Challah

This sweet challah recipe was created because when I was growing up, we would always take trips to Michigan to visit my Grandma Mala and Papa Henry, and my aunts, uncles, great-aunts, great-uncles, and cousins for the High Holidays and Pesach. While most of my Jewish recipes come from my Grandma’s kitchen, or her mom’s, this recipe was an attempt to recreate Dakota Bread‘s challah, which was (and still is) Grandma’s challah of choice. Dakota Bread is a small bakery in West Bloomfield, Michigan. Dakota Bread was recently purchased by The Friendship Circle and while they have kept their famous challah recipe, they are now operating the bakery as a training program to help adults with special needs find career opportunities. It’s beautiful to hear about this incredible development, and I know that the extra love that will be put into each challah will make them even that much sweeter.

The challah itself is truly something to behold. It’s sweet, but not so sweet that you can’t use it for a savory sandwich or toast. It’s fluffy and light, even after it’s been in the freezer for months (my dear Auntie Gayle showed me this- she loves Dakota Bread challah so much that it must be available at all times). Simply put, they make the perfect challah.

My challah recipe, while perhaps not exactly like Dakota Bread’s, is a passable alternative for somebody who lives 600 miles away. Since it does make a lot of challah dough (3 large challahs’ worth), I like to plan out a few different types of challah to make at the same time. I should mention that this recipe makes incredible babka dough if you choose to go the extra step of filling it with a chocolate or cinnamon sugar spread. My personal all-time favorite challah preparation is cheddar scallion, but the possibilities really are endless, both with savory and sweet ingredients.

The challah can be served fresh, or will keep at room temperature for up to 2 weeks if well wrapped. If you plan on making challah in bulk and then freezing it, I suggest that you slice the challah into chunks, NOT slices, about 3-4″ wide. This allows you to thaw and slice enough challah for a good 3-4 sandwiches. Freezing chunks as opposed to slices allows you to easily pry apart the chunks without damaging the bread, and also to only thaw as much as you’ll likely eat at a time, or within a 2 week period.

All of the products that I used to create this recipe can be purchased using the links below:

Disclaimer: I receive a commission for the purchase of any product using the links

First, take a small bowl, add the sugar and yeast, and give it a little stir. Pour the lukewarm water over the yeast, and let it sit for 10 minutes, or until the yeast “blooms.”

In a large mixing bowl, combine the bloomed yeast mixture, honey, salt, egg, and 1¼ cup of water. Mix it all up with a mixing spoon until it’s combined. Some of the oil will be separated on the top, but that’s okay.

Add a cup of flour and stir vigorously until combined. Do this again two more times. Once it’s all combined, remove the mixing spoon and add the rest of the flour. With your hands, get as much of the dough off of the mixing spoon as possible, and begin combining everything in the bowl until the dough has incorporated all of the flour.

Drop the dough onto your worktop and knead the dough for about 5 minutes, adding flour if it’s sticking to your hands and not coming off. It’s okay if it’s a slightly sticky, but you want to be able to knead it properly without it remaining on your hands. Form the dough into a neat ball.

With 2 tsp oil, grease a large bowl and place the dough ball in. Cover with a kitchen towel. Put the boiling water into a medium bowl and put on the floor of your oven, turned off. Place the covered bowl with the dough in it onto a rack in the oven and leave for 2 hours to proof. After proofing, it should double in size.

Remove the dough from the oven (as well as the bowl of water). Poke or pound down into the dough all over so it deflates a bit. Take it out of the bowl and put it onto your worktop. Using a bench scraper or knife (or just by tearing it), divide the dough into 3 equal balls. Take one ball and place it in front of you and set aside the other two, covering them with a kitchen towel.

Divide the dough again into 3 equal chunks (or more if you’re using more strands to braid with). I like to use a kitchen scale to ensure that the strands are EXACTLY equal, but this is optional. Roll your dough chunks into a long “snakes” until they’re about an inch in diameter.

(Please ignore the shredded cheese on the worktop, these particular challah strands were stuffed with cheese.)

Arrange the dough “snakes” next to one another and pinch them together at the top. I like to push down and kind of smear them a little bit into the worktop so that they stay put while I braid. Proceed to braid your challah, pinching again at the bottom and then tucking the end underneath the challah.

Flip your challah around so the top is now the bottom and tease the strands away from one another and braid them as well, pinching them at the end and tucking the end under the challah like before. You can now get creative if you’d like and reshape it into a wreath, heart, knot, or keep it straight. You can also take some dough off the ends before pinching and model it into little shapes to put onto the challah, like the bow shown below.

The second picture features a 5-stranded challah. There are many different braiding techniques to play with. Tori Avey provides a great tutorial for 6 different styles here.

Cover your braided challah with a kitchen towel and set aside for 30 minutes to rise. While the first challah is rising, preheat the oven to 350°F.

Once your challah has rested, place it onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper (or an oiled bread tin) and brush the top of it with egg yolk. Finally sprinkle with sesame seeds to give a nutty, distinctly Jewish flavor. Of course, the sesame seeds are optional, and can be replaced with just about any topping. Some examples that come to mind include everything bagel seasoning, za’atar, Maldon salt, streusel, sprinkles… the sky’s the limit!

Bake at 350°F for about 15 minutes and then remove from the oven and egg yolk wash where the challah expanded and therefore doesn’t have any egg wash on it. Return the challah to the oven for 20-25 minutes, or until golden. Repeat with the other two challahs.

Remove from the oven and make sure that the challah is cooked through. You’ll know it is when you gently try to tease braids apart (on the end or somewhere else inconspicuous)- there should be no evidence of doughiness, and the braids want to stay intact, almost like there are strands of gluten holding them together. Another way to test if you’re not as confident with the braid tug test, is to lift the challah and gently knock on the bottom of it. If it sounds hollow, you’re good to go! Remove the challah from the tray and serve warm if you plan on tearing it apart. If you plan on slicing your challah, place it on a challah plate, serving plate, or cooling rack until cool before slicing.

Challah Bread

Becca Gallick-Mitchell
This incredibly sweet, fluffy challah is so delicious, that you'll find yourself eating it plain! While it's particularly suited for Rosh Hashanah, it's also my go-to for Shabbat, and every other Yom Tov (or Jewish Holiday), for that matter.
Prep Time 45 mins
Cook Time 1 hr 45 mins
Resting time 2 hrs 40 mins
Total Time 5 hrs 10 mins
Cuisine Jewish
Servings 3 large challahs

Ingredients
  

  • 1 Tbsp cane sugar
  • 1/2 cup water, lukewarm
  • tsp (or 1 package) active dry yeast
  • cup water
  • 1 scant cup honey
  • 1 large egg
  • Tbsp kosher salt
  • 2⅔ lbs bread flour (all-purpose flour will also work), plus more for your worktop
  • ¾ cup avocado oil (or other vegetable oil)
  • 2 tsp avocado oil (or other vegetable oil), for proofing
  • 2 cups boiling water
  • 2 egg yolks, for brushing

Instructions
 

  • In a small bowl, add the sugar and yeast, and give a little stir. Pour the lukewarm water over the yeast, and let sit for 10 minutes, or until the yeast blooms.
  • In a large mixing bowl, combine the bloomed yeast mixture, honey, salt, egg, and 1¼ cup water. Mix it up with a mixing spoon until it's combined.
  • Add a cup of flour and stir vigorously until combined. Do this again two more times.
  • Remove the mixing spoon and add the rest of the flour. With your hands, get as much of the dough off of the mixing spoon as possible, and begin combining everything in the bowl until the dough has incorporated all of the flour.
  • Drop the dough onto your worktop and knead the dough for about 5 minutes, adding flour if it's sticking to your hands and not coming off. It's okay if it's a slightly sticky, but you want to be able to knead it properly without it remaining on your hands. Form the dough into a neat ball.
  • With 2 tsp oil, grease a large bowl and place the dough ball in. Cover with a kitchen towel. Put the boiling water into a medium bowl and put on the floor of your oven, turned off. Place the covered bowl with the dough in it onto a rack in the oven and leave for 2 hours to proof.
  • Remove the dough from the oven (as well as the bowl of water). It should have doubled in size. Poke or pound down into the dough all over so it deflates a bit. Take it out of the bowl and put it onto your worktop. Using a bench scraper or knife (or just by tearing it), divide the dough into 3 equal balls. Take one ball and place it in front of you and set aside the other two, covering them with a kitchen towel.
  • Divide the dough again into 3 equal chunks (or more if you're using more strands to braid with). I like to use a kitchen scale to ensure they're EXACTLY equal, but this is optional. Roll your dough chunks into a long "snakes" until they're about an inch in diameter.
  • Arrange the dough "snakes" next to one another and pinch them together at the top. I like to push down and kind of smear them a little bit into the worktop so that they stay put while I braid. Proceed to braid your challah, pinching again at the bottom and then tucking the end underneath the challah.
  • Flip your challah around so the top is now the bottom and tease the strands away from one another and braid them as well, pinching them at the end and tucking the end under the challah like before. Cover your braided challah with a kitchen towel and set aside for 30 minutes to rise. While the first challah is rising, preheat the oven to 350°F.
  • Repeat the braiding process with the other two balls of challah dough, making sure to cover them and let them each rest after braiding.
  • Once your challah has rested, place it onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper (or an oiled bread tin) and brush the top of it with egg yolk. Finally sprinkle with sesame seeds to give a nutty, distinctly Jewish flavor. Of course, the sesame seeds are optional, and can be replaced with just about any topping. Some examples that come to mind include everything bagel seasoning, za'atar, Maldon salt, streusel, sprinkles… the sky's the limit!
  • Bake at 350°F for about 15 minutes and then remove from the oven and egg yolk wash where the challah expanded and therefore doesn't have any egg wash on it. Return the challah to the oven for 20-25 minutes, or until golden.
  • Remove from the oven and make sure that the challah is cooked through. You'll know it is when you gently try to tease braids apart (on the end or somewhere else inconspicuous)- there should be no evidence of doughiness, and the braids want to stay intact, almost like there are strands of gluten holding them together. Remove the challah from the tray and eat warm or place on a challah plate, serving plate, or cooling rack until cool. Slicing will be easier once the challah is cooled.
Keyword Bread, Challah, Challah Bread, Dakota Bread, Jewish, Rainbow Challah, Shabbat, Shabbos, Yom Tov

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