Growing up Catholic, I was not taught how to make challah, a traditional Jewish braided egg bread. I don’t even remember the first time I tasted it. It could have been in college. But I did know how to make bread from scratch with yeast and I enjoyed the process. It seemed so magical but easy at the same time and with such simple ingredients – flour, yeast, water and salt for a basic bread.
When I married my husband who is Jewish, I tried my hand at making challah for the high holidays and turned to my favorite cookbook, The Silver Palate Cookbook. Let me remind, in 1995 the internet was just starting, and there was no Food Network; and most people did not even have an email. My resources were limited. My mother-in-law was not a bread baker and my husband’s family was not kosher, so The Silver Palate recipe with milk and butter looked pretty good to me.
I had made that recipe year after year after year and everyone loved it. When people on Instagram asked me for my favorite challah recipe, I told them it was from The Silver Palate Cookbook. “That’s not an acceptable challah recipe!” I was told. “You can’t have meat in a meal and also have dairy in your challah!” With all due respect, everyone can do whatever he or she wants, but yes, it does not allow for a person to keep kosher.
Last fall I started to play around with dairy-free versions of challah and I will admit, oil made for a better, moister bread. I just swapped olive oil or avocado oil for butter and water for milk and I was actually surprised that it’s a better challah. I tweaked Beth Ricanati’s recipe from her book, Braided: A Journey of a Thousand Challahs, which she tweaked from an old recipe from the JCC in New York City.
There are SO many ways to braid and shape challah. A quick search on YouTube and you’ll be able to transform a dough into countless shapes. I have not made this gluten-free, but I will try to master that in time for next year!
You can also add raisins to the dough. I soak them first for 10 minutes in hot water or hot apple juice to plump them up and then add them to the dough as I am rolling it into the long snakes. You can fold lots of different flavors in there like chocolate chips or diced marzipan, or roasted apples.
My son hates seeds on bread, so I don’t sprinkle my bread with anything, but after you brush the dough with egg, you can sprinkle it with poppy seeds, sesame seeds, or even Everything But the Bagel seasoning.
For Rosh Hashanah, which starts at sundown this Friday, you may want to try making a traditional round challah. It’s easier than it looks. Follow my step-by-step here.
Here’s how you do a round challah (I would divide this recipe into two doughs and make two small round challahs versus one) starting with 4 equal strands:
Happy Sweet New Year to all!!
You can shop the tools I used for this recipe by clicking on the images below:
- 2 ¼ teaspoons active dry yeast or 1 package
- 3 Tablespoons + 1 teaspoon organic cane sugar, divided
- 1 cup warm water, between 105-115 degrees F is ideal (use a thermometer to get the temp right)
- 3-4 eggs, at room temperature, divided (You can use 2 whole eggs + 1 extra yolk in the bread and 1 beaten egg to brush on before baking OR you can use 2 eggs for the bread and 1 egg to brush on)*
- ⅓ cup olive oil or avocado oil** + extra for greasing the bowl
- 2 teaspoons sea salt
- 4 cups organic all-purpose flour (or white bread flour, if that’s what you have)+ additional for the countertop if you're kneading it by hand
- Whisk together yeast, 1 teaspoon sugar, and the warm water in a large mixing bowl. I do this whole thing in my Kitchen Aid Mixer. Let stand for 10 minutes. It should look foamy on the surface.
- In a small bowl, whisk together 2 of the eggs + 1 egg yolk (or just do 2 eggs) and add them plus the 3 Tablespoons of sugar, oil and salt to the yeast mixture.
- If you are using a Kitchen Aid, I use the paddle attachment here. Stir in 4 cups of flour, one at a time, until you achieve a sticky dough. You can switch over to the dough hook and allow the stand mixer to “knead” the dough in the bowl at medium high speed for about 4 minutes or until the dough starts to pull away from the sides of the bowl. Or you can turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead the dough by hand for about 4 minutes until it is more smooth and elastic.
- Clean out the mixing bowl and lightly grease it with oil. Place the dough in the bowl and turn it to coat with the oil. Cover the bowl with a towel and set aside until the dough doubles in volume, about 1 to 1 ½ hours. It’s best to place the bowl away from drafts or in a warm place. You can also let rise overnight in the refrigerator.
- Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface and cut into three equal pieces (if making one large loaf.) Roll the pieces out into long ropes, about 12 inches long. Braid the ropes together into a loaf and seal the ends, tucking them under slightly.
- Line a large baking sheet with unbleached parchment paper. You can sprinkle it with some cornmeal if you like the texture on the bottom of your bread. Transfer the loaf to the prepared sheet pan. Cover the loaf lightly with a towel and let rise until nearly doubled, about 1 hour. Don't let it rise longer or you'll lose the definition of all the strands.
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
- Beat remaining egg with 1 Tablespoon water in a small bowl (or just use egg yolk for a more golden color.) Brush on the surface of the loaf (you won’t use all the egg wash.)
- Set baking sheet in the middle of the oven and bake for 25-30 minutes or until loaf is golden brown and sounds hollow when smacked lightly on the bottom. You can also check the internal temp of the bread with a thermometer and remove from the oven when it achieves 190-200 degrees F. Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.
**I have used O Organic olive oil, Lucini olive oil, Napa Valley Naturals, California Olive Ranch, and Chosen Foods avocado oil with success. Don't use a strong-flavored olive oil.