I’ve wanted to post my mother’s challah recipe for a while now. Things got in the way. I wanted to tweak it. She wanted to tweak it. We went on a challah making hiatus (what?!). But mostly I thought, who needs another challah recipe? The internet is full of them. They are all described as “the best challah ever” and “the last recipe you’ll ever need”. Did I really need to add to the fray?
Then I thought, screw it! It’s challah, for heaven’s sake. It’s my favorite challah, in fact, and I have tasted many. (I am not just saying this because my mom is reading this. Hi Mom!)
Anyway. I am posting it because you deserve it. You are good readers. Ugh fine, mostly I am posting this for myself, because are you really a food blogger if you haven’t posted a nostalgic “My Mother’s Something Something” recipe? I need street cred. Bear with me, y’all.
This challah is simple. One bowl. Proof the yeast in the water with a bit of sugar. Add the oil, the eggs, the rest of the sugar. Don’t forget the salt! Slowly, slowly knead in the flour. I can tell you about the time I poured all 5 lbs. of flour into my too-small Kitchen Aid and it ended up literally everywhere but the bowl. Like, on my face and in my hair. And all over the counter I had just painstakingly scrubbed clean. I can tell you about that time, but I’d rather not. (It happened yesterday. OK, we’re not talking about this anymore.)
The dough rises for an hour. It will look threatening, especially as it oozes out of its bowl and surpasses you in size. That’s okay. It’s doing its job! Punch it down. Let it rise again. Now, time to shape.
I am going to tell you outright that I am bad at braiding. My hands just can’t figure out the coordination. I will never be one of those mothers who sends her daughters off to school with shiny, bow accessorized braids. Hopefully my husband’s skill set will include that. Also, if we are on the topic, he has to be good at doing laundry. I won’t tell you how many shirts I’ve bleach stained. Hey, we all have our limitations. Riiiight? Good. Just making sure.
Back on topic! My mom taught me how to do a 6 braid but it didn’t go very well. I was, literally, runnin’ through the 6 with my woes. Oh well. Practice makes perfect, more challah for all, hooray! She helped with these. Thanks mama. You’re a G.
The shaped loaves rise again, for less than an hour. Baking at high temps for less than half an hour gives the challahs dramatic oven spring and fluffy interiors. Two egg washes lead to gorgeously golden crusts. Yum.
This challah is good with hummus, tahini, eggplant dip, and roasted garlic cloves. It’s also amazing for french toast, grilled cheese and, um, to eat plain, when you are bored.
Go. Make my mama’s challah now, thank me later.
(Wait! I’m serious about the mixer thing. Don’t do it unless you’re sure your mixer can hold more than 5 lbs. Trust me- I tried it more than once. Did I have memory loss each time? Strange reason to believe I could somehow outsmart a machine? A typical of me combination of both? Yep, it’s the latter. Aaand cut. That’s enough embarrassing myself in public for today.)
Yields: 5 loaves
Why I love this recipe: this simple but delicious challah is made in one bowl and enriched with enough eggs, oil and sugar to make it fluffy and lightly sweet. It’s perfect for both savory dips and sweet fillings and two egg washes give it a golden, lacquered crust.
Notes: the Hebrew definition of challah is a portion of dough that has been separated from the loaf with a blessing. In temple times, the separated dough was given to the priests as a gift. Today, we burn the separated piece in commemoration. Different communities have different customs. My mother separates a small piece of dough from 2.5 lbs of flour without a blessing and makes a blessing on the separated dough if it is from more than 5 lbs. Get the blessing and more info here.
Variation: for a less sweet challah, decrease the sugar to 1/2 cup. For an egg free challah, simply leave out the eggs. We often do. Switch olive oil for the canola oil if desired. To accommodate your schedule, you can do one of the first two rises in the fridge overnight or for 3-4 hours. For Rosh Hashana, shape these into round challahs and sprinkle with pearl sugar.
For the challah:
- 5 lbs. all purpose white flour
- 5 1/2 cups warm water
- 3 tablespoons active dry yeast
- 1 cup white sugar
- 2 tablespoons sea salt
- 5 eggs, plus more for egg wash
- 3/4 cups canola oil
- In a large bowl, dissolve the yeast and 1 tablespoon of the sugar in the water; set aside for 5 minutes until a bit foamy.
- Whisk oil into yeast, then beat in the eggs, one at a time, with the remaining sugar and the salt. Gradually add flour. When dough holds together, it is ready for kneading. (You can also use a mixer with a dough hook for both mixing and kneading, but be careful, as most standard size mixers are too small to hold 5 lbs of flour.)
- Turn the dough onto a floured surface and knead until smooth. Clean out bowl and grease it, then return dough to bowl. Cover with plastic wrap, and let rise in a warm place for 1 hour, until almost doubled in size.
- Punch down dough, cover and let rise again in a warm place for another hour.
- Divide the twice-risen dough into 5 equal pieces. To make a 6-braid challah (pictured) take one of the five pieces of dough and form it into 6 balls.
- With your hands, roll each ball into a strand about 12 inches long and 1 1/2 inches wide. Place the 6 in a row, parallel to one another. Pinch the tops of the strands together.
- Move the outside right strand over 2 strands, to the middle. Then take the second strand from the left and move it to the far right.
- Take the outside left strand and move it over 2. Move second strand from the right over to the far left. Start over with the outside right strand. Continue this until all strands are braided. To finish, tuck ends underneath.
- Repeat with the remaining 4 pieces of dough. Place braided loaves in greased loaf pans.
- Beat an egg and brush it on each loaf. Let rise 45 minutes.
- Preheat oven to 425 degrees and brush loaves with egg again. Sprinkle bread with sesame or poppy seeds, if using.
- Bake in middle of oven for 25 to 30 minutes, or until a deep golden color. Immediately remove the hot loaves from their pans so the bottoms don’t get soggy and cool on a rack.