I need to bake Challah bread for sandwiches for a large number of people. Can I avoid the braiding? is it important to the final taste?
The most common form of Ashkenazi (Central and Eastern European) challah is braided. However, other shapes are not unknown.
For the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah, Ashkenazi Jews eat a round challah. These are sometimes still braided, but often they are not. To make a round (unbraided) challah, we follow the same exact recipe, but after bulk fermentation, instead of divding the dough into 3/6/8 strands and braiding them, we form a log, or tubular shape, like a French batârd, then twist this log into a short spiral.
And, of course, we must remember that Ashkenazis are not the only Jews in the world. Sephardic and Mizrahi Jews do not typically make braided challah. They make round challah all year: https://cooking.nytimes.com/recipes/1017858-sephardic-challah-with-whole-spices
Note: it's not "challah bread" - it's just "challah". Just like we don't say "baguette bread" or "ciabatta bread" or "brioche bread" or "focaccia bread"
A challah recipe does not require braiding for its flavour or to bake properly – but it does usually require braiding in order to be called challah. Feel free to leave it out, but (if your audience are familiar with challah) you might get questions about why it isn't braided. You could also just call it 'enriched bread' which is a more general term.
It's not important for the flavor, but it is important for the shape, and for making sure that the challah is done all the way through. First, if you just put a round mass of challah dough on a baking sheet it's going to tend to spread out rather than rising up, and you'll end up with a very flat, wide loaf (which might be OK, but might not). Second, as an enriched bread, challah tends to have a problem with being undercooked in the center.
So if you want one big loaf for slicing for sandwiches, I'd suggest putting it in some kind of loaf pan or cloche to make sure it keeps a round shape, and give it lots of time to finish cooking and check it with the tap test.
Alternately, you could make challah rolls, which are just the same dough rolled into small balls. The linked recipe makes small knots with them, but you don't have to do that; rolling them into balls and making small "slider bun" rolls works fine.
I have made challah by rolling bits of dough into small balls and piling them up to form a loaf shape. This leads to a loaf with a similar level of irregularity as braided challah, but is easier to construct (e.g., when baking with small children). So far as I can tell, it tastes exactly the same as braided challah.
The shape won't dramatically affect the flavor. I worked at a bakery many years ago where we made Challah braids for the weekend but for our day-to-day sandwich needs we made Pullman loaves for slicing with this interesting technique:
- Divide a loaf's weight of dough into 8 pieces
- Shape them into balls as though you were making rolls
- Tuck the balls into a buttered Pullman in a 4x2 grid
- Rise and bake as normal
The individual balls all merge into a single loaf with a pleasing bumpy top and an overall rectangular cross-section that is perfect for sandwiches.
If you don't have a Pullman, a regular loaf pan should do fine, but try 6 balls in a 3x2 arrangement.