When you make home-made challah for Shabbat or festivals, you gain a three-fold blessing in your own home: sanctifying the everyday with the special experience of challah-baking, bringing the aroma of this timeless Jewish ritual into your kitchen, and of course sharing a taste of the ‘world to come’ with our loved ones.
This is my favorite challah recipe, the one that I have been using for the better part of 40 years at home and for teaching the Jewish Study Center Challah Class in the past. This recipe yields 6 – 8 medium-sized challot, or 3 – 4 large challot for special occasions.
2 scant Tbs yeast (2 American packets)
1.5 C warm water
3 Tbs sugar
4 eggs + egg to separate for egg wash
1/2 c oil + 2 tsp oil for bowl & trays
1/4 c honey
2 tsp salt
6 – 7 c bread flour + extra for kneading and braiding challah
poppy, sesame seeds
Large bowl for mixing, rising
Wooden spoon for mixing
Custard cup or small bowl for checking eggs
Measuring spoons, cups
Baking tray for challahs
Sunflower seeds or pine nuts for baking trays
Napkin/foil for taking challah
Saran wrap or kitchen towel to cover the rising bread
- Mix together yeast, warm water and 1 Tb of sugar into a large bowl and wait until the yeast becomes activated.
- Stir in remaining sugar.
- Break eggs one at a time into your egg cup to be sure that each one does not have any spot of blood, before adding it into the bowl.
- Measure and add the oil and then the honey using the same Tbs or 1 cup measure – this makes it easier because then the honey does not stick to your measuring spoon or cup.
- Stir in salt.
- Add flour one cup at a time until the dough is sticky but pliable. (This may require some practice – don’t worry about the first few times!)
- When you can gather up the dough so that it makes a ball that can be removed cleanly
from the bowl, then turn it onto a floured counter or board for kneading.
- Knead the dough for 10 minutes until it is smoother and more pliable.
- Wash the bowl and add 1 tsp oil to coat the bowl.
- Return the bread dough to the bowl and cover with damp kitchen towel or saran wrap. Leave in a warm place to rise for 45 minutes or un6l doubled.
- Punch down the dough and allow to rise again until doubled.
- After the 2nd rising, punch down again and divide into 3 sections.
- Take the 1st section out of the bowl for shaping on the floured board or counter. Depending on the number of braids that you want in your challah, divide the 1st section into 3, 4 or 6 pieces to roll into strands for braiding. This takes some practice and you should not worry if your braided challot are not perfect. It is also traditional to roll the larger pieces into coils to make a snail shape, particularly at the time of the High Holidays.
- Aeer you make each braided challah, you will probably end up with a little piece of dough that did not fit into the braid. Pinch these off and aggregate them into a ping,pong ball sized piece of dough that is taken for the ritual challah and put into foil. (When you bake the challah you can put this in the bottom of the oven where it may burn. Some people also discard it in a paper napkin or kitchen towel.)
- Place each completed braid on a greased cookie sheet with or without pine,nuts, according to your taste. Spray each challah with water to keep them moist while they are rising.
- Separate the last egg and add 1 tsp water to the egg yolk; mix to make an egg wash. Using a pastry brush, sparingly coat the challot with the egg wash. Add the egg wash to each challah one at a 6me, sprinkling each with seeds before adding the egg wash to the next challah so that it does not dry out before you sprinkle the sesame seeds and/or poppy seeds.
- Allow the challot to double in size, this should take another 45 min., and con6nue to spray with water from 6me to 6me to keep them moist.
- Preheat oven to 350 and bake challot for 20 – 30 minutes. Times vary depending on how “hot” your oven runs, so check the challot at intervals to see if they are golden,brown.
Once you become accustomed to baking challah at home it is hard to ever go back to the store, bought variety! It may seem difficult at first so stick with it.
Like many other things, the only way to get better at it is to practice. Let me know how it goes!