When I began to study for my conversion to Judaism, I was obsessed with baking challah. The braided egg bread that is served on Shabbat to remind of manna from heaven became a north star. If I could make challah from scratch, then I could become a Jew.
I’ve since learned that it’s not the cornerstone of cooking for all Jews like I was thought, but it is still one of the best dishes I’ve learned to make since I began this journey in 2004.
I documented the recipe I use on Flickr in 2007 and to this day, I google myself to find the photo album when it’s time to bake challah.
- 2 packets of granulated yeast
- 2 cups warm/hot water
- ½ cup sugar
- 7 cups of white flour
- 2 teaspoons of salt
- 2 eggs
- 1/3 cup oil
- ½ cup golden raisins (optional)
- Poppy seeds (optional)
Step 1: Dissolve 2 packages granulated yeast in 2 cups warm/hot water. Add ½ cup sugar. Set aside.
Step 2: Mix together 7 cups of white flour and 2 teaspoons of salt.
Advice: This recipe is for white flour. For wheat bread recipe, go somewhere else. Another two loaves that I threw in the trash not knowing it couldn’t be a straight substitution.
Step 3: In a separate dish (I use a pyrex measuring cup) lightly beat two eggs and add to the flour mixture. Also add 1/3 cup of oil (I use olive oil) to the flour mixture.
Step 4. Stir it all up a bit to mix in the eggs.
Step 5. Add the proofed yeast, sugar, water mixture to the flour/egg/oil mixture.
Step 6: Stir it together with a big spoon and get it sticky enough that you can put it on the counter to knead the dough.
Step 7: Knead the dough on your counter. It’ll be sticky, but just get some flour on your hands. As Lotte Schaalman of blessed memory taught us – knead the dough until it feels like a woman’s breast.
Rise One: Place in a well oiled bowl, cover and allow to rise in a warm, draft free place until double in size. About two hours. Need a warm place? Turn on the oven for a minute and then turn it off. Pop the bowl in the oven covered with a towel for a couple hours.
Rise Two: Punch it down and let it rise for another hour
Shaping and third rise: Separate the dough in half and then into thirds and roll until you get long strands. I learned that dough needs to be stretched, then rested, then stretched again and then rest again… on and on until it’s a long enough strand to braid. Gluten is a tricky molecute and needs to be coaxed into stretching. If I need to manage time, I’ll put the braided dough into the fridge overnight and bake the following morning.
Divide dough and braid into 2 loaves. Traditionally you make two loaves, but this recipe is massive. It makes three loaves easy. I make 2-3 loaves and keep one, give away the rest. Place on a greased cookie sheet and allow to rise for two hours.
To braid, divide the dough into three parts. Roll each into a long snake of even thickness. Then pinch together the ends and braid as you do hair. As an alternative, overlap braids in the other and braid toward the end. What? I suggest going online to find some visuals for this one. That was what I did, it is actually very easy to do.