Updated: Sep 17, 2021
Challah is a traditional Jewish egg bread. Challah originally referred to a small portion of dough placed in an oven to observe the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem. Introduced to America from European immigrants, it is a rich bread, braided into a straight loaf. For special observances, the braid is made into a circular shape.
I had the great fortune to learn the art and science of bread making from Chef Joseph Carey, whose father owned a bakery in New Orleans. He worked countless hours learning the craft. Lucky for us...an adaptation of his recipe is below.
This is the 6 braid challah taught by Chef Carey, with three smaller braided ropes stacked on the top of the three larger ones. It makes a stunning looking (and tasting) loaf.
Note that challah recipes vary in egg and oil content, and this rich version is close to a brioche....delicious.
Prep Time: 1 hour Yield: two loaves
2 cups warm water
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon active dry yeast (4 teaspoons)
6 tablespoons of sugar, divided
1/2 cup vegetable oil, plus 2 tablespoons for greasing the bowl used for rising
4 large eggs, divided
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract, optional (although not traditional, it gives the bread a beautiful fragrance)
1 tablespoon salt
8+ cups unbleached all purpose flour
Poppy seeds or sesame seeds for garnish.
Note: the following instructions are given assuming the use of a 4.5 quart + stand mixer.
There was a time, not too long ago, that I hand kneaded all of my yeast breads. Imagine my shock and glee when I first used a mixer to knead bread dough. A high quality stand mixer makes bread making almost foolproof, I use and recommend KitchenAid. Given that, hand kneading dough is an art everyone should experience. 👏
Pour the warm water into a large bowl, then sprinkle the yeast and 1 tablespoon of sugar on top of the water. Using a hand whisk, vigorously whisk the mixture for several seconds, until it begins to foam. Allow it to sit at room temperature for a few minutes.
Whisk the oil, 3 eggs, vanilla extract, remaining 5 tablespoons sugar, and salt into the yeast mixture.
Place mixing bowl on stand mixer, fitted with the dough hook. Place mixer on medium speed, and gradually add the flour. You will know you have the right amount of flour when the dough pulls cleanly away from the sides of the bowl and wraps around the dough hook.
Remove the dough from the mixer and place it in a large bowl that has been coated with vegetable oil. Ensure you coat all of the dough with the oil, otherwise the exposed dough can become tough.
Cover the bowl with plastic film, then a kitchen towel. Let rest in a warm place until doubled in volume, 30 minutes to an hour.
While dough rises, make an egg wash by beating the remaining egg with a few drops of water. Set aside with a pastry brush for future use.
Once risen, punch down the dough. Place on a lightly floured surface, kneading a few times, then separate the dough in half for each loaf (the recipe makes two loaves).
Working with half the dough, divide it into four equal portions. I use a scale to ensure a close to even weight of each. Set aside one of the four portions for a moment.
Roll each of the three remaining pieces of dough into ropes, approximately 1 inch wide by 16 inches long. Place the ropes on a parchment lined baking sheet. Braid the three ropes together, pinch the ends and tuck them under the loaf. Paint this bottom bread layer with egg wash. Be careful not to brush on too much egg wash, as it can cause the bread to stick to the parchment.
Take the set aside fourth portion of dough, and divide it into 3 equals pieces. Roll out the three pieces, as before, creating three smaller ropes. Braid the ropes. Place this smaller braid on top of the first larger braid.
Brush assembled challah with additional egg wash.
Allow the bread to rise, until double in volume.
While bread is rising after assembly, preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
Once bread has doubled, brush with additional egg wash, and sprinkle sesame or poppy seeds on the dough.
Repeat the process with the reserved half of the dough, or cover and refrigerate other half for use later.
Bake the bread for 35-40 minutes, until golden brown. A reliable test for doneness is thumping the underside of the bread. If it sounds hollow, it is done.