The traditional egg bread served on Friday nights and Jewish holidays has many variations. I’ve taken one for the team and spent months experimenting with challah recipes. I am happy to tell you that I have come up with a great one, so if you are looking for the best challah recipe ever, here you go.
Over Rosh Hashana, I made several variations: stuffed with apples, cherry poppy and plain topped with sesame and poppy seeds. I experimented with round, coil shape, the traditional holiday version, braided, six-strand braids and more. Any way you shape this, it will be delicious.
Plan ahead when making this, as it takes a couple of hours to rise, and needs a secondary rise. The good news is that it will last several days in a Ziploc bag if you can keep your hands off of it.
Best Challah Ever
1 Tablespoon active dry yeast (note that this is more than 1 packet – measure it, please)
1 cup warm water
4 1/2 cups bread flour (I have no idea what the difference is between this and regular flour, but I’ve tried both and the bread flour is better, by a mile.)
1/2 cup sugar
1 1/2 Tablespoons salt
6 Tablespoons vegetable oil, plus a little extra for greasing the bowl.
1 egg, beaten
Sesame seeds, poppy seeds, or both
Use two sheet pans or baking sheets, so the bottom of the challah doesn’t get too brown. Put a piece of parchment paper sprayed with cooking spray on the top pan, and then simply stack the two pans.
Mix yeast with the cup of warm water and let it sit until it is nice and foamy (about 10 minutes).
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook, mix together the flour, 3 eggs, sugar, salt, and oil until combined. Add the yeast mixture and mix on medium speed until the dough comes together and pulls away from the sides of the bowl.
(I am sure you can do this by hand. It would involve far more kneading than I am willing to do. If you try it, let me know how it goes.)
Oil a large bowl*, add the dough to the bowl, cover with a kitchen towel, and let rise for at least 2 hours until doubled in size. If your house is cool, you may want to heat the oven to 150 degrees, turn it off, and then let the dough rise in there.
*Don’t forget to grease the bowl before adding the dough. It is sticky and will be difficult to deal with. Yep, I’ve done that, too.
Once the dough has risen, punch it down and form it into a braid. I tried a six-strand braid recently and it was beautiful. There are many tutorials on how to braid a challah, but this is the best I have found. Check it out.
When you have shaped the challah, place it on the doubled cookie sheet. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.
Brush the beaten egg over the top of the bread, and sprinkle with sesame or poppy seeds. Cover again with a towel and let rise for another half hour to an hour.
Bake for about 45 minutes until golden brown on both the top and bottom (yes, it is a little tricky to see the bottom. Make it work.) Cool on rack and serve, or store in a plastic bag for a few days.
Notes: I made the cherry-poppy bread by simply making the dough, and before removing it from the mixer, I mixed in a cup of dried cherries and about 2 tablespoons of poppy seeds. You can try any dried fruit, chocolate chips, or really anything else that suits your fancy. Enjoy.