredients.

Test two:
We went with the same reduced amount of oil but went with 1/3 cup of honey – plus the ¼ at the end. The result was arguably the better tasting challah, but one that was far more difficult to work with. The dough in the bread machine didn’t rise as much, so I decided to proof it in a 100-degree oven for much longer than the 30-60 minutes called for. The resulting was over-inflated challah that was hard to brush with the egg wash and became misshapen when I tried to move it to a second baking sheet.

So as I crossed Underwood Street to the Agriculture Horticulture Building and delivered my challah to a group of strangers to judge, I’ll admit the legs were a little shaky. It’s certainly not over the $15 prize for first place (although the blue ribbon that goes with it is enticing). But, being able to call me Minnesota’s Best Challah Baker in 2017? That’s going on the resume.

It may not be my last State Fair entry, but you never forget your first time.

(Editor’s note: By the time you read this, the State Fair will be open and you’ll be able to see who won. Someone post to our Facebook page and let us know. Thanks!)