From shabbat dinners to Jewish holidays to incredible French toast, challah is more than just a bread. Rich with history, recipes for this delectable dough have been passed down through the centuries and around the world. In its most recognizable modern form, challah is made from an eggy yeast dough that is braided then baked. Here's how to make it at home.
If you can mix together flour and water, then you can make challah. The process itself is fairly simple, but as with other yeast-based recipes it takes some attention to timing so the dough has a chance to rise properly.
First, mix together warm water, sugar and yeast and let it rest for 10 minutes. This allows the yeast to activate; if it doesn't look bubbly after 10 minutes, then it's time to get new yeast.
Next, mix in flour, eggs, oil, boiling water, sugar and salt. You can knead the dough by hand or with the bread hook attachment of a stand mixer. Then its time for its first rise. The exact time will vary on the heat and humidity in your house, but it should take about 30 minutes for it to double in size.
From there, it's time to shape your challah. There are so many ways you can do this. You can braid it — more on that below — or you can roll pieces into balls for challah rolls. You can roll it into one long strand that you swirl into itself so it forms something like a turban shape. It can be shaped like a loaf or, as is traditional on Rosh Hashanah, it can be formed into a circle to represent the cyclical nature of the calendar.
Once you've shaped your challah, let it rise one last time, brush it with egg wash and then bake it.
If you know how to braid hair, then you can braid challah. Although you can get really fancy and work with up to eight strands, if you're starting out it's best to start with just three. Scroll down for a video on a two-strand method as well.
First, cut your dough into three equal pieces. Use your hands to roll each into three strands of the same length.
Pinch the three strands together at the top. Grasp the rightmost strand and pass it over the center strand so that it falls to the left of that strand. Then take the far left strand and pass it over the center strand so that it falls to the right. Repeat these 2 steps until you come to the ends of the strands. Press the ends together.
Let the dough rise one last time, then brush it with beaten egg yolk before baking.
This recipe is by Beth Ebin.
Step 1: In a large mixing bowl, dissolve 1 teaspoon sugar in 1/2 cup warm water. Sprinkle 1/4 ounce yeast on top and let stand for 10 minutes. Stir to dissolve.
Step 2: Add half of the flour (about 3 1/2 cups), 3 eggs, 1/2 cup oil, 1/2 cup boiling water, 1/4 cup sugar and 2 teaspoons salt. Mix well. Stir in remaining flour. Dough should be sticky. Cover dough and let rest for 10 minutes. Turn out onto a floured board and knead for 10 minutes, adding more flour as needed.
Step 3: Place dough in a lightly oiled bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Set aside in a warm place until dough doubles in size, approximately 30 minutes.
Step 4: Punch dough down, then divide it into 2 equal parts. Take one of the halves and divide that into 3 equal parts. Shape each part into a strand and press the strands together at one end. Place on a lightly greased baking sheet.
Step 5: Braid the strands together: Grasp the rightmost strand and pass it over the center strand so that it falls to the left of that strand. Then take the far left strand and pass it over the center strand so that it falls to the right. Repeat these 2 steps until you come to the ends of the strands. Press the ends together. Repeat with the other half of the dough.
Step 6: Set braided dough aside in a warm place until it doubles in size, approximately 30 minutes.
Step 7: Meanwhile, preheat oven to 350°F.
Step 8: Brush dough with beaten egg yolk and sprinkle with sesame seeds. Bake for 45 minutes, or until golden brown. Remove from the oven and allow to cool slightly before serving.