Forever in search of the perfect challah, several months ago, I started #thechallahproject. Working my way through several recipes hoping to find a reliable and delicious recipe I could add to our Friday night family dinners. Little did I know that we’d find ourselves in the midst of a pandemic, quarantined in our homes, forced to start baking our own bread not just for fun but out of necessity. The past two Fridays I’ve gotten a number of texts from friends asking what my “go to” challah recipe is. I figured now is as good a time as any to share the results of my research.
Most challah recipes I found used at least 8 cups of flour and make two large loafs. That seemed like a lot of challah for my family to consume and freezing a loaf just doesn’t have them same effect. So I started searching for recipes that made one standard loaf. After trying several with mild success, I landed back on an old classic. Smitten Kitchen had posted a version of Joan Nathan’s My Favorite Challah published in the New York Times and I decided to give it another try. I have to say it won my heart and my whole family agrees. It’s really good. More importantly, it passes the all you want to do is rip out the insides test. It does make a lot of challah but we’ve started a new tradition of delivering the extra loaf to friends in the neighborhood. It means even more now to be able to share and spread love to our friends with a small gesture while we are all stuck at home in isolation due to the quarantine.
Baking challah from home is not hard it just requires a little advanced planning, making sure to leave enough time for the dough to rise several times throughout the day. The first step is starting with a good recipe, I urge you to give this one a try. I’m still working on mastering my braid but when all else fails, I tuck the ends together to make a round loaf. My kids have also gotten a kick out of making a loaf into a different animal every week. Turns out baking bread is also a really great way to relieve stress #coronavirusbaking.
The Perfect Challah
Credit: Adapted from Smitten Kitchen who adapted from Joan Nathan
- 3 and 3/4 tsps active dry yeast (about 1 1/2 packages)
- 1 tbs plus 1/2 cup granulated sugar
- 1 3/4 cups lukewarm water
- 1/2 cup olive or vegetable oil, plus more for greasing the bowl
- 5 large eggs (1 reserved for egg wash)
- 1 tbs table salt
- 8 to 8 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
- Poppy or sesame seeds (optional)
- A sprinkling of cinnamon and sugar for a sweeter version
1. In a large bowl, dissolve yeast and 1 tbs sugar in water; set aside for 5 minutes until it starts to foam.
2. Whisk oil into yeast, then beat in 4 eggs, one at a time, with remaining 1/2 cup sugar and salt. Gradually add flour. When dough holds together, it is ready for kneading. I use my mixer with a dough hook for both mixing and kneading, but you’ll need any extra large mixture as it makes a lot of dough!
3. 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. Punch down dough, cover and let rise again in a warm place for another half-hour.
4. 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.
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.