There are a lot of Challah recipes out there. They range from sweet to savory and cover a wide range of origins. Growing up, I found challah to be a somewhat dry and flavorless bread that was usually served with no butter or topping, and very often at the point when I was at my hungriest (it is a tradition to slice a challah at the end of the Saturday morning services) and I would have eaten anything. I never thought too much about it, but as I got older, I was introduced to Challah French Toast, which was a revelation that made me realize I must have challah in the house at all times. This led me to Cheryl Ann’s (of Brookline) challah, which some fans have noted is more like a Mardi Gras King Cake than a traditional challah, as it so sweet, fluffy and eggy.
Challahs from other institutions like Whole Foods are good but have a strange smell when toasted. (This is kind of a turn-off, and I will refrain from my opinions of the smell)
This recipe below is modified from the King Arthur No-Knead Challah recipe, which I have modified slightly over the years. I have also made it Vegan, using Earth Balance, Egg Replacer and Agave. Still pretty good.
The recipe (and tradition) call for the challah to be braided. While I very much enjoyed learning how to do this (the indispensable but short video here), I found that the key to a light and fluffy challah (or any yeasted, baked product) was to handle it as little as possible once it was in it’s near-final form. Since the holiday challahs are round (to convey and celebrate the circular nature of life, etc.) I decided rolling out the dough into a log and baking it in a 9″ round was infinitely easier and resulted in a better final product.
Also, a bread thermometer is a good investment, but I have found that at 35 minutes at 350 degrees, this comes out perfect every time.
- 7 3/4 cups All-Purpose Flour
- 1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon salt
- 2 tablespoons instant yeast
- 1 1/2 cups lukewarm water (plus more, if necessary)
- 4 large eggs
- 1/2 cup honey
- 1/2 cup melted and cooled unsalted butter (you can substitute oil or margarine if you need it to be dairy free or kosher, but I have found it has much less flavor).
- 1 egg (any size) beaten with 1 tablespoon cold water
- Poppy seeds to cover (about 1/3 of a bottle).
(I never use the bread mixer attachment on my stand mixer or the like alternative. I always do this by hand).
- Combine your dry ingredients and whisk thoroughly.
- Make a well, and add the wet ingredients.
- Use a spatula to mix the ingredients until you have a cohesive dough; finish with your hands. You should have a craggy, sticky ball of dough. You may need to add water if it’s too dry, or a bit of flour to make it easier to handle.
- Cover the bowl, and let the dough rise for at least 2 hours.
- Refrigerate the dough overnight if possible.
- Remove from fridge and separate into two. (King Arthur says it can be made into three, but I like bigger 9″ rounds).
- Roll into a log and coil into a 9″ inch (Pam-sprayed) round cake pan.
- Allow the challah to rise for about 2 hours.
- Preheat the oven to 350°F. Prepare the topping.
- With a pastry brush, brush the challah over every visible surface.
- Lay on the poppy seeds, heavy.
- Bake the Challah for 35 minutes. Don’t open the oven. Use a bread thermometer to ensure it’s at 190°F. Once that’s the case, you can put away your bread thermometer, you won’t need it.