Challah - Fresh, soft friday ritual

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Article and recipe by | Photos by and published | april ‘09

Challah: dark crusted, beautifully braided, richly eggy and slightly sweet. My favorite bread by far. As wondrously soft as Wonder bread, as cultured and as satisfying as a croissant.

Challah is traditionally made on Fridays for the Jewish Sabbath. While I’m not Jewish and I don’t keep a Sabbath, I do make Challah (pronounced ‘halla’) every Friday. For me, there is ritual and relaxation, and even something mildly spiritual in the process.

Challah is one of the easiest and most elegant yeast breads you can made. There is no mystery in the process, only a mild amazement and pleasant satisfaction at what it is possible to make out of little more than flour and water.


Adapted from Baking Illustrated

35 minutes active time, 3 ½ hours total.

Serve with softened sweet butter, or orange marmalade. Store leftovers in a plastic bag so they won’t dry out; Challah French Toast is divine the next day!

Always clean up yeasted dough with cold water - hot water makes the dough a lot more sticky.

3 to 3 1/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour, plus an additional few tablespoons for dusting the work surface (It is important not to substitute other types of flour)


  • challah close up 3 to 3 1/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour, plus an additional few tablespoons for dusting the work surface (It is important not to substitute other types of flour)
  • 1 envelope or 2 ¼ teaspoons instant yeast
  • ½ cup sugar
  • 1 ¼ cup salt
  • 2 large eggs plus 1 yolk (reserve the white of the separated egg for the egg wash)
  • 4 tablespoons canola oil or melted butter
  • ½ cup water at room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon milk (or water, if you prefer) for egg wash


  1. challah presentationCombine 3 cups of the flour, the yeast, sugar and salt. Set aside.
  2. In the bowl of a standing mixer, mix together the 2 eggs plus the additional yolk, the canola oil or butter, and ½ cup of the water.
  3. Add the combined flour from Step 1, and using the dough hook or considerable elbow grease knead until the dough is smooth and soft, adding the remaining flour and water as needed if the dough has not formed a ball within the first 2+ minutes.  (You will need to knead for about 5+ minutes on low-medium with the standing mixer, or 15+ minutes by hand, depending on your arm. Your dough is ready when it is completely smooth and soft. If you are new to kneaded breads pay close attention to the dough through the kneading process and you will begin to notice the stages of gluten development and the final silky smooth stage which is your goal for this type of bread.)
  4. Wisk the egg white with 1 tablespoon water, or milk. Reserve the egg white mixture in the refrigerator.
  5. Put an additional scant teaspoon of canola oil in a larger bowl.  Place the dough in the bowl and turn it so that the dough is coated in the oil. (This prevents a skin from forming on the dough as it rises.) Cover the boil with plastic wrap and let it rise in a warm temperature for 1 ½ to 2 hours. Gently deflate the dough and let rise for another 40-60 minutes until it has again doubled in size.
  6. On a very lightly floured surface, divide the dough into three even balls. If you have a scale, it is a great help at this step. After the division, let the dough balls rest for 5+ minutes while you coat a baking sheet with oil and set the oven to 375 degrees.
  7. Roll the balls into roughly 16 inch long pieces.  The dough my resist or shrink a bit after you stop rolling: this is just the gluten working. Let them rest a few minutes and roll a bit more. It is not important to get them perfectly even or uniform in length.
  8. Place the three pieces next to each other on the oiled baking sheet, crimping the ends together. Braid the pieces tightly and crimp together at the other end.
  9. Cover lightly with your piece of oiled plastic wrap and set on top of the pre-heating oven for a quick final rise.
  10. Using a pastry or basting brush, brush the egg wash lightly on the loaf, being careful not to let the wash pool in the crevices of the braid or deflate the loaf.
  11. Bake for 30-40 minutes, until dark golden brown and/or an instant read thermometer inserted in the middle of the loaf registers 190 degrees. Place the loaf on a baking rack and cool completely before slicing, if you can wait that long.

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