Challah

ChallahI learned to cook at a very early age, always attempting to emulate my mom and dad in the kitchen.  My parents love to entertain, and I remember endless dinner parties growing up, always filled with loud laughter, fragrant food and lots and lots of wine.  Even when we were young, my parents would often include my sister Sam and me at the table when they hosted dinner parties, and I think we channel our parents’ passion for entertaining as adults. 

Challah Ingredients

Sam and I were encouraged to cook when we were young, and every December, my dad and I would spend countless hours in the kitchen baking cookies. When I was just 11 years old, my parents gave me “Baking with Julia,” as a Christmas present, and I attribute so much of my passion for baking to the time spent with my dad and the inspiration I’ve gotten from that book. I used to love watching Julia Childs on TV, and I would jokingly mimic her distinct and familiar voice. She always made it look so easy, and even though I was 4 feet nothing and could barely reach the counter tops, I began flagging every recipe I wanted to try from my new prized possession.

Challah

Challah

The first recipe I attempted to make from “Baking with Julia”, was Challah bread. I’m pretty sure at that age I wasn’t even sure what Challah was, but I stared dreamily at the beautifully braided, golden brown laof pictured in the book and I knew I wanted to make it.  I sort of knew how to braid hair, why couldn’t I braid bread? Even though I have memories of doing this all on my own, I’m sure I had to have some help from the parents.  Though not all attempts at recipes from the cookbook were a success (have you ever tried baking french bread? It’s near impossible), the Challah turned out absolutely perfectly.

Challah

Challah

Challah

As we buttered our toast the next morning, my mom told me to put a note in the book to remind myself of tips in the future – a little trick her mom used to do. Now, every year I open up to the crinkled 91st page and am reminded immediately of one of the best memories of my childhood: making Challah for the first time and knowing that I was immediately hooked on baking.

Challah

Challah

IMG_4116

I’ve been baking Challah for almost 2 decades, and it’s always turned out wonderfully.  Many times, I cut the dough into quarters, rather than halves, and bake up 4 smaller loaves to give away as gifts.  It makes amazing toast, smothered in butter and homemade jam, and is the perfect bread for making french toast or bread pudding. Challah is a wonderful recipe to add to your holiday tradition.

Challah

Challah

Challah

  • Servings: 2 large loaves
  • Difficulty: medium
  • Print

Note: Make sure you read this recipe all the way through before you plan to bake Challah.  This bread requires 3 rises, and can take upwards of 4 hours to make.  While the recipe is not difficult, it is time consuming, so make sure you allow yourself enough time.   One of my favorite things about this recipe, is it’s perfect to make on a cold, dreary winter day.  It’s the perfect excuse to stay in your pjs and not leave the house all day.

Adapted from Baking with Julia

INGREDIENTS

For the dough

  • 1 1/2 tablespoons active dry yeast
  • 1/2 cup tepid water (80-90° F)
  • 1/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, cut into pieces
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 4 large eggs
  • ~6 cups all-purpose flour (plus more for kneading)

For the glaze

  • 1 egg
  • 1 tablespoon heavy cream or milk
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 tablespoon sesame seeds or poppy (I personally prefer sesame)

RECIPE

  1. Brush a large mixing bowl with some melted butter, and set aside.
  2. Whisk the yeast and a pinch of sugar into the warm water.  Let the mixture rest until creamy, about 5 minutes.
  3. Add the butter and milk to a medium saucepan, and cook over medium-low heat until the butter is melted.  Add the remaining sugar, honey and salt, and stir until evenly mixed and sugar is dissolved.  Pour into a large mixing bowl and allow to cool to below 110° F.
  4. Once the mixture has cooled, add the creamy yeast and eggs, and stir with a wooden spoon.
  5. Add the flour, 1/2 cup at a time, stirring vigorously with each addition. Stop adding flour when the dough has cleaned the sides of the bowl and it is difficult to stir.
  6. Turn the dough out onto a floured surface, and knead until it is smooth and elastic, ~10 minutes. (This can also be done in a heavy-duty, stand up mixer with a dough hook attachment).
  7. Form the dough into a ball, and place in the buttered mixing bowl.  Brush the top and sides of the dough with melted butter, and cover with buttered plastic wrap and a kitchen town.  Let rise at room temperature until it has doubled in volume (about an hour to an hour and a half).
  8. Once the dough has doubled in size, punch the dough down to deflate it, and let it rise again until doubled (about 45 minutes to an hour).
  9. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.  Deflate the dough, and turn it onto a floured surface.  Cut the dough in half, and cover one piece while you work with the other. Divide the first piece of dough into 3 equal pieces.  Roll each piece into a rope about 16 inches long, and slightly tapered at each end.  Lay them parallel to each other, and begin braiding from the middle, laying one piece over the other in a braid, until you reach the end.  Mold the ends of each piece together, and fold them underneath the loaf. Turn the loaf around and repeat with the other half.  Repeat with the second half of the dough, and once both loaves are braided, place each loaf on the baking sheets.
  10. Cover each loaf with a damp towel, and let rise at room temperature for about 45 minutes, or until nearly doubled.
  11. Preheat the oven to 375° F.  For the glaze, beat the egg and cream or milk together in a small bowl.  Brush the tops of each loaf with the egg wash, and sprinkle with kosher salt and generously with sesame seeds.
  12. Bake for 20 minutes, then remove from the oven and brush the exposed bread on top with the remaining egg wash. Bake for another 15 or 20 minutes, until the bread is golden brown, and sounds hollow when thumped on the bottom with your knuckles.  If the top begins to turn brown too quickly, cover with aluminum foil (I almost always have to do this about 30-35 minutes into baking).
  13. Challah will keep for 3 days, wrapped tightly with plastic wrap.  If you have some left over, it makes wonderful french toast or bread pudding, especially when it’s a little stale.

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3 thoughts on “Challah

  1. I wonder if you could help me… My mother use to make Challah when I was a child and she had lost the recipe. I think yous is close to hers except hers had Brandy in it. She got the recipe from an old cookbook at a synagogue. Ya…good luck finding that one again. But my question is can you substitute any of the ingredients to add the Brandy. If so, which one and how much. I am hoping you can help. If not, thank you for reading and I plan on trying your recipe out. It will be my first time making bread…ever. (Little scared) 🙂

    • Hi Priscilla, Brandy in Challah sounds delicious! I searched through a few recipes online and it looks like you can probably substitute 1-2 tablespoons of the milk for the Brandy. Try adding the Brandy to the milk and butter mixture when you add the honey and sugar. I hope it turns out delicious! Challah is one of my all time favorite things to bake during the holidays. Thank you for stopping by! -Cassie

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