Challah is an egg bread traditionally eaten on shabbat (the Jewish sabbath) that is similar in texture and taste to brioche, but is made without milk or butter. For shabbat, challah is usually braided using three or six strands, and on Rosh Hashana, it’s usually twisted in a circular shape (to symbolize the cycle of a year, as Rosh Hashana is the Jewish new year). And often times the bread is sprinkled with sesame or poppy seeds.
As a kid, I ate my sandwiches on challah or challah rolls. And my mom always used it when she would make us french toast. Seriously, challah makes for the most incredible french toast! But the best way to eat a challah? The way my family does it now–rip into it and tear out the insides, leaving a shell of the crust. Mmm.
This recipe, while time consuming, was pretty simple and oh so good! (In fact, I’m going to make a few loaves for Rosh Hashana later this month.) The bread is soft and chewy with a nice crust and the dough was easy to work with. There’s a lot of sitting and waiting, so it’s best to do it when you have stuff you can complete in spurts while waiting for the dough to rise.
Finally, I halved the recipe (because I was trying out different recipes) but this is so good you should make the full recipe and freeze one loaf.
Photos of the process here.
1 1/2 packages active dry yeast (1 1/2 tablespoons)
1 tablespoon plus 1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup vegetable oil, more for greasing bowl
5 large eggs
1 tablespoon salt
8 to 8 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
Poppy or sesame seeds for sprinkling (optional)
- In a large bowl, dissolve yeast and 1 tablespoon sugar in 1 3/4 cups lukewarm water.
- Whisk oil into yeast, then beat in 4 eggs, one at a time, with remaining sugar and salt. Gradually add flour. When dough holds together, it is ready for kneading. (You can also use a mixer with a dough hook for both mixing and kneading.)
- Turn dough onto a floured surface and knead until smooth. Clean out bowl and grease it, then return dough to bowl. Cover with plastic wrap, and let rise in a warm place for 1 hour, until almost doubled in size. Dough may also rise in an oven that has been warmed to 150 degrees then turned off. Punch down dough, cover and let rise again in a warm place for another half-hour.
- (I tried this but got entirely too confused and just braided it with three strands, the same way you braid hair.) To make a 6-braid challah, either straight or circular, take half the dough and form it into 6 balls. With your hands, roll each ball into a strand about 12 inches long and 1 1/2 inches wide. Place the 6 in a row, parallel to one another. Pinch the tops of the strands together. Move the outside right strand over 2 strands. Then take the second strand from the left and move it to the far right. Take the outside left strand and move it over 2. Move second strand from the right over to the far left. Start over with the outside right strand. Continue this until all strands are braided. For a straight loaf, tuck ends underneath. For a circular loaf, twist into a circle, pinching ends together. Make a second loaf the same way. Place braided loaves on a greased cookie sheet with at least 2 inches in between.
- Beat remaining egg and brush it on loaves. Either freeze breads or let rise another hour.
- If baking immediately, preheat oven to 375 degrees and brush loaves again. If freezing, remove from freezer 5 hours before baking. Then dip your index finger in the egg wash, then into poppy or sesame seeds and then onto a mound of bread. Continue until bread is decorated with seeds.
- Bake in middle of oven for 35 to 40 minutes, or until golden. Cool loaves on a rack.
Yield: 2 challahs.
Joan Nathan recipe from The New York Times.