My first Challah

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This is probably the best thing that has come out of my kitchen. There is something special about cooking a dish that takes six hours from start to finish to make it even more delicious. I would compare it to pizza dough and apple pie, both favorites that we were really proud of making from scratch.

You knead with your hands and braid it, and it only has a few ingredients. This challah is simple and rustic and tradition. It was time I learned how to do it.

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I have been wanting to make a challah from scratch for a few months, but it’s pretty daunting! We can be very particular about our challahs. At any Shabbat dinner or Jewish occasion, the challah is the center of attention. Homemade ones always taste so much better than one from a grocery store, and nothing beats hot, homemade bread. Nothing.

Challahs can’t be too dry or eggy, must be doughy and flaky and soft and delicious. I’m not a frequent bread baker, so I don’t know how to get those qualities. I compared a few recipes, cleared a few hours of time, and got to work!

This was gooood. Here are the step-by-step instructions so you too can make your first challah!

Classic Challah

Ingredients: 

Quick Starter
1 cup All-Purpose Flour
1 cup water
2 tsps instant yeast (1 packet)

Dough
All of the starter
3 1/2 cups All-Purpose Flour
1 3/4 tsps salt
1/3 cup sugar
1/4 cup vegetable oil
2 large eggs + 1 yolk (save 1 egg white for the wash, below)

Wash
1 egg white
1 tsp sugar
1 Tbsp water
poppy seeds (optional)

Instructions (see bottom of post for printable recipe):

  • To make the starter, mix the 1 cup flour, 1 cup water and yeast together in a large bowl. Let the mixture sit for 45 minutes. Mixture will grow and bubbles will form.

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  • Add the dough ingredients to the starter and mix and knead together until a smooth ball is formed. (I used a stand mixer and dough hook the second time I made this)

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This picture below is the starter after rising. Below that is the starter + dough combined to a ball.

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  • Place the kneaded dough in a greased bowl, turning it over once to coat both sides. Cover it and let it rise for 1 1/2 hours, should double in size.

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  • Picture: Doubled in size and ready to be kneaded. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and fold it over once or twice to break down the bubbles.  Do not punch!

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  • Divide the dough into four even pieces and roll each into a strand about 18 inches long.

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  • On a lightly greased or parchment-lined sheet pan, braid the strands. (I had not done a 4-strand brand before, but it wasn’t complicated. Just take the fourth strand and place under the third and continue the process as usual. For a good demo of the 4-strand braid, see this tutorial with licorice.)

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  • Once your braid is done, make the wash by mixing together the reserved egg white, sugar, and water.  Brush the loaf with half the wash.
  • Cover the loaf with lightly greased plastic wrap and allow it to rise again for 45 minutes to 1 hour, or until it’s almost doubled in size.
  • Brush the loaf with the remaining egg wash, and sprinkle with poppy seeds if desired.

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  • Bake in a preheated 375°F oven for 35 to 40 minutes, or until lightly browned. My oven cooked it in about 32 minutes, but it usually cooks fast. The second time I made this, I did two loaves in one oven, and it cooked in under 30 minutes. Just be sure to watch it.
  • Remove it from the oven, and cool completely before slicing (if you can wait).

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I started this process at 7:30 a.m. and it was out of the oven by 12:40 p.m. Although it sounds time consuming, most of the time was down time for rising or baking, and the active hand work was not that much. I even left the house for the gym in the middle. You don’t need to be chained to your kitchen. It also used few ingredients and not too many bowls or dishes, making clean up easy.

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We quickly froze half our loaf so we wouldn’t consume a whole loaf between two people in a weekend. It was doughy, flaky and truly delicious. And so pretty! I hope you try it out! Sure to be a crowd pleaser!

My first Challah
Recipe type: Bread
Serves: 15 slices
 

Ingredients
  • Classic Challah
  • Ingredients:
  • Quick Starter
  • 1 cup King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
  • 1 cup water
  • 2 tsps instant yeast
  • Dough
  • All of the starter
  • 3½ cups King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
  • 1¾ tsps salt
  • ⅓ cup sugar
  • ¼ cup vegetable oil
  • 2 large eggs + 1 yolk (save 1 egg white for the wash, below)
  • Wash
  • 1 egg white
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 1 Tbsp water
  • poppy seeds (optional)

Instructions
  1. To make the starter, mix the 1 cup flour, 1 cup water and yeast together in a large bowl. Let the mixture sit for about 45 minutes.
  2. Add the dough ingredients to the starter and mix and knead together until a smooth ball is formed. I used a stand mixer and dough hook for this step. Mix until it is one giant ball with no crumbles. The eggs and oil make for soft, lovely dough.
  3. Place the kneaded dough in a greased bowl, turning it over once to coat both sides. Cover it and let it rise for 1½ hours, or until doubled in size.
  4. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and fold it over once or twice to break down the bubbles. Do not punch!
  5. Divide the dough into four even pieces and roll each into a strand about 18 inches long.
  6. On a lightly greased or parchment-lined sheet pan, braid the strands.
  7. Once your braid is done, make the wash by mixing together the reserved egg white, sugar, and water. Brush the loaf with half the wash.
  8. Cover the loaf with lightly greased plastic wrap and allow it to rise again for 45 minutes to 1 hour, or until it’s almost doubled in size.
  9. Brush the loaf with the remaining egg wash, and sprinkle with poppy seeds if desired.
  10. Bake in a preheated 375°F oven for 35 to 40 minutes, or until lightly browned. Your kitchen is going to smell divine.
  11. Remove it from the oven, and cool completely before slicing.

 

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Comments

  1. Looks beautiful and delicious, Marci!! My mom has also put canned pumpkin in her challah for years….a nice healthy way to get some softness/moisture in there and allows her to leave out a little oil/egg.

  2. Good for you, Marci! That’s a big undertaking, but it looks amazing!

  3. Marci, your Challah looks scrumptious! What an accomplishment! I’m sure it will be the first of many.

    My friend Linda introduced me to Challah. She was an amazing cook. She also introduced me to Hamentashen and many other goodies. Sadly, I moved away and we lost touch. Your post brought back many fond memories.

    You are an amazing cook too!

  4. Wow – so pretty and I bet it was delicious!

Trackbacks

  1. [...] Monday: My First Challah [...]

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  3. [...] 50% too long for the loaf pan. First I thought I would leave it and bake it on a sheet pan like the challah, but then I decided to wad it back into a ball and re-roll it. However, I did not re-smear with [...]

  4. [...] Seems like a lot of hassle for something you buy at the store. But for the same reason you make challah or a homemade pie, we made [...]

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  6. [...] It’s been a while since I played in the kitchen, purely for fun. I wasn’t sure what to do, but after some fabulous suggestions on twitter, I decided to attempt Marci’s challah bread. [...]

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