Challah is the quintessential Jewish Sabbath and holiday bread. Bread baked from the staff of life has a spiritual essence that affirms our connection to the earth’s harvest and sustains us. This Challah is sweet and moist. It has the long stranded texture of bread due to the use of high gluten content flour and kneading. This recipe makes one very large Challah or two medium size Challahs for Shabbat. You could make ‘panezicos’ or individual rolls.
2 packages active dry yeast (If you are measuring from bulk it is approximately 4.5 teaspoons)
1 cup warm water
1 teaspoon sugar
3 extra-large eggs, room temperature
1/2 cup safflower oil or sunflower oil
1/3 cup honey
6 cups better for bread flour, high gluten flour
1.5 to 2 teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon ground anise (optional)
1 egg beaten
To make Challah you will need a large mixing bowl, 2 pint size glass measuring pitchers or bowls. Two small bowls and measuring cups and spoons. One large baking sheet, parchment paper and a clean work surface to place dough on, wood, stone (granite), or an extra large Silpat that covers your counter. Also one pair of super clean hands.
Add yeast, sugar, and warm water to a two cup glass pint measuring pitcher. The water should be just warm not hot. Hot kills the yeast, it is better for the water just to be to be tepid. When water yeast mix starts to foam you know yeast is alive. Now you may add honey to the yeast water. You can use any flavor honey. My favorite is something like orange blossom, wildflower, or avocado. Check out honey at your local farm market. All honeys have a slightly different taste and will impart a little different taste to your bread.
Next, check room temperature eggs in a separate glass cup or bowl for any defects one by one (like blood spots). Discard any defective egg. Add 3 checked eggs and oil together in another pitcher. Measure salt and ground anise into a small bowl.
Now that everything is measured and prepared you are ready to mix dough. Place 3 cups of bread flour into a large mixing bowl. When you measure flour, fluff flour up and then dip in measuring cup, (do not pack the flour) then level off top with a knife.
Add liquids to flour, including eggs and oil, mix with your hands until all is incorporated and kind of smooth. The mix will be like a batter, very loose. Next, add an additional two and one half cups of flour (reserving 1/2 cup for kneading) and salt, anise to mix, combine with your hands until mix is coming together in a sticky ball. The ball should be relatively soft but holding together in a ball.
Have the last 1/2 cup of flour ready to use in the kneading process. Spread prepared work surface with a little of the flour. Turn out dough onto work surface, scrape the bowl out very well. Coat both of your hands with flour and start to knead dough. Knead until the dough comes together into a smooth ball and is not sticky, you can add some of the reserved half cup of flour little by little, as to prevent sticking. Dough will gradually absorb a little more flour and become a smooth ball. Dough should be soft and pliable but not sticky. Do not add too much flour.
Place kneaded dough ball back into large bowl you used to mix dough, clean out first. Cover with a loose piece of plastic wrap and then a tea towel. Place the bowl in warm draft free place. Let it rise about 2 hours or until doubled in volume. Separate the challah.*
Remove dough from bowl and form a long cylinder. Hold cylinder at both ends, shake it longer and longer to about 3 feet. Divide dough in half for two Challahs. Cut each half into three equal sections or more (4, 5, 6) if you are attempting a more complicated braid. Let dough pieces rest for a few moments in between each step. It will roll out more easily. For a Rosh Hashanah coil leave dough in one piece with one end much larger, like a long snake with a head and tapered tail. For braids roll each section in to a rope with tapered ends. Braid then seal the ends. Once you have braided them, place breads carefully on prepared baking sheet. Cover breads with a tea towel and let them rise again until double, about one hour. Preheat oven to 350° F. Prepare a beaten egg and whatever seeds you want to sprinkle, like sesame, poppy or pumpkin. Challahs are made in different shapes for different holidays, as you can see from the pictures.
Now that the loaves have doubled in size, Brush beaten egg carefully on Challah with a light hand so as not to deflate the loaves. I prefer using a silicone basting brush to apply egg. Sprinkle with sesame seeds. Bake 30-35 minutes depending on the size, until dark golden brown. Remove from oven and place baked breads on cooling rack to preserve the crisp bottoms.
Sometimes, I make Challahs ahead and freeze them individually in heavy duty foil wrap. I reheat them in the foil in the oven. They taste freshly made when reheated like this. You can make several batches at once and freeze if you have the space.