My GreatGrandmother's Challah

By • April 7, 2010 • 10 Comments

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Author Notes: At my grandmother's house, challah was on the table at every Friday night (Sabbath.) For years, her mother-in-law, my greatgrandmother Nana, made the bread. When she turned 90, she flat out refused to ever make it again. We had store-bought challah for a few months, until I convinced Nana to show me how to create her exceptional challah.. I still can't make a perfect braid, but the flavor of this sweet, eggy, light textured bread covers for even the humblest looking loaf. Fabulous as french toast, egg-in-the-hole, and my vegetarian Thanksgiving stuffing... (PS Challah differs from brioche in that challah is made with oil, not butter. Buttery brioche can't be served with meat at a kosher table.) - MrsWheelbarrowMrsWheelbarrow

Food52 Review: The texture of this challah is just perfect. It’s appropriately doughy but with an even crumb, and it slices up very nicely. Some challah dough gets lumpy after the second rise -– not this one; it stays smooth and easy to work. While it starts out quite wet, MrsWheelbarrow is right: avoid the temptation to add extra flour. With enough kneading and resting time, the dough will firm up and lose much of its stickiness. I used corn oil instead of the canola and peanut because that’s what I had (and what I often use to make challah), and it worked great. - RivkaA&M

Serves 2 large loaves or 4 small

Sponge

  • 5 teaspoons (two packages) active yeast
  • 8 ounces warm water
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • 2 teaspoons sugar

Challah

  • 12 ounces warm water
  • 3 eggs
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 4 ounces canola or peanut oil
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2 tablespoons kosher salt
  • 2 ounces honey (wildflower, clover - light colored)
  • 6-7 cups all purpose flour
  1. Whisk the sponge ingredients together in the bowl of your stand mixer. Cover with a dishtowel and allow to stand and start to bubble away - about 10 minutes. If it doesn't bubble, throw it all away, get some fresh yeast, and start again. This sponge should be foamy.
  2. In another bowl, whisk together the water, eggs, yolks, sugar, oil, salt and honey.
  3. Add two cups of flour to the sponge and, using the paddle attachment, blend well.
  4. Add the water/egg mixture and blend well.
  5. Add three additional cups of flour and blend. Change to the dough hook and allow the dough to rest and the flour to absorb all the moisture for 10-15 minutes.
  6. This is a great time to tidy up, wash some dishes, and prepare your rising bowl. You'll need a REALLY LARGE bowl for this rise. Generously brush the inside of the bowl with some peanut oil.
  7. Once the dough has rested, using a rubber spatula, stir up the dough well, getting all the flour from the bottom of the bowl. Stir in an additional 1/2 c of flour.
  8. Using the dough hook, knead the dough for 10 minutes on a medium speed. It will be very wet. You won't believe it will turn into bread. Resist the temptation to add more flour.
  9. While the dough hook is working, flour your counter well. Use at least 1/4 c of flour.
  10. When blisters begin to appear on the surface of the dough and it looks elastic, tip the dough onto the floured counter. Be gentle. Protect the gluten strands as you ease the dough out of the bowl.
  11. Using a bench scraper and well floured hands, lift the dough, fold and push it away from you. Be very gentle. This is a delicate bread. Continue to turn, push, fold until it just comes together.
  12. Carefully lift the dough into the oiled bowl, turn and coat with the oil, and then cover with a clean cotton towel, and put it all in a warm spot and allow to rise for 2 hours, until doubled.
  13. At the end of the first rise, gently deflate the dough (Nana's voice: "don't punch it! who punches food?") and allow it to rise again for an hour.
  14. Prepare two baking sheets with parchment brushed with oil and dusted with coarse cornmeal. Preheat oven to 375°F
  15. Now it's time to braid the loaves. Remember to be very gentle with the dough. This will keep it light. Using your bench scraper, divide the dough into two large loaves, then each loaf into three pieces (some bakers make 5 strand and 7 strand braids - go to YouTube for examples.)
  16. Cover half the dough. Working on a lightly floured surface, and pressing lightly with your hands, roll and push the dough gently out to form three 16" strands.
  17. Place the three pieces on one of the baking sheets side by side. Start your braid in the center, crossing outside strand to the center, alternating sides. Tuck the ends under. Turn the baking sheet, and braid the other half, tucking under at the end. Don't obsess. Braid the other loaf.
  18. Brush with an egg wash (one yolk + 1 T water) and sprinkle with poppy seeds or Charnushka. Allow the loaves to rest and rise again for 30 minutes.
  19. Preheat the oven to 375°. Bake the loaves for 35-40 minutes. Swap the pans in the oven - top to bottom, back to front, halfway through. Tent with foil if they are browning too quickly. Test for doneness- 190° on a thermometer, golden brown all over, a little browner on the bottom.
  20. Cool on a rack. The loaves freeze beautifully. I preslice before freezing, for quick toast.

Tags: kosher

Comments (10) Questions (0)

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8 months ago barbara crossen

I've made challah for years -- this is the recipe I've been looking for!
the loaves are delicious and the crust is tender! Thank you!
Because the dough was still quite wet after adding 7 cups of flour I decided to rise it in the refrigerator overnight in the hope it would firm up a bit. After several hours in the fridge I punched it down by folding the ends in and put it back in the refrigerator overnight for the second rise. The next morning the dough was easy to work with and doubled in the same 1/2 hour called for in the original recipe. Baking time was still 35-40 min.

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8 months ago MrsWheelbarrow

Cathy is a trusted source on Pickling/Preserving.

Barbara, your comment just made my day! I'm so glad you like the challah. It is a very wet dough, there's no doubt about that, but once you learn to work with it, it's that very wetness that makes the crumb so very tender. I hope you have many happy loaves in your future. All best, Cathy

Monkeys

almost 4 years ago monkeymom

I made this last night for my dad...and to satisfy the craving for french toast from this last week's theme. I was so happy to make such beautiful loaves! And the bread was absolutely delicious. MrsW, one question. The ingredient list has 6-7 cups of flour but the instructions have you add about 5 3/4. Thus I had to add about a cup more or I wouldn't have been able to knead it...is that correct? Otherwise, all the direction were very clear. Thanks very much!

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almost 4 years ago MrsWheelbarrow

Cathy is a trusted source on Pickling/Preserving.

Thank you for your message. And clearly you are better at math than I am! :) I've used as much as 7 cups and as little as 5-1/2, so much depends on the size of the eggs, the humidity, the flour and so on. I like to resist the temptation to add too much flour, so wrote the recipe with that in mind. I intended to have it add up to 6, though. Oops.

Monkeys

almost 4 years ago monkeymom

I am very relieved...it's good to know that when it feels way to sticky it is okay to add more flour...with a light hand, obviously. Thanks again!

Winnie100

about 4 years ago WinnieAb

Love challah...these are beautiful and I am sure delicious!

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about 4 years ago MrsWheelbarrow

Cathy is a trusted source on Pickling/Preserving.

Thanks, Winnie. I think the photo shows how inconsistent my loaves/braids are. I'm used to it, but... Hope you'll give it a try!

Ozoz_profile

about 4 years ago Kitchen Butterfly

Super stunning loaves of bread.............thanks for testing my recipe. Glad it worked. I'll have to give this Challah a go, once life gets back to normal!

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about 4 years ago MrsWheelbarrow

Cathy is a trusted source on Pickling/Preserving.

Thanks! Loved yr recipe, btw. This challah does take awhile to make. About five hours from start to finish, but of course, you're not in the kitchen hovering that whole time!

Newliztoqueicon-2

about 4 years ago Lizthechef

You do your Nana proud - and thank you for the distinction between challah and brioche.