Serves a Crowd

My Great-Grandmother's Challah

April  7, 2010
5 Ratings
Photo by Jenny Huang
Author Notes

At my grandmother's house, challah was on the table at every Friday night (Sabbath). For years, her mother-in-law, my great-grandmother 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. It's 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.) —MrsWheelbarrow

Test Kitchen Notes

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. - Rivka —The Editors

  • 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, or other light-colored one)
  • 6 to 7 cups all-purpose flour
  • Coarse cornmeal
  • Egg wash (1 egg yolk + 1 T water)
  • Poppy seeds or Charnushka, to garnish
In This Recipe
  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 to 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 of the 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 cup 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 cup 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, and 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-inch 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° F. Bake the loaves for 35 to 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° F on a thermometer, golden brown all over, a little browner on the bottom.
  20. Cool on a rack. The loaves freeze beautifully. I pre-slice before freezing, for quick toast.

See what other Food52ers are saying.

  • Catherine Sopinka Williams
    Catherine Sopinka Williams
  • monkeymom
  • WinnieAb
  • Kitchen Butterfly
    Kitchen Butterfly
  • Lizthechef
My new book, PIE SQUARED. Irresistibly Easy Sweet & Savory Slab Pies is available for preorder and on shelves October, 2018.