This recipe yields 2 small- medium sized loaves- a very manageable amount of dough to work with for rookie bakers or just perfect if you have a small crowd for Shabbat dinner.
For the dough:
480 grams or 4 cups of bread flour. You will start with just 240 g (2 cups) and then add in the rest later in the process. You may not use all of the flour.
2 teaspoons kosher salt
2 teaspoons of dry active yeast (instant yeast is OK too)
4 Tablespoons of sugar (can sub honey but will likely need to adjust flour to accommodate a bit more liquid)
1 cup of water (approximately 110-115 degrees F)
2 Tablespoons good quality olive oil
1 full large egg plus 1 egg yolk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
For the egg wash:
2-3 egg yolks plus with ¼ teaspoon of water and a dash of salt. Using the whole egg is fine too. The yolk helps you achieve a deeper golden brown color.
Toppings and mix-ins:
Spices to sprinkle as topping right after you apply your last coat of egg wash- seeds, spices, rainbow sprinkles. If you are sprinkling herbs, you will want to coat them in a bit of olive oil so they don't burn during the baking process.
Spices to make into a paste to incorporate into the strands before braiding. You can make a paste of savory spices by mixing them with a small amount of olive oil to make a thick paste. To make a sweet filling or paste, you can mix the spices with honey or maple syrup. Just be sure when you are making the paste that you do not make them too liquidy. Keep it kind of thick so you can spread it like peanut butter.
- In a large mixing bowl, add 2 cups of bread flour (you will add the rest later). Make a deep well in the middle and add 1 cup of very warm (but not hot) water.
- Add 2 teaspoons of active dry yeast. This is the kind of yeast that you have to wait for it to bloom. You could also use instant yeast.
- Finally, add 4Tablespoons of sugar. Gently swirl the yeast and the sugar together in the well just so that the yeast and sugar are submerged and mingling. Wait 10 minutes. There is something oddly satisfying about watching yeast bloom. But let's face it, I geek out on baking.
- Once the yeast has bloomed, add the 2 Tablespoons of olive oil, 1 whole egg plus 1 yolk beaten, ¼ teaspoon vanilla and 2 teaspoons of salt to the center well.
- Mix, mix, mix using the paddle attachment on the lowest speed or with a large spoon if you are doing this by hand. Mix together until all the ingredients are combined. It will be like a cake batter consistency at this point. You will now add in small amounts of the remaining flour and incorporate it into the dough until the dough starts to pull away from the sides of the bowl. Once the dough pulls away from the sides of the bowl and you start to have a ball of dough, it is time to knead. Switch to the dough hook and start to knead the dough on the lowest speed. Or take the dough ball and start to knead it on a floured work surface.
- Start adding in the remaining flour 1 Tablespoon at a time until you get a good lookin’ ball of dough. DO NOT ADD TOO MUCH FLOUR or the dough will get dry- so hold yourself back. You will likely use most but not all of the remaining flour here. The beautiful thing about challah is that it is VERY forgiving.
- Knead the dough for about 5-6 minutes with the dough hook. If you are doing this by hand, knead for 8-10 minutes. Knead for however long until you get a smooth ball of dough that doesn’t look shaggy. Just get the dough to a place that when you touch it or pinch it with your fingers, it is a bit tacky but not so sticky that it gets stuck to your fingers. You can even give the dough a rest for a few minutes so the gluten has some time to work its magic on its own. As the gluten forms, the dough becomes less sticky.
- Pour the dough ball out onto a lightly floured work surface. Form into a ball by stretching and folding it into the middle as you turn it clockwise- 4 times total.
- Now you should have a nice, smooth ball of dough. Oil a large bowl covering the sides and bottom generously. Place the ball of dough in the bowl smooth side down and then flip it over to put the side with the folds down. Now all sides of the ball are covered in a very thin layer of oil. This will help keep the dough from drying out as it rises. Cover the bowl with a clean, moist dish towel and set aside. I moisten the center of the dish towel with hot water to bring a little warmth to the rising bowl of dough because my kitchen tends to be cold.
- Let the dough rise for about 45 minutes.
- Punch down the dough, flip it over and shape it back into a ball and then cover it again with the dish towel. Set it aside for another 30-45 minutes.
- Turn the dough out onto a very lightly floured board or counter. Divide the dough into the number of strands you want for your plaiting fun. For a medium loaf, I use 4 strands that are 150g each. Weigh the whole amount of dough and then just divide by the number of strands that you need. There are so many You Tube videos demonstrating how to braid with 2, 3, 4, 5+ strands. You can really get creative. Have fun!
- Braid according to your preferred design.
- Lay out your challah braids on a parchment paper lined baking sheet. Cover with that moist towel again and set aside the challah and let it rise- yes, again- for 30-45 minutes while your oven preheats to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C).
- This final proofing step is important. Check if you are ready to bake by poking your finger discreetly on the end of your challah or side of your challah. If the indentation bounces right back and fills in, then you need to wait another 5-10 minutes. If it fills in most but not all of the way- then you are ready to bake. Your loaf is over-proofed if the dough feels flimsy and airy and the indentation just stays sunken in. An over-proofed challah is still edible just not as tasty as the one that as Goldilocks would say was “just right”.
- Gently mix the egg yolks and water for the egg wash. Whisk in a pinch of salt to break up the egg a bit. Don’t beat them so that you have bubbles in your egg wash. It should be a smooth liquid. Brush the top of each challah with the egg mixture. Wait a few minutes and then add a 2nd coat of egg wash.
- When you are ready to bake, brush a final layer of egg wash and sprinkle some Ungapatchke Challah® spice blend or any seeded blend on your loaf. This is the bedazzling that wows your guests! Don't hold back!
- Bake for about 30 minutes depending on your oven performance. You can check for doneness with a thermometer which should register 190-200 degrees F/88 degrees C. Or you can tap the bottom of a loaf. If it sounds hollow and looks golden brown then you're done!
- Mazal tov, Superstar! You're a Balabuste! The Host with the Most! Stand back and admire your work. Accept your guests' accolades with pride and love. Hope your challah is even better than mine! Let me know how it goes, post your masterpiece to Instagram and tag @meetmykneads or email me a photo to Susie@meetmykneads.com. Bete’avon!
Check out our other challah recipes on the blog!