Challah is a gorgeous traditional Jewish bread, braided with a dark, golden brown color that is rich with a hint of honey sweetness. It can be topped with sesame or poppy seeds, eaten on its own, and is my absolute favorite kind of bread to use in french toast! It takes a bit of time and maybe some practice, but there’s nothing like the satisfaction of baking your own bread at home. (And the smell of it in the oven, divine!) I’ve adapted the recipe for the home from the On Baking textbook I’m using at school, and have tried to make it as easy as possible. Of course if any clarifications are needed, please let me know!
Yields: 2 braided loaves
2 packets Active dry yeast
1 cup scant 2 tbsp water @ 90 degrees F
6 tbsp honey
1 stick unsalted butter, melted
3 1/2 cups bread flour
1 tbsp salt
Sesame seeds (optional)
*You will need a thermometer, important when working with yeast and making bread! A scale would be real useful also.*
Heat the water up in your microwave, about 15 seconds. Using your thermometer, check that the water is at 90 degrees. This is important, if the water is not warm enough, the yeast won’t activate, but if it’s too hot, it will kill the yeast!
Knead the dough on medium speed, adding the remaining flour a little bit at a time. You’re going to have to scrape down the bowl a couple of times also. Knead until smooth and elastic, 5-10 minutes. If you’ve never made bread before, the dough is going to come together and wrap all up and around the hook, which is totally fine!
Pull the dough off the hook and out of the mixer bowl into a lightly greased bowl. I just use Pam and do a quick spray. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and leave at room temperature for approximately 1 – 1 1/2 hours to ferment until the dough doubles in size.
On a lightly floured surface, divide your dough into two equal portions. Here is where a scale would come in handy so you can weigh the dough out to the exact amount. It’s important that it’s equal portions so the bread bakes evenly, so I’d suggest weighing the dough out if you can. Also – don’t tear the dough with your hands, you will tear the gluten that way. Use a knife to portion it or a dough scraper like I’m using here.
Take the same portion and hit it with the sides of your hands, moving the dough around in a circular motion, so that you are tucking the bottom underneath. It’s like a karate chop. Do this until you get a smooth ball.
Tuck the ends underneath the braided loaf and place in a parchment lined pan. Do the same for the other loaf and you can put them both on the same large pan if you have one. I happened to lend my big pan to someone so I had to use two different ones. Time for proofing!
At school we have what is called a proof box, which just steams the dough so that it rises again. Proofing is like a second fermentation. For us home bakers, we have this little makeshift proofing method: Put your pan in the oven (turned off) and place another pan on a rack right underneath that. Fill the second pan 3/4 of the way with boiling water and close the oven door. Proof, leave it in there, for 45 minutes, until the loaves double in size.
When done, take all pans out of the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Brush your loaves with an egg wash before baking – this is also where you would sprinkle on the sesame seeds if you’re using them. Bake for approximately 40 minutes, until the loaves are a dark, golden brown.
Lots of steps, but, believe me, it’s totally worth it for your own home-made bread. Try it out!
Love & Sweets,