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how to make braided challah

a.k.a challah atcha girl, a.k.a challah like it’s hot.

it’s no fun to bake when it’s hot out. and right now, we’re being subjected to some ungodly death-heat that’s driving temperatures (at least here in dc) up around 110 F. but i don’t like to let anything stop me from baking, so i am forging ahead. sure, with the oven on, my kitchen might hit something like 125 F but it’s totally worth it for delicious baked goods…

challah is the first yeast bread i ever made, and it’s pretty special to me because taking those loaves out of the oven the first time really opened up a world of new possibilities for me. like many, i was afraid of using yeast the first time. and again, like many, it was a girl that actually gave me the confidence to face my fear. my intention was to impress the girl for rosh hashanah (she is jewish and i am not, it would be my first rosh hashanah). i didn’t actually expect the bread to come out looking good, but when it did, my heart skipped a beat. then, when it actually tasted good, it was like the flood gates had opened.

completing my first yeast bread gave me a rush and an incredible desire to take on every recipe i saw. i had tackled something that i considered way over my head and come out victorious. i was let in on the secret that anyone can bake anything – all you’ve got to do is try.

now let’s get back to the challah – the bread is soft and inviting, good for any meal. in fact, after baking, i always leave one loaf for eating and freeze the other so the girl can make bread pudding later. and this time, half of the the loaf for straight up eating is going to become french toast. i’ve made the simpler three braid challah here – there are step by step photo instructions below.

from Joan Nathan’s “My Favorite Challah” – The New York Times [1]. makes 2 loaves. you can use a mixer for the kneading process, but i think it’s definitely worth it to knead by hand.

1 1/2 Tbsp active dry yeast
1 Tbsp plus 1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup vegetable oil, plus more for greasing the bowl
5 eggs
1 Tbsp salt
8 1/2 cups flour
poppy or sesame seeds for sprinkling

1. dissolve yeast and 1 Tbsp sugar in 1 3/4 cups lukewarm water.

2. whisk oil into yeast, then beat in 4 eggs, one at a time, along with remaining sugar and salt. gradually add flour. when dough holds together, it is ready for kneading.

3. turn dough onto a floured surface and knead until smooth. place dough in a well greased bowl, cover with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place for one hour. another trick is to warm the oven to about 150 F as you are mixing the dough, turn off the oven when you are ready for the rise, and place the bowl in the open warmed oven.

4. after dough has about doubled, punch it down, cover and let rise for another half hour in a warm place.

5. punch down dough and braid into your desired shape. here’s a quick tutorial on braiding challah:

when you get to step 9, just tuck the ends of the dough under itself. it doesn’t quite matter if your braids don’t look even or perfect; when the dough rises before baking, those imperfections will disappear.

6. beat the remaining egg and brush it on the loaves. at this point, you can freeze the loaves to bake later, or let them rise for another hour if you’re going to bake now.

7. as the dough is rising, preheat the oven to 375 F and brush the loaves with egg again. sprinkle seeds on your loaves as desired.

8. bake in the middle of the oven (on a baking sheet covered with parchment paper if you have it) for 35-50 minutes. the loaves should be golden. i also put some water in an oven proof bowl at the bottom of the oven to help create steam and keep the loaves from drying out as they bake.