I first started baking challah about 6 years ago, when I didn’t know where to find it in Richmond. (It was actually some of the first home-baked bread I ever attempted!) Since then I’ve been slowly perfecting my technique.
I’ve had several requests for my base recipe, so here goes:
4 cups bread flour (you can substitute up to 1 cup whole wheat)
1 Tbsp table salt
1 cup water, slightly warm (can also use milk, apple cider, etc.)
1 1/2 Tbsp yeast
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup oil
(+1 for egg wash, or 1/4 cup milk, optional)
(Poppy or sesame seeds for topping, optional)
*Note: I use a stand mixer for this recipe. It could also be done by hand, or even in a bread machine, if you’re into that sort of thing.
- Thoroughly combine flour(s) and salt in bowl of stand mixer, using hand whisk.
- Whisk together water and sugar, add yeast and mix well. Wait a minute or two until mixture begins to foam.
- Add 2 eggs to yeast mixture and whisk until uniform. Add oil and continue whisking.
- With stand mixer running on low speed with the dough hook attachment, slowly add wet ingredients to dry ingredients.
- Once all the flour is moistened turn the mixer up to medium speed (I use #4 on my KitchenAid)
- If dough is too dry, add a splash of water. If too wet, a little flour. I often find the dough likes to stick to the sides of the bowl. If so, stop the mixer every 2-3 minutes and scrape it down with a rubber spatula.
- Knead for 6-10 minutes. Once you’re satisfied with the consistency of the dough, turn it out onto a lightly floured surface and knead a few turns by hand, then shape into a ball.
- Place the dough ball in a large, lightly-oiled bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Allow it to rise at room temperature for 45-60 minutes, until dough doubles in size. (You can also use an oven that has been warmed to 200 and turned off, which should take 30-45 minutes).
Now comes the fun part, shaping! This recipe makes enough for 2-3 smaller loaves or one large loaf. I like to make one large six-stranded loaf, but two (or even three) smaller, 3-stranded loaves is certainly a fine alternative. I highly prefer using parchment paper to make moving the finished loaf around much easier.
Lots of folks have asked me about my easy method for making a six-stranded loaf. Here’s how I do it:
- Separate the dough into six even portions and form into long “snakes” by rolling back and forth on the counter or between your hands. They should be approximately 1 to 1 1/2 inches in diameter and 14 – 16 inches long (depending on whether you want a longer loaf or a taller one!)
- Join all six strands at one end by pinching them together, then lay them all out side-by-side.
- Using the following pattern, braid until you run out of dough:
- 2nd from the left to the far right
- Outside left 2 to the right
- 2nd from the right to the far left
- Outside right 2 to the left
(I find this works best if I keep the strands separated into two groups of 3 while I’m braiding.))
- Once you reach the end of the shortest dough strand, pinch the remaining strands together and tuck under the end of the loaf. Tuck the pinched end you started from underneath as well.
Regardless of how you choose to divide and shape your loaves, cover and allow another 30-45 minutes for rising, then follow these steps for baking:
- Heat your oven to 350. I prefer to use a baking stone, on the lower-middle rack, but you can also use regular baking sheets.
- For a nice, glossy golden finish you should use an egg wash. For a less shiny but still beautiful finish, a milk wash is another alternative. For the egg wash, beat the remaining egg until smooth. Brush the wash gently over the unbaked, risen bread. Wait 5 minutes, then brush again.
- If using poppy or sesame seeds, sprinkle after the second wash.
- Bake in 350 oven till golden brown, 25-40 minutes, depending on the size and number of loaves.
- Cool on wire rack to room temperature, slice and enjoy!
Let me know if you use this recipe and if you have any success!