Having recently rediscovered the joys of challah, I’ve decided that one of my missions for the next year is to find my favorite challah recipe. I’ve only tasted a few so far, so I’m not sure what my ideal is yet. There’s really only one way to find out, especially since there isn’t a single Jewish bakery in our vicinity. Time to get baking!
For my first attempt, I picked a recipe out of my America’s Test Kitchen cookbook, partly because it made just one loaf – a much more manageable amount than some, especially considering that challah does not keep. Another time I’ll try Jon’s aunt’s recipe, but I’ll need to either scale it down or be prepared to feed an army. It makes a lot.
We’ve made this recipe twice so far – or rather, we’ve each made it once, for two separate potlucks. When I made it, I did a simple three-strand braid. When Jon made it, he followed the suggestion for an extra smaller braid on top, which gave the loaf more height and complexity. He added poppyseeds; I didn’t. Both loaves were very good, eggy and sweet and excellent spread with soft butter.
So now I’m keen to try some different recipes. Milk or no milk? Butter? Raisins? What’s your favorite challah?
As a side note, I’d heard that challah makes excellent French toast. There wasn’t enough of the first loaf left for us to try, but with this latest one we had plenty left over for a breakfast. Jon made a batter of eggs, milk and flour with sugar and cinnamon, soaked the bread in it and fried it in butter. We ate it with maple syrup and sausages. The challah was so dense that it didn’t soak up the batter as quickly as we expected, but it was pretty darn tasty.
adapted from The America’s Test Kitchen Family Cookbook
- 1/2 cup warm water
- 2 1/4 tsp active dry yeast
- 4 Tbsp butter, melted and cooled
- 2 whole eggs
- 1 egg, separated
- 3 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
- 1/4 cup sugar
- 1 1/4 tsp salt
- 1 tsp poppy seeds (optional)
Dissolve the yeast in the warm water in a large mixing bowl and let it proof for five minutes or so – it should bubble up a little. Add the butter, two eggs and one egg yolk, sugar, salt and 3 cups of the flour. Stir until the dough comes together, then turn out onto a board. Knead until the dough is soft and resilient, adding the remaining flour as necessary. Wash and oil the bowl, put the dough back in, and cover with plastic wrap. Set in a warm place to rise for 1-1 1/2 hours.
Punch down the dough. To make a simple braid, separate it into three equal pieces, roll them out into long strands, and braid them together, tucking in the ends. For a fancier loaf, save out a smaller portion before making the main braid, then divide the reserved piece into three sections and make a second, smaller braid to lay on top. Set the finished loaf on a baking sheet, cover with oiled plastic wrap, and let rise 30-60 minutes.
Whisk the reserved egg white with 1 Tbsp of water. Brush the egg wash on the loaf (optional – I don’t like egg washes, myself) and sprinkle on poppyseeds if you like. Bake at 375 for 30-40 minutes, until deep gold.
Let the loaf cool on a rack for an hour or two before eating. Use up within a day or two – challah goes stale very quickly.