Amazing Over-the-top Challah

January 21, 2014
2 Ratings
Photo by Superyalda
  • Makes Two large loaves
Author Notes

First: You CAN do this!
I say that because I would never, ever, EVER even think of making anything with yeast until I was about 50 years old. What a waste of time!
This recipe works. A few tips and tricks will ensure that even a new baker can succeed, so stop that quivering lip and put on your apron.
I've developed this recipe using research together with trial and error. My preference is the milk and butter version but either way it's fantastic.
If you're not Jewish, you may wonder why all challah recipes call for water and oil instead of milk and butter. It's a kosher thing. It's forbidden to eat dairy and meat together and challah is almost always served with the Sabbath dinner featuring some kind of meat ... so all challah recipes use water and oil. That's fine, but I wanted to take my challah to a new level. You've never had a challah like this one.
There are a few special ingredients which bring this challah over the top. like saffron and real vanilla bean. You can certainly leave them out. The challah will still be amazing. The rest of the ingredients are standard.
I also found that using three rounds on letting the dough rise is better than two.
Use a thermometer. It's critical that you give the yeast a comfortable environment for them to be happy. It's also the best way to bake the bread to be sure it's baked enough but not over baked.
If you're still not sure if you're ready, I'm pretty active here so post your questions and I'll get back to you quickly. I'll hold your hand and walk you through. I wouldn't want anyone else to suffer 50 years like I did. —Superyalda

What You'll Need
  • Ingredients
  • 8.5 tablespoons sweet butter (120 grams) (or oil)
  • 2 cups milk (or water)
  • 1/3-2/3 cups sugar
  • 4 pieces saffron threads, crushed
  • 1 piece vanilla bean, 1 inch split lengthwise
  • 4 large eggs at room temperature (3 for dough, 1 for glaze)
  • 1.5 tablespoons yeast (dry) or 1 cake
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 8 cups white bread flour at room temperature
  • 1 cup golden raisins
  • Tools and utensils you'll need
  • measuring cups
  • measuring spoons
  • small double boiler
  • thermometer (starting at 50F)
  • very big bowl
  • small bowls
  • towel big ehough to cover the big bowl
  • clean kneading surface
  • warm place (100F)
  • Large baking sheet
  • soft silicon pastry brush
  • waxed baking paper or non-stick cooking spray
  1. Put raisins in small bowl and cover with boiling water. Set aside.
  2. Put milk, sugar, butter, saffron and vanilla bean in double boiler and bring to scalding, 190F.
  3. As soon as milk mixture reaches 190F, remove from boiler and place in a bowl of ice water. Quickly cool milk mixture to 110F and remove from ice water.
  4. Take out vanilla bean and scrape all the seeds into the milk. Throw away the husk.
  5. Add yeast to milk mixture and mix well until yeast dissolves
  6. Transfer to a very large bowl and let rest 10 minutes in a warm place.
  7. In a small bowl, beat three eggs well. Add to milk mixture.
  8. Add salt to milk mixture and mix well.
  9. Add 3 or 4 cups of flour and mix.
  10. Continue adding flour, one cup at a time, until the mixture can be kneaded but still somewhat loose and sticky. You want to use as little flour as possible. You won't use the full 8 cups and that's fine. You'll need the rest for kneading and braiding.
  11. Pour the dough onto a generously floured working surface and knead until smooth, about 10 minutes of active kneading. Again, try to use as little flour as possible, just enough to keep it from sticking to the kneading surface.
  12. If you've never kneaded dough before: 1. Hold the dough in place with your left hand 2. Place the heel of your right hand into the middle and quickly push a lump of dough away from you. 3. With your right hand, fold that piece that you pushed away back onto the lump. 4. Turn the dough 45 degrees and repeat. Keep a delicate layer of flour under the dough to keep it from sticking but try to use as little as possible. Once you start, you'll get the hang of it and it becomes somewhat of a dance.
  13. Clean and dry the large mixing bowl. Coat the bowl with a little oil or butter.
  14. Place the dough into the bowl, flip it once to coat with the butter or oil
  15. Cover with a towel and let rise in a warm place for about 30 minutes, but not longer than it takes to double in size.
  16. Massage the raisins a bit to clean off any dust or particles then drain, rinse and dry them.
  17. Pour the dough back onto the kneading surface
  18. Flatten out the dough and sprinkle the raisins on.
  19. Fold up the dough to cover the raisins and knead for 1-2 minutes only, until the raisins are somewhat incorporated into the dough.
  20. Put the dough back into the big bowl and let rise again for about 30 minutes in a warm place, but not longer than it takes to double in size.
  21. Preheat oven to 375F degrees
  22. Move dough to kneading surface and split into two balls.
  23. Divide each ball into six equal parts and roll into strands about 15 inches long and about 1.5 inches thick. Do this as quickly as possible. They don't have to be perfect.
  24. For the Braid: Place 6 strands on the floured kneading surface parallel to each other Pinch the tops of the strands together so they stick. Make the braid as follows, without pulling or stretching the strands: 1. Move far RIGHT strand over TWO 2. Move 2nd from LEFT over to the far right 3. Move far LEFT strand over TWO 4. Move 2nd from RIGHT over the to far left Repeat steps 1-4 until the strands are braided. Pinch ends together and tuck both ends under the loaf
  25. Repeat for second loaf.
  26. Prepare baking sheet either with baking paper or non-stick spray
  27. To move the challahs to the baking sheet, slide a hand under each end with your fingers extended until your fingers meet. The challah will look squished. Lift and place onto baking sheet and arrange with about 2 inches of space on all sides.
  28. Beat 1 egg in small bowl. Brush generously on loaves with a soft brush.
  29. Move baking sheet to a warm place and let sit for about 30 minutes or less. You actually don't want them to rise too much now. They're ready to bake when they expand about 3/4 inch.
  30. Gently brush with egg again.
  31. Slide baking sheet into the oven just below the middle position
  32. After about 20 minutes, stick the thermometer deep into one of the cracks at the end of the challah and leave it there.
  33. Total bake time is about 30 minutes or when the internal temperature is 190F.
  34. Notes: a. a great place to raise yeast breads in in your oven with just the light on b. If using oil and water, no need to use a double boiler, just heat the liquids to 110F
  35. Remove from oven. Cool 10 minutes then move to a rack or screen so the steam doesn't condense under the challah.
  36. I always make two loaves. One gets eaten quickly. The second one gets sliced and put in the freezer. Do I need to point out that this makes French Toast to drool over?

See what other Food52ers are saying.

  • luvcookbooks
  • Superyalda

5 Reviews

luvcookbooks January 16, 2017
This WAS amazing! Braids were a mess, but bread was delicious. I worked in the butter as a solid when I added the raisins. It seems to make the bread flakier than when it is melted and added in the beginning. (Have tried both ways with other bread recipes.). About to make coconut French Toast for breakfast. Thank you for posting such a carefully written recipe!
Superyalda January 17, 2017
I'm thrilled!
I'll have to try the butter thing next time. Challah isn't (traditionally) flaky, its more elastic.
About the braid, I usually ask someone to read the steps to me. No matter how many times I do this, I get mixed up along the way.
Thank you so much for the feedback!!
luvcookbooks January 17, 2017
Hi, just to say the butter is room temp and then I refrigerate the dough after I work it in because the butter gets too soft and makes the dough hard to handle. When it feels cool and firm, it is ready to handle.
Reading the instructions is a good idea. I think it might need practice as well. Will let you know how it goes. Thanks again!
Superyalda January 17, 2017
I have my braid directions written like a list. The template here didn't allow it which makes it look more complicated.
Try writing it on a piece of paper
1. Far right - over two
2. Second from the left -over all
3. Far left - over two
4. Second from the right - over all
Hope this helps.
The six strand braid adds to the height and looks quite impressive.
luvcookbooks January 17, 2017
Thanks! I'll let you know!