The secrets to good challah are simple: Use two coats of egg wash to get that laquer-like crust and don’t overbake it.
Time: about 1 hour, plus 2 1/2 hours’ rising
Yield: 2 loaves, or 4 smaller loaves. If smaller loaves are desired, one half of this recipe could be used to make breakfast type rolls (with different flavorings) for the morning of Shabat (separate dough into two parts after kneading the dough).
3 3/4 teaspoons active dry yeast (about 1 1/2 packages)
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
1 3/4 cups lukewarm water, not to hot/steaming
1/2 cup olive or vegetable oil, plus more for greasing the bowl
5 large eggs
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon table salt
8 to 8 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup raisins per challah, if using, plumped in hot water and drained
Poppy or sesame seeds for sprinkling.
- 1. In a large bowl, dissolve yeast and 1 tablespoon sugar in water (if the water is to hot, it will kill the yeast); set aside for 5 minutes until it has a thick head of foam (it is good to do this in a four cup measure as the foam on top should be about an inch or more thick).
- 2. Beat in 4 eggs with remaining 1/2 cup sugar, 1/2 cup of olive oil, salt and mix well. Once yeast has that thick head of foam, mix it with the eggs, sugar, olive oil, and salt.
- 3. Gradually add flour into the mixing bowl. When dough holds together, it is ready for kneading. (You can also use a mixer with a dough hook for both mixing and kneading, but be careful if using a standard size KitchenAid–it’s a bit much for it, though it can be done. The Professional HD KitchenAid is much better for this recipe)
- 4. 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.
- 5. To make a 6-braid challah, it is best to follow the “over two, under one, over two” way of doing it. Carry the right-most rope over the two ropes beside it, slip it under the middle rope, and then carry it over the last two ropes. Lay the rope down parallel to the other ropes; it is now the furthest-left strand. Repeat this pattern until you reach the end of the loaf. Try to make your braid as tight as possible. Your braid will start listing to the left as you go; it is okay to lift it up and recenter the loaf if you need to. Once you reach the end, squeeze the ends of the ropes together and tuck them under the loaf.
- 6. At this point your loaf is fairly long and skinny. If you’re making a regular loaf (as pictured below), you need to “plump” it a little to tighten the ropes into more of a loaf shape. Place your left palm at the end of the braid and your right palm at the top, and gently push the two ends toward each other, just like plumping a pillow in slow motion. Then slip your fingers under the dough along either side and gently lift the dough while cupping it downwards. (This is not a vital step, so do not worry if you are not sure you did it correctly)
- 5. Beat remaining egg and brush it on loaves. Either freeze breads or let rise another hour.
- 6. If baking immediately, preheat oven to 375 degrees and brush loaves again. Sprinkle bread with seeds, if using. If freezing, remove from freezer 5 hours before baking.
- 7. Bake in middle of oven for 30 to 40 minutes, or until golden. (If you have an instant read thermometer, you can take it out when it hits an internal temperature of 190 degrees.) Cool loaves on a rack.
Note: Any of the three risings can be done in the fridge for a few hours, for more deeply-developed flavor. When you’re ready to work with it again, bring it back to room temperature before moving onto the next step.
Other ingredients? Many different flavors can be added (when kneading the dough) to go with meal being prepared for Erev Shabat. For instance: Minced garlic, Onion, Cheeses, Cinnamon and Raisins, etc.