This recipe came to me from my friend Kari’s grandma. Challah (pronounced like “holla”) is a traditional Jewish bread made to eat on the Sabbath and on special holidays. After I attempted to make challah from a generic cookbook in my early bread-baking days, Kari set me on the right path with her family’s traditional loaf. I was hooked, and I think you will be too.
Makes 3 large loaves (freezes well)
2 ½ cups hot water
2 tsp salt
½ cup vegetable or olive oil
1/8 tsp saffron (optional, but it gives nice color and flavor)
½ cup sugar or honey
½ cup warm water
6 tsp instant yeast
5 eggs, beaten at room temp
10 cups bread flour
1 egg beaten with a little water for brushing loaves
- In a very large bowl, mix together 2 ½ cups hot water, salt, sugar, oil, and saffron. Let stand until cool to the touch.
- Dissolve yeast in ½ cup warm water and add a pinch of flour. Set aside for 5 minutes.
- When the water mixture is cooled, add yeast, eggs, and 5 cups flour, 1 cup at a time.
- Add the remaining flour gradually until the dough can be lifted out onto a floured surface. Knead for about 10 minutes, until the dough is smooth and elastic. It may be easier to divide the dough in half for kneading.
- Place the dough in a lightly oiled bowl and roll it around to cover with oil. Cover the bowl with a dishtowel, and place in a warm spot to rise until doubled, about 1 hour.
- Fold the dough on itself several times to punch down. Cover again and let rise until doubled, between 45 minutes and 1 hour.
- Tip the dough out onto a well-floured surface. Divide into 9 balls, 3 for each loaf (if you want smaller loaves, make smaller balls and increase the number by multiples of 3 for each loaf). Roll each ball into ropes of equal length (between 12 and 15 inches). Pinch the ends of 3 ropes together and braid the strands together, pinching the ends together again and transferring the braid to a greased cookie sheet. Repeat for the next two loaves. Cover and let rise until pillowy, between 30-45 minutes.
- Preheat oven to 350⁰. Brush the loaves with egg wash, getting all the way to the bottom and in the cracks. Bake loaves for 20-30 minutes, or until golden brown. Check the bottoms as the loaves get close to done so that it doesn’t get overly brown.
- *This recipe makes a lot of bread, but don’t let that scare you off. The loaves freeze well wrapped in foil, make wonderful French toast, and few people will turn down a gift of homemade bread!