Challah Bread is an egg and butter-rich, sweet brioche-like bread, that is chewy in texture and delicious. You can eat it straight up, or make sandwiches. A day or two old Challah is a preferred bread for making that delectable, perfect French Toast.
Challah is a special bread in Jewish cuisine, served especially during Sabbath and Jewish holidays which start with the breaking of this bread. They are usually braided to signify truth, peace, and justice. However, they are also made in other shapes and sizes.
My First Taste of Challah
My first encounter with this beauty was at a small Jewish bakery in Pittsburgh, PA. I had just moved to the country and was still getting adjusted to the cold, snowy winter. At the same time, I was fascinated by all the new flavors and textures that I was discovering.
Back to the bakery. They were baking the bread in the back and the wafting smell was intoxicating. I had to ask them what they were making. It was Challah and the baker had these beautiful braided loaves that he had taken out that morning, two hours back. His word of advice, as I was leaving was, “Don’t forget to save a few slices for making French toast tomorrow or the day after!”
Now, I had to stop once more to ask him why??!! He said, “These beauties soak up the custard for making the French Toast much better, after a day old. And slice them thick”. So, I went home, eager to try a new flavor. Dinner, that night was hot soup and warm, thick chunks of Challah. It was delicious, no other word for it.
And, I made French Toast, two days later. They were incredible! The bread soaks up the batter so much better but does not dissolve. When you pan fry it, it crisps up a golden deliciousness. You have to try it!
After that, I decided to try making my own. And over the years, have perfected it. Like all baking, this takes patience and understanding of the ingredients and how they behave in your kitchen. In baking, practice makes perfect. Don’t give up, if you don’t get it on the first try. Try again and again, and, you will get it.And, believe me, the smell of Challah baking in your oven will make the neighbors want to come over for dinner. It’s worth it!
6 1/2 cups high gluten Bread Flour or all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
Glaze and Topping
1 Large Egg
1 Large Egg Yolk
1 Tablespoon cold water or Heavy Cream
Sesame seeds (optional)
Whisk yeast, a pinch of sugar, and 1/2 cup warm water in the bowl of a stand mixer (or a large bowl if kneading by hand). Let sit until dissolved and creamy, about 10 minutes.
Melt the cubes of 1 stick (4 ounces) of butter and milk in a sauce pan on low heat. DO NOT bring it to a boil. The milk should be just warm enough to melt the butter. Take it off the flame. Add the rest of the sugar, honey and salt. Stir to dissolve. Cool it down to 100°F.
Add the milk mixture to the creamy yeast. With a dough hook attached to the mixer (If doing this by hand, use a wooden spoon), on low speed, add the eggs and mix to combine.
Add 1/2 Cup of flour at a time, stir vigorously, till it cleans the sides of the bowl and it is difficult to stir. After you add 6 cups, turn the dough on to a floured surface and knead till the dough is smooth and elastic. Dust with flour all through the process.
Add 6 Cups of flour and mix on low speed till the dough comes together. Turn the speed up to medium, beat the dough, adding flour 1 tablespoon at a time, till a soft dough cleans the sides of the bowl. Knead on medium for a another 10 minutes till the dough is smooth and elastic.
Turn the dough onto a large buttered bowl and brush the top with melted butter. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and then cover that with a kitchen towel. Let sit in a warm place until doubled in size, 1½–2 hours (the top of the refrigerator works very well).
Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. Deflate the dough, turn out dough onto a lightly floured surface and divide into 2 equal portions. Keep one portion covered with the kitchen towel. Divide the other portion into 3 equal pieces. Shape each into a 16”-long rope, it should be thicker in the center and tapered at the ends.
Place 3 ropes side by side on each prepared sheet. Pinch the ropes together at 1 end and seal. Start braiding and when you reach the end, pinch ends together and seal it. Repeat with the 2 portion. Let sit in a warm place until doubled in size, about 1 1/2 hours.
Preheat oven to 375°F. Beat egg yolk, egg and 2 Tbsp. water in a small bowl. Brush the tops and sides of the Challah with the glaze. Brush again with glaze after 5 minutes. Reserve some glaze to brush the loaves during baking. Sprinkle with sesame seeds and coarse salt.
Bake for 15 - 20 minutes. Brush again with glaze quickly. Bake again for 15-20 minutes until the loaves are golden brown and sound hollow when tapped.
COOL completely, the loaves before slicing.
STORAGE - Store in a plastic bag for 4 days. You can also wrap in plastic airtight and freeze for up to a month. Thaw at room temperature.
Hi, I am a classically trained Chef, a Mom of two incredible kids and a travel enthusiast, discovering my ever changing roots (which started in South India and ended up in California, so far...) through food, mine and yours.
This blog is about my often mad experiments in my kitchen, my favorite places and the lovely people I meet along the way. Let me take you on my rambles to find my roots!"