Regular readers and those who know me in real life know that I’m hardly the domestic goddess. Yet, I must modestly confess that I make a mean challah. The reason I would like to share my challah tips with y’all is this: I don’t make ANY food unless it’s EASY. I don’t have the time, interest, or talent. So if challah wouldn’t be EASY I wouldn’t make it. It’s actually that simple. People have all these intimidational fears of challah and frankly I just don’t know why. You don’t even have to separate eggs.
Here’s my step-by-step guide on making idiot-proof challah that tastes like you’re a domestic goddess… even if you aren’t. I’m giving you the recipe for the full 5 lb. batch. It makes six medium challahs, and it’s the amount needed to “separate challah with a blessing” (more on this later). Feel free to halve, double or whatever. It’s very hardy.
Here’s what you’ll need. It’s easy to memorize because there are seven ingredients, just like Shabbat is the seventh day of the week:
4 c. warm water
2 cups white sugar
3 T. dry yeast
1 c. oil
2 T. salt
1 bag of regular white flour
Notes on above:
This is hardly the time to get all virtuous and healthy and attempt to make whole wheat challah. I’ve learned the hard way to use the whitest flour out there and the little bear cubs will be happy. Ditto sugar/splenda/agave/blue whatever/evaporated cane juice. If you want healthy, make whole wheat matza, deal? I know some people are yeast snobs (who has time to be a yeast snob?) and only use the fresh stuff. Huzzah for them. I like dry yeast that comes in a jar that stays in the fridge and is always reliably fresh so you never have to smell it, proof it, or do other things that are weird. Also? Don’t try to get all thrifty and buy the ginormous yeast at Costco. If you want to know why, come and taste my flat-as-a-pancake challah that was baked by too-old yeast because who besides professional bakers are using that much yeast? No, it will not stay fresh. Yes, I kept it in the fridge and freezer. Yes, I served the flat challah anyway.
|This is from the dollar store.
Let’s move on.
You can make challah two ways: with a mixer, or by hand. Personally, I use a (you guessed it) mixer because it’s fast and easy. Especially when someone else washes the mixer, but even if they don’t. But even mixing it by hand doesn’t take that long, and if the proportions are right, which they will be, since you’re following my idiot-proof recipe, the dough will work right off your hands and the bowl when it’s ready.
True confessions: I use a truly expensive mixer called a “Bosch” which is the only appliance I’ve spent real money on. Trust me, my blender was $19 on amazon; that’s how I roll. But since I bake challah all the time, and since I use the full 5 lb. bag of flour, I decided to invest in this wondrous machine. What’s so amazing about it, in contrast to, say, a KitchenAid, is 1. its bowl is big enough for all that flour in one shot, and 2. it has a flour cover so your ceiling stays clean, which to my view is always a bonus.
Here’s how the instructions look with a Bosch:
1. Throw in first six ingredients. Mix.
2. Gradually add flour. Mix till done.
|The famous Bosch, my one expensive appliance.
Now if you’re making it in a KitchenAid, you’ll have to halve the recipe, but the general process is still the same. Some people like to first do: yeast, water, sugar, and watch it bubble. That’s nice. I do that sometimes. But you don’t have to. Some people also say add the salt last because it kills the yeast. This may be a bubbehmaisa, and I’ve done it both ways with equal success. I do add the flour last because I like to do it gradually. I don’t have to measure the flour, which is the potentially trickiest part of making challah, because I’m just using the whole bag. I like that. It’s stuff like that that makes it idiot-proof.
When your challah dough is all done, it should not be sticky to the touch. When you put your finger on it and remove your finger, no dough should stick to your finger. If it does, I can’t help you. You did it wrong and did not follow my idiot-proof proportions. You might be saved by adding more flour (just a little) but the chances are equally good that that won’t fix it. Sorry.
Now you need to prepare a bowl to rise the challah. I like this gigantic metal one, and I spray it with Pam (this will be a recurring theme) so when I remove it, it slides out nice ‘n easy.
|Challah dough before rising…
Now you ignore your challah for a couple of hours, depending on the weather and temperature, until it looks like this:
Now you’re ready to make the challah. Clean a counter top and spray it with Pam:
|Pam is your best friend. Note my Costco brand.
Dump out your challah dough, which will slide out so nicely thanks to the Pam, saran wrap, and your perfect dough. Knead it and punch it so it looks like this:
|Your perfect challah dough.
I prepare a cookie sheet lined with foil and – yup – Pam. I don’t use loaf pans because they are a pain to clean, although I fully recognize that loaf pans produce very good-looking challahs. You can also use a smallish (6-inch) round pan, if you want to go the round route.
|Cookie sheet all ready
Now is the time to “separate challah.” This is the mitzvah part. You can get more explanation, inspiration, and instructions about that here, but please be kind to yourselves and do ignore their recipe. It may not be idiot-proof. Long story short, you take off a small handful of dough and say the blessing on the challah: “Baruch ata Adonoy, Eloheinu melech ha-olam, asher kidishanu bimitzvo’sav, vitzivanu lihafrish challah min ha-issa.”
See how I start my braid in the middle? This avoids the muffin-top challah, where as the braid progresses, it get smaller and smaller till the bottom is itty-bitty. I start in the center, braid till the bottom, then flip it around (and upside-down) and finish it off. The result? A nice, even challah.
|Flip upside-down and finish the braid.
|Tuck the ends under.
After I braid all my challahs (not showing any fancy-pants braids today, because today is idiot-proof day here on OOTOB) I place them on my cookie sheet and cover with – yup – saran wrap. For the same reason as before. It’ll also avoid that pulling apart of the braids as they rise. Now is when you want to preheat your over to 325.
|Cover with saran and rise a second time.
I let my braids rise till they look like this:
|Let them rise till the dough is pushing up against the saran.
And then I beat one egg, yes only one egg, and you’ll even have some left over, and brush it on gently, so as not to deflate my newly risen challahs.
|The egg wash
I sprinkle with sesame seeds. Why? I don’t like poppy seeds because of their nasty tooth-lodging habit. When I’m in a fun mood, I do some with kosher salt and freshly ground pepper; some with cinnamon and sugar; some with sesame. When I’m in a rush, I just throw some sesame all around.
They will look like this, and taste heavenly! Aaand I can’t get that picture to rotate. Sorry! Bon appetit!