I’ve been making challah from scratch for about a year now, ever since Gabe told me it was really hard to make a good challah… he knows what gets me cooking. Some of them turn out beautiful, some of them end up looking kinda strange. I even had one that looked like a platypus, and I served it at a dinner party! (Oh the horror!)
My favorite part of baking challah is braiding the loaves. There are so many different and intricate braids: four strand, six strand, double-decker, figure eight, crown shaped, even one that looks like a bunch of grapes. For Rosh Hashanah this year, I decided I wanted to learn how to make a traditional round challah. It was surprisingly easy, and so beautiful! (Rosh Hashanah loaves usually have grapes kneaded in, but I left them out, because… well… eww.)
Fun fact: challah has been eaten for millennia, but the idea of a braided loaf may have originated from Protestant villages in Germany around the late 15th century. Another way we’re all connected!
Here are the braids, first a traditional six-strand, and then a round challah:
P.S. Here’s a tip for those of you who don’t get the pun in the title… :)
UPDATE (9.30.11): Here’s a picture of the baked round challah. Gabe took it to a Rosh Hashanah dinner last night and it was a big hit!
- 1 1/2 packages active dry yeast (1 1/2 Tbs.)
- 1 Tbs. plus 1/2 cup sugar
- 1 3/4 cups warm water (100-110°F)
- 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil, plus more for greasing the bowl
- 4 large eggs
- 1 Tbs. kosher salt
- 8 to 8 1/2 cups bread flour
- Sesame seeds
- 1 large egg
- 1 Tbs. cold water
- 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
In a large bowl, stir together yeast and 1 Tbs. sugar in warm water. Let stand for about 5 minutes, or until foamy. Whisk olive oil into yeast, then beat in 4 eggs, one at a time. Whisk in remaining 1/2 cup sugar and salt. (I can’t tell you how many times I’ve forgotten the salt. Don’t forget!) Gradually stir in flour with a wooden spoon or spatula. When the dough starts to come together, it is ready for kneading.
Turn dough onto a floured surface and knead until smooth, adding more flour as needed. (You can also use a stand mixer with a dough hook for both mixing and kneading.) Clean out bowl and rub it with a little bit of extra olive oil, then place the dough in the bowl, turning it over so it gets covered in a light coat of olive oil. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap or a lid, and let the dough rise in a warm place for one hour, until doubled in size. (I usually warm my oven to 170°– its lowest temperature– then turn it off and place the dough in there to rise.) Punch down dough, cover and let rise again in a warm place for another half-hour.
Now it’s braiding time! To make a six-strand challah, take half the dough and form it into six equal-sized balls. With your hands, roll each ball into a strand about 12 inches long and 1 1/2 inches wide. Place the six strands in a row, parallel to one another. Pinch the tops of the strands together. Move the outside right strand over two strands to the left. Then take the second strand from the left and move it all the way to the far right. Take the outside left strand and move it over two strands to the right. 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. Tuck ends underneath. Make a second loaf the same way. Place each loaf on its own parchment-lined cookie sheet.
To make the egg wash, lightly beat egg, water, and salt together in a small bowl. Using a pastry brush, brush the loaves with one coat of the egg wash. Preheat oven to 350° F. Let loaves rise for 30 minutes, brushing the loaves with the egg wash two more times (with about 10 minutes or so between each coat.) Sprinkle bread with sesame seeds, if using.
Bake in middle of oven for 30 to 40 minutes, or until golden brown and the inside of the loaves reaches 190° on an instant-read thermometer. Cool loaves on a rack and serve.
Source: Slightly adapted from Joan Nathan via Smitten Kitchen