I was first introduced to challah bread while working in the after school program at Tehiyah Day School, a Jewish elementary school here in the Bay Area. Challah is an eggy, slightly sweet, and very tender bread that is the traditional Sabbath bread of European Jews. We would often serve it to the kids as snack on Fridays and they absolutely love it. I developed a taste for it myself, it’s excellent with a little cream cheese and it makes amazing french toast.
Every Friday the kids take home a loaf of challah for the Sabbath dinner. It’s really adorable to see hoards of little kids running to the bus, each with a braided loaf in tow. With some of the smaller kids, the loaf of bread seems almost as big as they are. I often wondered how many of those loaves survive the ride home and actually make it to the dinner table intact. I’m guessing not many.
A little perk that came with working on Fridays was that inevitably someone was going to forget their bread and I got to bring it home. These days I’m only working at the school twice a week and Friday isn’t one of my days. I’ve been missing my challah french toast so I decided to try and bake it myself. It took about three hours but most of that time was passive. It was actually easy to make and it turned out great!
- 5 cups all purpose flour
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 2 teaspoons instant yeast
- 3 eggs plus one egg yolk
- 1 tablespoon honey
- 1 1/3 cup of warm water
- 1 teaspoon neutral oil for greasing
- 1 tablespoon poppy seeds
- Coarse salt (optional)
Step one: Dissolve the instant yeast in the warm water, letting it sit for a few minutes. Then mix half of the flour with the salt and add all of the yeast water. Stir to combine with a wooden spoon.
Step two: Mix in 3 eggs and the honey and blend until smooth.
Step three: Begin adding the remaining flour, a little at the time. When you can no longer stir with a spoon begin kneading the dough. Repeatedly fold and press to combine. Add just enough flour to keep the dough from being a sticky mess. Knead for about 10 minutes.
Step four: Grease a large bowl with a neutral oil. Shape the dough into a ball and place it in the bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and let it rise for one and half hours.
Step five: Deflate the ball and divide into three equal pieces. Let them rest for 10 minutes, then roll each ball into ropes about 15 inches long.
Step six: On a greased baking sheet, or a baking stone, smash the ends of the dough ropes together and braid the dough, just like you would hair.
Step seven: Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Cover and let the dough rest while you preheat the oven.
Step eight: Right before you put the bread in the oven, beat the egg yolk and brush the top of the bread with the yolk. Sprinkle the bread with the poppy seed and the optional salt. Place it in the oven and bake for 40-50 minutes. The bread is done with you tap the bottom and it sounds hollow. Cool before slicing.
This makes a fairly large loaf. I gave half away to our neighbors because it really is best if eaten in the same day it was baked. If you don’t like poppy seeds, a tasty option is to sprinkle it with cinnamon and sugar. Happy baking!