Challah: pronounced ‘HA- la’, noooooot ‘CHa-la’. Yeah, I called it ‘CHa-la’ for almost a year before I saw a tee-shirt that said: Challah-back girl. (like the Gwen Stefani song ‘Hollaback girl’?) Yeah, that was when I realized I’d been saying it totally wrong and felt like a fool! I’ll save you from feeling dumb. (Note from the editor: Jennie grew up in Utah with pretty much zero exposure to Jewish culture.)
Anyway, back to the bread. I found this recipe in my Baking with Julia cookbook that I just love to death. I make this bread just about every week! It’s my go-to bread recipe and is our family’s favorite. The recipe has a lot of instructions, but it’s really not hard to do. It’s perfect bread for dipping into homemade soup, it makes great (small sized) sandwiches, toasts up like a dream, and makes excellent French Toast. It’s also wonderful for my favorite breakfast strata or for bread pudding.
It does take 4 hours from start to finish, so please plan accordingly! (P.S. Very little of that is actual work time. Don’t be scared! lol!)
Heat the milk over medium heat and add the butter. When it’s all incorporated remove it from the heat and let it cool down to 110 degrees.
Meanwhile, dissolve the yeast and a pinch of sugar into the warm water.
Into your mixer’s bowl add the sugar, salt, honey and eggs. Stir to combine.
When the milk is cool enough add it to the egg mixture. Also add the yeast mixture. Mix to combine.
Add about 5 cups of flour and mix it together. Slowly add the rest of the flour, about 1/2 cup at a time until you have a nice dough that pulls away from the sides of the bowl and isn’t sticky to the touch.
Swirl a little olive oil into a large bowl, place the dough into the bowl and turn to coat in the oil. Cover with saran wrap and park in a warm spot for an hour to an hour and a half.
Nice, fluffy, risen dough.
Now, please don’t punch that poor dough down! Use your fingers to gently deflate the dough.
Fold it up back into a ball, turn it over and replace it in the bowl to rise for another 45 minute to an hour.
Nice risen dough.
Place the dough on your clean counter top and use your fingers to deflate it again and form into a circle.
Use a bench scrape or a sharp knife to cut the circle into 6 equal pieces.
Roll three of the pieces into ropes and lay them side by side.
Starting at the middle, braid the ropes together.
Turn the other way and braid the other end. (you’ll be braiding ‘backwards’ so you don’t get a weird misshapen lump in the center of the braid)
Pinch the ends together.
Fold the ends under and use your fingertips to gently pinch the ends to the underside of the braid.
Repeat with the remaining pieces and place the braids on a baking sheet. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise another 40 minutes.
Preheat the oven. Brush the loaves with glaze and let rest 5 minutes. Brush them down again and sprinkle with kosher salt and seeds. (We prefer ours with just the salt.)
Bake for 20 minutes. Remove pans and brush the newly exposed parts of the bread with glaze. Rotate the pans as you put them back in and bake for another 20 minutes.
Challah, makes 2 braided loaves
Adapted from Baking With Julia
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 1/2 tablespoons active dry yeast
1/2 cup tepid water
1/3 cup sugar
1 stick unsalted butter, at room temp
1 cup whole milk
1 tablespoon honey
2 1/2 teaspoons salt
4 large eggs
6 1/2 cups high-gluten flour, bread flour (that's what I used), or all-purpose flour
Brush a large mixing bowl with the olive oil; set aside.
Place the butter into a small saucepan with the milk; heat until the milk is very warm to the touch and the butter has melted. If necessary, let the mixture cool so that it is no warmer than 110F.
Whisk the yeast into the water. Add a pinch of the sugar and let rest until the yeast has dissolved and is creamy, about 5 minutes.
In your mixer’s bowl add the remaining sugar, the honey, salt, and eggs stirring with a wooden spoon to dissolve the sugar and salt. Add the milk mixture.
Add the creamy yeast to the milk mixture and stir to combine. Add about 5 cups of the flour, and beat on low speed for 3 minutes, or until the dough starts to come together.
Beating on medium-low, add as much additional flour as needed, 1/2 cup at a time, to make a soft dough that will clean the sides of the bowl. Knead on medium-low for 8-10 minutes, until smooth, soft, and elastic.
Form the dough into a ball and transfer it to the oiled mixing bowl.
Turn the dough to coat in the oil, cover the bowl with plastic wrap, and top with a kitchen towel.
Let the dough rise at room temperature for 1 to 1 1/2 hours, or until doubled in volume.
When the dough is fully risen, deflate it, cover as before, and let it rise until it doubles in bulk again, 45 minutes to 1 hour.
Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.
Deflate the dough and turn it out onto a lightly floured work surface.
Pat the dough into a large circle and use a bench scrape to cut it into 6 equal pieces.
Roll each piece into a rope about 16 inches long; it should be thick in the center and tapered at the ends.
Align the ropes vertically, side by side, and start braiding from the center down.
When you've reached the end, turn the loaf around so that the braided half is on top; braid the lower half.
Pinch the ends to seal and tuck the ends under the loaf.
Transfer the loaf to a prepared baking sheet and gently plump it to get it back into shape; cover with a towel.
Braid the second loaf, put it on a baking sheet, and cover.
Let the loaves rise at room temperature for 40 minutes, or until soft, puffy, and almost doubled.
The glaze and topping
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
1 tablespoon cold water or heavy cream
Sesame, poppy, and/or caraway seeds (optional)
Position the racks to divide the oven into thirds and preheat to 350F.
Whisk the egg, yolk, and water together in a small bowl until broken up, then push the glaze through a sieve.
Brush the tops and sides of the challahs with glaze; let the glaze set for 5 minutes, and brush again.
Reserve the leftover glaze fro brushing the loaves during baking.
If you're topping the loaves, dust them with the seeds; sprinkle coarse salt over the loaves, topped or not.
Bake for 20 minutes. The loaves will expand and expose some of the inner dough.
Brush the newly exposed dough with the reserved glaze and bake 15 to 20 minutes longer, or until the loaves are golden and sound hollow when thumped on the bottom.
If they start to brown too quickly, cover them with a piece of foil, shiny side up. Let cool before slicing.
Once cut, challah should be kept in a plastic bag; it will keep for 2 days (assuming your hubby doesn't scarf it all in the middle of the night!!!) and then make excellent French toast. (Yes it does, mmmmmm) For longer storage, wrap the breads airtight and freeze for up to 1 month. Thaw, still wrapped, at room temperature.