Recipe: Challah

Although my family has a Jewish background, I was raised Christian, but in spite of not being a traditionally observant Jew (although I do celebrate the big holidays), I am trying to learn how to observe some kind of sabbath.

I really love to make challah. I've recently started a goal of trying to make a loaf every Friday morning, since Fridays are a late-start day for me and I don't need to go to work until 1. That way, we have fresh bread for the weekend and something special to eat on Saturdays.

This recipe takes me about two hours, from getting out the ingredients to taking the finished loaf out of the oven to cool. It's not as sweet as a traditional challah, but we like it that way because it means we can use it for sandwiches without getting a weird overly-sweetness to it, but can also sweeten it up with a bit of honey and butter, or with jelly.

I will say, I am generally afraid of trying kneaded, yeasty breads because I have had a lot of past experiences where what I got was a heavy, dry, crumbly loaf of flavorless blah... but this recipe so far has always turned out well for me, very elastic with few crumbs.

Ingredients (Makes 1 large loaf)

  • 3 eggs, beaten
  • 1 package (2 1/4 tsp) active dry yeast
  • 1 cup water, warmed to ~100 F
  • 3 cups flour (I use 2 cups bread flour and 1 cup all-purpose, but the original recipe called for all-purpose only)
  • 3 tbsp sugar (or 2 tbsp honey) -- Note: for a sweet loaf, you'll need to add at least 2 more tablespoons of sugar and a little extra water, or 1 - 1 1/2 tablespoons of honey.
  • 1 tsp salt
Preheat your oven to its lowest temperature before beginning. Mine won't go any lower than 170 so I get it up to that temperature and then turn it off and crack the door. Because we keep our house quite chilly, the only place I can get bread to rise in the winter is in a pre-warmed oven that is somewhere between room temperature and 100 degrees.

Stir yeast into water and set aside. After 10-15 minutes, you should see a creamy, tan layer beginning to form. If this does not happen, you'll have to throw it out and try it again with new yeast.

While yeast is proofing, combine beaten eggs, sugar, and salt. Add yeast and water once your yeast has developed that creamy tan stuff in it.

Add flour, 1 cup at a time, until dough is sticky and elastic. I do this in my KitchenAid and, once it's been kneaded almost enough (this is something you just have to guess at and will get better at with practice), I pull it out and put it on a floured surface. Flour and knead until you have something smooth and not too sticky, but stop as soon as you get there, because you don't want to over-knead.

Coat dough with oil and set in an oiled bowl, covered with a damp cloth, to rise in the warm oven, being sure it's not too warm in there. Let rise until doubled in size. This takes about 45 minutes when I do it, but that time is only a guideline and jumping-off point, because it may well be different for you.

When dough is doubled in size, take it out and preheat your oven to 350 degrees.

Punch dough down and turn onto a floured working surface. Divide into three equal pieces and roll these into logs about 12-14 inches long and about as thick as two fingers. Stick all three together at one end and braid, just like you would braid hair.  When you get to the end, press the dough ends together to stick so the braid doesn't unravel, and tuck each end underneath so your loaf looks neater.

Brush the top of your dough either with butter for a very soft crust, or with an egg wash for a harder, shinier crust. Put in the oven and bake at 350 for about 30 minutes, or until the loaf sounds hollow when tapped on the bottom. Cool on a cooling rack.

As a variant, you can use this to make rolls (which I did last night). Just divide into small equal balls instead of braiding a loaf. I assume you could probably make a non-braided loaf too.

Sorry, there are no pictures. We just always eat it too quickly. I'll try to take one tonight of the rolls that I made before we devour them. They're for company, so they aren't actually gone yet even though I made them a whole 10 hours ago.

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