Where are my manners?
I’ve blathered about this Challah many times. I’ve mentioned it offhand in the course of other posts. I’ve even done a side-by-side comparison with at least one other Challah recipe. But somehow I’ve neglected to share the recipe with you.
So what better day to do that than on Rosh Hashana, the Jewish new year? It’s the perfect occasion for a festive, enriched bread, drizzled with a swirl of honey to help ring in a sweet new year.
Let me tell you, you need to make this bread.
Even if you don’t usually make bread, you need to make this bread.
As breads go, it’s an easy one. From start to finish, it’ll take just five hours, and only a fraction of that is time you’ll actually spend doing anything other than watching it rise to the lip of the bowl you’re proofing it in.
If you have a stand mixer, go ahead and use it; the bread won’t suffer one bit. I’ve kneaded this dough dozens of times, both by hand and by machine. With either method, you’ll be rewarded with one of the silkiest, friendliest doughs you’ve ever made.
For shaping, use whatever method and shape you like. When I was growing up, the gorgeous braided Challah was reserved for special occasions: holidays, bar mitzvahs, weddings. Our everyday Challah was made in sandwich loaves, perfect for slicing and toasting.
Oh, the toast! If for no other reason than the toast, you must make this bread!
Ahem. But back to shaping.
I usually make a simple three-strand braided loaf: cut the proofed dough into three equal pieces, shape them into long strands, and braid them together as you would a plait of hair. If you prefer something even simpler, just shape it as you would any regular sandwich loaf and proof it in a loaf pan. You can also divide it two smaller loaves.
If you want to be more daring, try a six-strand braid, using this helpful video as your guide.
For the loaf I made last night, I decided to try the four-strand round braid, so beautifully illustrated here. The round loaf is nice. It has more loft than the three-strand braid, so you get taller, thicker slices, and a bigger interior-to-crust ratio, if you like that. Be warned, though, if you do a round loaf, it’ll take a little bit more time to bake.
Before baking, the last thing you’ll have to decide is if you want to put any toppings on the Challah. If you like to keep things simple, brush on an egg wash (an egg yolk mixed with a teaspoon of water) just before you put the loaf into the oven. If you’d prefer, after the egg wash, you can sprinkle on some poppy or sesame seeds, or anything else you like to sprinkle on bread.
Let it bake fully. You want the interior temperature to be about 190ºF. Resist the temptation to slice into it right away. Let it cool a bit to let the interior finish cooking. The last thing you want is a soggy loaf.
But please don’t wait until it’s cool before you get a taste. It’s very nice cool. It’ll taste great. You can cut slices and drizzle honey on them, or eat them plain, or toast them (yes!).
But warm. Oh, warm slices of Challah. Is there anything better?
Yes, there is: fist-sized lobes of dough ripped off the still-warm loaf.
And kittens and baby goats. Cuddled while you’re eating warm Challah.
I’ve tried many Challah recipes, but I always come back to this one. It never fails. I hope you love it, too.
L’Shana Tova to you and yours. May it be happy, healthy, prosperous, and sweet as honey.
(adapted from Second Helpings, Please)
1 tsp sugar
½ cup warm water
1 package active dry yeast (or 2 ¼ tsp of instant yeast)
½ cup vegetable oil
½ cup warm water
¼ cup sugar (or honey, if you prefer)
2 tsp salt
2 large eggs (if you can find them, I think duck eggs make the best challah)
4 –5 cups all-purpose flour (or substitute whole wheat flour for up to half of the all-purpose; I like using King Arthur Flour’s white whole wheat.)
1 egg yolk
poppy or sesame seeds (optional)
- If using active dry yeast, rinse a large mixing bowl with hot water. Dissolve sugar in ½ cup of warm water. Sprinkle yeast on top and let stand for 10 minutes.
- If using instant yeast instead, you can omit the 10-minute wait.
- Add oil, water, sugar, salt, eggs, and half of flour. Stir to dissolve, and then beat well.
- Stir in the remaining flour. The dough should be sticky.
- Cover the dough and let it rest for 10 minutes.
- Turn the dough out onto a floured board and knead for 10 minutes (or knead in a stand mixer for ~7 minutes). Add as little flour as you can get away with. The dough should be tacky but not sticky (if you’re using a mixer, the dough should clear the sides of the bowl, but stick to the bottom).
- Round up in a greased bowl. Cover and let rise in a warm place until double in bulk, about 1 ½ – 2 hours.
- Gently deflate, cover, and let rise again until double, about 45 minutes.
- Divide the dough into three equal parts (or six, if you are making two small loaves). Shape into strands. Place on a lightly greased baking sheet (or use a silpat or parchment paper) and braid loosely. Fasten ends securely.
- Cover with a damp cloth and let rise until double, 30-45 minutes.
- Preheat oven to 400°.
- Brush with a beaten egg yolk. If you’re going to add poppy or sesame seeds, sprinkle them on now.
- Bake at 400° for 30 minutes, until golden brown and the internal temperature reaches 190-200ºF. If you’re making a round loaf, allow extra baking time, up to another 20 minutes or so. If you see the crust browning too quickly but the internal temperature is not high enough yet, tent the loaf with aluminum foil to keep it from getting too dark.