Challah bread is a traditional braided Jewish bread served as part of the 3 Shabbat meals – the meal Friday night and the 2 meals on Saturday. It is also served during most Jewish holidays, save for Passover when leaven bread is not served. I first learned about challah when I worked at Einstein Bros. Bagels in college – was amazing toasted with our honey butter. A few years later, I bought a loaf at Trader Joe’s and used it to make fabulous stuffed French toast (I promise, I’ll recreate this for you one day). I finally decided it was time to make my own loaf of this traditional Jewish braided bread.
Challah is usually made with a lot of eggs, honey, flour, water, yeast, and light oil. Some recipes I’ve seen call for melted butter, but Jewish law requires that dairy and meat not be eaten together, so using butter or milk (instead of water) can complicate these traditional meals. By avoiding using dairy in the recipe, the bread is considered “parve,” or neutral and can be eaten with dairy or meat while staying kosher. While I am not Jewish, I wanted to maintain this characteristic of the bread.
For my first attempt at challah, I wanted a simple recipe and went with the one I found in Jeff Hertzberg and Zoë François’s book Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day . The general premise of the book is to make a large batch of dough, and bake it over a few days or weeks instead of making the dough fresh each time. The original recipe is designed to make 4 loaves of bread, which was just too much for me so I halved it and made two lovely loaves.
14 tablespoons lukewarm water (I try to use filtered water at 95 to 100 degrees)
¾ tablespoon (I used Fleishman’s instant yeast)
¾ tablespoons Kosher salt
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
¼ cup honey
¼ cup light tasting olive oil (or other light tasting oil)
3 ½ cups unbleached all-purpose flour
egg wash (1 egg beaten with a tablespoon of cold water)
1) Proof the yeast by mixing the water, honey, and yeast together and let sit for a few minutes.
2) Add eggs, salt, and oil to the yeast and honey mixture.
3) Stir in flour a half cup to a cup at a time using a wooden spoon, or a stand mixer with a dough hook. I used a stand mixer, but if you use a spoon, you may have to use your hands to incorporate the last bit of flour.
4) Lightly cover the dough (not an airtight container, otherwise the carbon dioxide will have no place to escape) and let rise for about 2 hours at room temperature. It will rise and collapse/flatten on top during this time.
5) After the two hours are up, place the dough in the fridge**, this will make it easier to handle when you braid the dough.
6) Preheat oven to 350 degrees
7) Once the dough has chilled, cut the dough into two 1-pound portions, one for each loaf. For each loaf, divide in 3 equal parts, and roll into a long thin rope about a foot long. Begin braiding the three strands at the center of the loaf. When you reach the end, turn the loaf over and rotate it and finish braiding the loaf.
8) Place the braided loaf on a cookie sheet that has been lightly greased, or lined with parchment paper and let it rest for 1 hour and 20 minutes at room temperature.
9) Brush the loaf with egg wash and sprinkle with poppy or sesame seeds (optional).
10) Bake in the center of the oven for about 25 minutes. The bread is done with it is golden brown, and the braids of the center of the loaf resist pressure. Allow the bread to cool before slicing and eating.
** The dough can be stored for 5 days in the fridge, after that, it should be divided in half and frozen separately in airtight containers.
This is a simple challah bread recipe that produces a great loaf of bread. Feel free to add raisins (as the Jewish do at New Years and during the high holidays). In order to do this, roll the dough to about ½ inch thick, sprinkle with raisins, and roll up into a long thin rope. Instead of braiding the bread, form a coil and bake at 350 for about 25 minutes.