December 25, 2020
In the summer of 2016 I took a trip to Israel with 17 other women. One of them was my sister, Heidi. We had a fabulous time, sight seeing, eating, eating, eating. And did I mention eating? We stuffed ourselves with falafel and schwarma on fresh pita from the markets. We ate babkas and rugulach from the bakeries. We visited spice markets and bought exotic smelling seasonings and teas. We ate fresh dates by the handfuls.
I got home eager to replicate some of the goodies I had eaten in Israel. (I promise we will get to babka and rugalch). Making challah was first on my list. There are so many basic recipes out there, and they are all similar: flour, sugar, yeast, egg, salt, water, oil.
During my research phase, my friend and trip leader, Shiffy Edelman, shared with me the recipe she bakes for her family. Shiffy is unsure of its initial origins, so I just call it Shiffy’s Challah. It makes her laugh every time I refer to it that way.
It’s ok that it started with an unknown baker, because I learned that challah is made with love, and each baker brings something special to his or her dough that gets kneaded in as you go. Did you see I said kneaded? Yes this challah is hand kneaded. Your Kitchen Aid is too small to handle it. You will thank me in the end (while I’m sure you are cursing me now) because you will knead your love and strength into your dough.
I make such a big batch of challah (5lb bag of flour) because in order to say the blessing before baking, you need that much. If you are not interested in making the blessing, no problem! Just cut the recipe in half. But I guarantee it will be so delicious that next time you will make the full amount. Leftover challah freeze beautifully and defrosts perfectly.
Please don’t be scared to try this recipe out. Challah is a very forgiving bread so if you make a mistake it probably won’t matter. One thing for sure is your challah will be delicious!
For the Challah
4 cups of warm water (you can use very warm tap water)
6 packets of rapid rise yeast
A generous squeeze of honey
5 Ib bag of flour (all-purpose, white spelt or high gluten)
2 cups of sugar and 2 tablespoons sugar, divided
3 large eggs (lightly scrambled)
1 1/2 cups canola oil
1 1/2 tablespoon kosher salt
1 egg (for egg wash at the end)
In small bowl (or I use a very large measuring cup) combine the warm water with the packets of rapid rise yeast, 2 tablespoons of sugar and the generous squeeze of honey. Use a whisk to mix gently. Let the mixture sit until bubbly, about 5 minutes.
In a HUGE bowl, the biggest you own, pour in the yeast mixture, eggs, sugar, salt, and oil. combine the flour, the 2 cups of sugar and the salt. Pour in the flour about a pound of a time, mixing in between additions. The best way to mix is with your hands because you will have to knead with your hands. If you prefer you can wear plastic gloves for this step. The initial dough will be extremely sticky and you will probably be concerned. Don’t be! Keep mixing with your hands. I promise it will come together.
When the dough starts to come together, begin the kneading process. Kneading dough is as simple as pushing the dough away from you with the heel of your palm, folding it over itself with your fingers, and pulling it back. (There is a short video above). Sometimes it’s helpful to knead then turn the bowl, knead then turn the bowl until you get into the rhythm. You can also knead directly on the counter (put a little flour down first so the dough doesn’t stick). If it’s more comfortable knead the dough for about 10 minutes, until it is smooth and springy.
(Note: If your dough seems too crumbly, add some more oil, a teaspoon at a time. If your dough seems too wet you can slowly add more flour.)
Spray the bowl with cooking spray. Place the dough back into the bowl. Cover it with a clean dishtowel and put the dough in a warm spot to rise. Let the dough rise for 1 1/2 to 2 hours, until it about doubles in size.
Preheat oven to 350ºF
When the dough has risen, pour it out on a lightly floured counter. You can use a pastry knife to separate the dough into 5 or 6 sections. Take one section and separate into 3 parts. Roll each part into a log about 15”-18” long. When you have all 3 logs you can braid them together into a loaf. While there are more complicated braids to make, a 3 strand braid is the easiest to start with.
If you have, you can prepare an oval metal or foil challah pan with baking spray. If you don’t, just put a piece of parchment paper on a cookie sheet and place your braided loaf on it. Otherwise, place your braided loaf in the prepared shaped pan.
Continue with the rest of the dough. When you have finished making all your loaves, scramble the last egg in a small bowl. Use a pastry brush to brush the egg mixture on each loaf. This will give each loaf a nice shine or help adhere any toppings you wish to sprinkle on top. (poppy seeds, sesame seeds, or everything bagel spice)
If you have the patience to let the loves rise a little (30 minutes) before placing them in the oven, you can. Otherwise, put them right in the hot oven.
Bake loaves for 30-35 minutes. They should be golden brown on the top.
When the challahs are completely cooled you can wrap them each in plastic wrap and then tin foil and put them in the freezer. They freeze beautifully!