I like my challah like I like my toothbrush: super soft and all to myself. If it's a good squishy loaf, I could eat it all in one sitting. And, please, hold the crust. It's a preference that goes way back to my summer camp days, when my friends and I would de-crust loaves and loaves of challah and devour the insides, handfuls at a time.
When I lived in New York, if I didn't have the time to make challah from scratch, I picked up a loaf of Zomick's because I love the doughy texture. Here in North Dakota, I'm in the opposite scenario: no Zomick's in sight, but all the time in the world to make challah from scratch. So I've gotten much better at it in the recent weeks... good enough to feel comfortable telling my challah to make babies with a pretzel (my second favorite bread).
And what a beautiful mix of DNA.
This bread has soft eggy sweetness on the inside and the delicious flavor of pretzel on the outside. It doesn't have a hard crust, so it is my favorite texture all around. The recipe uses lye, which is a powerful alkali that can be pretty dangerous if you don't take the proper precautions*. It is way more powerful than the common household pretzel making technique of using a baking soda bath, but I believe that this challah is absolutely worth living on the edge.
Here's a bit on proper lye handling that I recommend reading: http://hoeggerfarmyard.com/safely-handling-lye/ —molly yeh
Once you have made your dough and it is fully risen, divide dough into 6 equal parts. Divide each of those into 3 parts, roll them out into 1-inch ropes, and braid them together. Place on floured baking sheets and freeze for 20-30 minutes, or refrigerate for an hour.
As the loaves chill, put on your gloves and eyewear, and prepare the lye bath. In a casserole dish, combine the 5 cups of water and the 1/4 cup of lye. Add the lye very slowly so that it doesn't splash. Gently stir it in.
Preheat oven to 400.
Prepare two baking sheets with greased parchment paper. Using two spatulas or your gloved hands, dip a loaf into the bath, top side down, and keep it there for 10-15 seconds. (Try to avoid getting the lye water on the bottom of the loaf because it may stick to the parchment when baking.) Place it on a baking sheet, right side up. Repeat with the remaining loaves. Sprinkle the tops with salt and bake for 15-20 minutes, until loaves are golden brown and cooked through.