We discovered the wonders of Challah a few months ago when we found our new church family. As part of the culmination of our worship service they pass around a huge loaf of Challah and we each pull off a piece to enjoy. My family fell in instant love with this deliciously soft and tender eggy yeast bread.
Y’all knew I was gonna have to make my own, right?
Pronounced “Ha-llah” with the “H” sound carrying a little “ech” to it, It’s delicious toasted and everyone swears by it for French toast. I’m afraid up until today we haven’t made it past the “Eat the warm loaf right out of the oven” phase so I snuck a few slices and made my son and I some French toast for lunch to test it out. Oh my goodness, now I see what all the fuss was about! Y’all were right, I do believe Challah makes the best french toast in the world.
There are a few secrets to successful Challah bread for me and I want to share those in hopes to helping you have success as well:
- Temperature of water is very important when dealing with yeast. If your water is too hot, the yeast will die, if the water is too cold, the yeast will be reluctant to become active. Think “baby bath water” because that is the perfect temperature. It should be comfortably warm but not hot.
- To me, the brand of yeast absolutely does matter. This is in no way sponsored by any brand but I just want to tell you that I will not buy any yeast but Red Star. Other brands have always been a 50/50 success/fail rate at best for me but Red Star has never let me down. I buy it in a little jar and keep it in my freezer for extra freshness. If you’ve ever tried to make yeast bread and had a complete fail in the past, chances are pretty high your yeast was to blame so I am absolutely loyal to a brand here. If you find one that works as well for you, I suggest you stick with it.
- Kneading enough is essential. This is where Southerners and others used to making biscuits tend to fall short because we know that over kneading biscuits yields hockey pucks so we tend to stay on the gentle side in making yeast breads, too. However, the principle is the opposite in yeast breads. The more you knead a yeast bread, the softer and fluffier it will be because it helps develop the gluten which forms the bonds that create that soft, chewy texture. Pay close attention to the amount of minutes I knead the dough in this recipe – because I do. I set a timer and I don’t stop kneading until that timer goes off.
Challah is not difficult to make, it just takes about 15 minutes to get it going (making dough and first kneading), then you wait, then about ten minutes or so to knead again and shape it, then wait, then bake. I incorporate making this bread into my afternoon work whenever we need it, generally on Thursdays or Fridays so that we can have it for our special Friday night supper.
Don’t let this long list of instructions fool you as Challah is not complicated to make, nor is it fussy. I’m just detailing the instructions to make them as clear as possible.
- 2.5 cups warm water*
- 1 tablespoon rapid rise yeast (I will only use Red Star brand)
- ½ cup honey
- 3 eggs
- 4 tablespoons kosher olive oil (I use Pompeian brand)
- 1 tablespoon of kosher or sea salt
- 7 cups bread flour (I use Pilsbury), with an addition 1-2 cups for kneading
- For wash: 1 egg and two tablespoons water
- Place warm water in a large mixing bowl and sprinkle yeast over top. Stir and allow to sit for five minutes. After five minutes, if there are bubbles on top proceed with recipe. If there are no bubbles, wait until you can purchase new yeast.
- To the active yeast mixture add: Honey, Oil, Eggs, and Salt. Stir with a whisk until well combined. Add in 4 cups of flour and stir with a sturdy wooden spoon until mixed in.
- Add remaining three cups of flour and stir until flour is incorporated and dough is stiff.
- Sprinkle a clean surface with one cup of flour. Turn dough out onto this and sprinkle more flour on top. Knead with both hands for ten minutes, adding more flour to spots that become too sticky to knead. After ten minutes, place in bowl and cover with clean cloth. Allow to rise for 1.5 hours.
- Punch down dough and turn it out onto a floured surface. Sprinkle a little more flour over the top and knead dough for about five minutes.
- Separate dough into two portions and then separate each portion into three smaller portions (this is for a three strand braid). Roll each portion into a rope. It doesn't matter how long the rope as long as you make sure each of the ropes are about the same size. Mine usually end up being 12-15 inches.
- Pinch three ropes together at one end and then braid them, pinching together at the other end when done. Fold the ends under the loaf to hide them, leaving a pretty braided dough. Place this carefully onto a greased baking sheet and repeat with the other loaf.
- Spray the loaves lightly with cooking spray (preferably kosher olive oil) and cover loosely with cling wrap or waxed paper. Then, cover all of this with a towel. Set aside and allow to rise for about an hour.
- Preheat oven to 375. In a small bowl beat egg and water together. Uncover risen bread and brush with egg wash. Place in oven and bake for 15-20 minutes. Remove from oven and brush crevices on top of bread with egg wash again. Return to oven and bake for 20-25 more minutes, or until bread is dark golden brown and sounds hollow when tapped. Allow to cool completely before storing in an airtight container or serve warm :).
*Thanks to Amy Stratton in my Front Porch Fellowship group for the tip on brushing it a second time with the egg wash!