Traditionally served as part of the Sabbath meal, this challah has become a signature of my Shabbat table. It is impressive when placed on the table, the salt and pepper are homey and familiar, and leftovers make wonderful toast or sandwiches. (And bread crumbs!) It is important to weigh the flour, sugar, and water if you want the bread to come out perfectly. The recipe gives directions for a 3 strand loaf, but there are many, many shapes to choose from. For Rosh Hashanah it is traditional to form the loaves into rounded spires, reaching up to heaven. There are great resources on the internet, including videos for multi-strand and shaped challah.
I often start the dough in the stand mixer and knead for a few minutes by hand to finish. I take those few minutes of kneading as n opportunity to think about the upcoming Shabbat, about my family and loved ones, my hopes and dreams for them, and sort of go over a status report with G-d. Those moments have added greatly to my spiritual preparation and appreciation for Shabbat. —aidangilbert
2 3-pound loaves
(2 lbs., 12 ounces) bread flour
stone-ground whole wheat flour
(3 Tablespoons + 2 teaspoons) SAF Instant Yeast
warm (100 degree) water
Coursely ground black pepper and course salt (fleur de sel or kosher both work well) for topping
Combine all dry ingredients except for the topping in the bowl of a 6-quart stand mixer fitted with the dough hook. (Or a large mixing bowl.) Make a well in the center and pour liquid ingredients and 5 of the eggs (reserving the 6th egg for glazing) into the well. Mix on low speed (or with a wooden spoon) until all dry ingredients are moistened. Let sit, uncovered, for 5 minutes.
If kneading by machine, knead on medium speed for 6 to 8 minutes until the dough is smooth and elastic. If kneading by hand, turn out onto a lightly floured work surface and knead for 12 to 15 minutes, adding wisps of flour if the dough sticks. For both methods, it is ok if the dough is a little sticky, but you do not want a wet dough.
Shape the dough into a tight ball and place in a large, oiled glass or plastic container large enough to hold the dough at twice to three times its volume. Cover with a lid or plastic wrap and set to rise in a warm place until doubled in volume -- at least 2 hours and more, if necessary. (I often put the dough in an oiled jumbo zip-top bag and take it to work with me for the morning. It is very forgiving. I just punch it down if it rises all the way.)
Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or grease lightly. When you are ready to shape the challah, turn the dough out gently onto a lightly floured surface and gently press the air out of the dough. With a bench knife or chef's knife, divide the dough into two equal pieces. Working with one half of the dough at a time, divide into three equal pieces and roll each piece into a strand about 16 inches long. Pinch the three strands tightly together at one end and then braid tightly. When you come to the end, pinch the strands tightly together and transfer the loaf to a prepared pan, tucking the pinched ends under a bit. Repeat with the other piece of dough. Cover the loaves with cotton or linen towels which have been soaked in room temperature water and wrung out and allow to rise until almost doubled in bulk, about 30 to 45 minutes Immediately preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
When the loaves are risen sufficiently, beat the 6th egg with a pich of salt and a teaspoon cold water with a fork until smooth. Using a pastry brush, gently coat the surface of the loaves with the egg glaze, then sprinkle generously (yes, I do mean generously) with the coarse salt and pepper. Pop into the preheated oven and bake for 40 to 50 minutes, rotating front to hack after 20 minutes, until the loaves are a rich brown and the bottom sounds a bit hollow when thumped. Do NOT over bake or the loaves will be dry and mean things.
When done, remove from the oven and allow to cool on the baking sheet for 10 minutes. Then transfer the loaves carefully to a wire rack and allow to cool completely. (I know this is hard, but cutting into the loaf before the proteins have had a chance to stabilize will give you a gummy loaf that is nasty on the tongue.)