Challah is a traditional Jewish yeast-risen egg bread served on Shabbat or throughout the year on Jewish religious holidays. A good friend of mine introduced me to it years ago, around the time when I first moved to the US. Since then, I always wanted to make it myself but for some reason, I had never attempted it. I just assumed that it would be hard to make.
Years after my first taste of Challah, about 6 months ago, I decided to give it a try in my own kitchen. The plan was to find a recipe, make it foolproof, and share it on the blog. I sat down and watched several You Tube videos on how to make a braided Challah. I wanted to learn the braided version, because I always thought it looked very appealing.
I found a recipe on the Internet and made it. Unfortunately, it ended up being a heavy and hard Challah, which was far from the way it should be. It was very disappointing.
It was still early in the day and I felt like I had time to try another recipe. I found another one and made it again. This time, it was better, but it wasn’t exactly what I thought it should be either.
The next day, feeling a little more experienced, I decided to try one last time. Luckily, this time it was perfect. Exactly how it should be: spongy and soft on the inside and golden brown and eggy on the outside.
By the end of those two days, our small kitchen suddenly looked like I was about to open my own bakery, with 8 loaves of braided Challah covering our dining room table. It is times like these that really reinforce why I have so many friends on our small island.
After close to 3 pounds of flour, a pound of sugar, a bottle of oil, a large crate of eggs, and several packets of yeast later, I was tired but glad to have found the perfect Challah recipe – one that is truly foolproof. The best part of it was that I had a chance to practice the 6-strand braiding several times and am now quite comfortable with it.
After that day of intense bread making, for a while, I didn’t want to see or even think about Challah. I needed some time before I would make it again and photograph it for the blog.
Six months later, here I am with the perfect Challah.
The process of making this spongy, light, and delicious egg bread is quite simple. You start with sifting the dry ingredients (flour, sugar, salt, and yeast) into a large bowl. Then you add the wet ingredients (eggs, water, and oil) into the dry ingredients. Once they are all incorporated, all you have to do is to transfer the dough onto your kitchen counter and knead it for 15 minutes. After allowing it to rise, all you have to do is to braid it and bake it.
Here you may ask: Wouldn’t it be easier to knead it with a mixer with the dough hook attached? Well, I thought that it would be too. However, the first 2 recipes that I tried made me knead it with my Kitchenaid mixer with the dough hook attached. But, for some reason, I got better results when I kneaded it on the kitchen counter with my hands.
At the beginning of the kneading process, be prepared to have a dough that is quite sticky, but as you continue to work on it, it will take on a soft and elastic texture. During the kneading process, feel free to use some extra flour. However, for this recipe, I recommend not using more than a cup because more of it may result in a harder dough, which will then result in a tougher bread.
In terms of braiding, I must confess – I was very intimidated at first. However, even after my first attempt, I felt like there was nothing to be scared of to begin with. Once you get the hang of it, it actually is the easiest part.
Remember one thing: this is a very forgiving dough. Even if your braid doesn’t look perfect, after it is risen and baked, it will look and taste great. However, if you are still not comfortable with braiding, there are so many other shapes you can bake your Challah in. This video explains and shows some easier and less complicated shapes like simple rolls and/or individual knots.
When I decided to make Challah for this round, strictly for the blog, at first I thought about making a video of how I made it and publish it with this blog post. Then, after a little further thinking, I decided that another video is not necessary when there are already a million of them out there on the Internet. Instead, I thought that it would be better if I were to share the ones that I found to be the most helpful.
This video of Joan Nathan of Tablet Magazine is less than 6 minutes, and I think it is a great video to see how to do the 6-stranded braid.
Also, this video of Leah of leahcookskosher.com is a part of 4 videos on how to make Challah bread. These videos are pretty long, but extremely helpful. If you are serious about learning how to make Challah, I highly recommend watching them. Here, I should mention that the recipe I used is a scaled down version of hers.
This recipe makes two loaves. Once they come to room temperature, I usually cover them with stretch film, place in a Ziploc bag, and freeze to eat later. Also, you can use Challah to make bread pudding and French toast.
So if you are like me, and want to give making Challah a try, but find yourself getting lost in all the different Challah recipes on the Internet, I humbly suggest this recipe as a good place to start.
This recipe makes 2 loaves
- Prep Time: 2 hours 30 minutes
- Cook Time: 30 minutes
- Total Time: 3 hours
- 6 +1 cups of all-purpose flour, divided
- 5 tablespoons of granulated sugar
- 1 tablespoon Kosher salt
- 2 packets (1/2 oz.) rapid rise yeast
- 1/2 cup of vegetable oil + plus more for the bowl
- 13/4 cup of drinking water (luke warm to touch)
- 3 large eggs, at room temperature
- 2 egg yollks, at room temperature
- 3 tablespoons black and white sesame seeds (optional)
- Sift 6 cups of flour, sugar, salt, and yeast into a large mixing bowl.
- Add oil, water, and 3 large eggs into the bowl.
- Using a spatula, mix until they are incorporated.
- Transfer the dough onto a lightly floured kitchen counter and knead with your hands for 15 minutes.
- Grease a clean bowl with 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil. Place the dough seam side down into the greased bowl. Turn the dough a few times to oil its surface.
- Let it sit in a warmer part of your house for one and a half hours. It will double in size.
- Right before braiding, reheat the oven to 350 degrees.
- Punch down the dough and cut it into 2 equal sized pieces using a bench scraper or a knife. (Note 1)
- Divide one of the pieces into 6 equal pieces. Roll each piece into a 12-14 inch strand.
- Lay the strands vertically on the counter. Pinch them together at the top and start braiding. To do that: Start at the further most right and take it over two strands. Then take the second furthest strand to the left and place it all the way over to the right (The mantra is outside over two – next to last to the outside). Repeat the same process until the end.
- Tuck the ends underneath the loaf and place it on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.
- Brush the top with egg yolks and sprinkle with sesame seeds. Let it rise on the kitchen counter for 30 minutes.
- Repeat the same process with the second piece.
- Bake for 30-35 minutes or until the top turns to golden brown. Remove it from the oven and let it cool on a wire rack for 30 minutes before slicing.
- Repeat the same process for the second loaf.
Note: Cover the piece that you are not braiding with a clean kitchen towel to prevent it from drying.
Recipe adapted (and scaled down) from here.
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