Baking my own bread is something I’ve been slow to get into. For years I stuck with quick breads, then I moved to beer bread (which is pretty much a quick bread because the dough doesn’t need to rise), and did a little flat bread and pizza dough-ing. The thing is that all that tastes great but it doesn’t look like much. But you know what looks awesome? Challah bread. All braided and beautifully golden! A true show stopper.
And guess what- though it’s kinda time intensive (with all that rising and rising again), it’s surprisingly easy to put together. So here we go. Step-by-step with pics:
First, mix the yeast, warm water, and sugar. Put it aside for 10 minutes or so…let the yeast do it’s thing and froth up.
Whisk up the flour, salt, and sugar in a mixing bowl. Make a little “well” in the middle. Crack 2 eggs and an additional yolk into the well (save the white of the last egg for later). Add the olive oil. As you whisk the oil and eggs, start incorporating a little flour, aka make an “egg slurry”.
Pour in the yeasty water and incorporate the rest of the flour until the dough looks “shaggy”. Set up the bread hook attachment on a stand mixer (if you have it) or get ready to bust out the muscles.
Mix/knead the dough for 6-8 minutes, adding in additional flour until you get a “silky” ball.
Place the dough ball in an oiled, covered bowl (that’s big enough for the dough to double in size) and let it rise for about 2 hours.
While the dough is rising, start getting together whatever kinds of mix-ins you want to use. The recipe I was working off used a fig spread so I was about to go sweet and do a sugar and spice mixture when my sister assured me “savory” was the way to go. I took her advice and went with a grilled onion-garlic-parmesan-herb mix. YUM.
All the non-dairy mix-ins were sauteed in olive oil but I waited until the mixture was cool to add in the cheese.
Cut the risen dough in half and flatten each piece out into a rough rectangle. Spread the mixture on evenly and roll the dough into 2 long ropes.
Each rope ‘o dough is chopped in half and then each of those is stretched out a bit. You want to have 4 pieces of dough that are long enough to weave together. Start with a woven dough cross…
Then move the bottom strands to the left, over the top strands. Move the original top strands over to the right. And then…? Just do what you can to make it look pretty.
This is the free-styled final product. Looks all right to me!
Put the dough ball on parchment paper on a baking sheet and give it a first coating of the egg wash. Let it rise for another hour. After the rise, give it a second coating of the egg wash and sprinkle the top with sea salt.
Bake the loaf for 30-35 minutes and you’ve got beautiful and delicious homemade challah bread!
Adaptable Challah Bread Recipe
2 teaspoons active dry or instant yeast
1 teaspoon sugar or honey (plus 1/4 cup more if making a sweet bread)
1/3 cup olive oil, plus more for the bowl
2 large eggs, plus 1 more yolk
1 1/2 teaspoons table salt
4 cups all-purpose flour, plus more as needed (I know this is vague but it’s about how the dough feels)
SAVORY Filling Option: Onions and Herbs
1 large yellow onion, diced
2 tablespoons butter
3 cloves garlic
1 tablespoon fresh thyme, chopped
1 tablespoon fresh rosemary, chopped
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup parmesan cheese
SWEET Filling Option: Fig (from Smitten Kitchen)
1 cup stemmed and roughly chopped dried figs
1/8 teaspoon freshly grated orange zest, or more as desired
1/4 cup orange juice
1/8 teaspoon sea salt
Few grinds black pepper
1 egg white
Coarse or flaky sea salt, for sprinkling
- Activate the yeast: mix the yeast and 1 teaspoon sugar/honey into 2/3 cup of warm water. This needs to sit until there’s a nice frothy layer on top…like 10 minutes or so.
- Get the dough ingredients together: whisk the flour and salt together in a mixing bowl. Make a little well in the middle of the flour and crack in 2 eggs plus one more egg yolk (save the egg white for the egg wash).
- Make the dough: whisk the eggs and slowly incorporate some of the surrounding flour. Add the yeast mixture. Bring in more and more flour until it’s all been incorporated but it’s not totally homogenous…the dough should look “shaggy” at this point.
- Knead the dough: if you’re using a stand mixer, set up the bread hook attachment. If you’re working by hand (I feel your pain and admire your guns), start kneading. The dough should be worked for 6-8 minutes. Here’s the tricky part: you need to keep adding flour until the dough looks right. I’m still trying to figure what exactly this means myself, but here’s what other people have to say on the subject: MY DAD- “Add flour until the dough feels silky and it stops pulling at the bottom of the mixing bowl”. MARCELLA HAZAN (of Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking): Dough should be “smooth and elastic. It should spring back when poked with a finger”. When you’ve got the best dough you can manage, roll it into a ball and place it in an oiled, covered bowl to rise for 1.5-2 hours (until it doubles in size).
- While the dough is rising, start the filling: saute the onions in butter for 3 minutes or so. Add the garlic, herbs, salt, and pepper and saute for 2 more minutes. Let cool. When the mixture is at room temperature add in the cheese.
- Add the filling and make dough ropes: turn the risen dough out on a floured surface. Cut it in half. Roll out each ball into a rough rectangle. Spread the filling out on the top of the dough and roll it up, hotdog style. Cut each of the ropes in half. Pinch the ends of the ropes so the filling can’t get out and stretch them out so they’re about a foot and a half long.
- Weave the ropes: start with two ropes side by side- one set in a vertical direction and the other horizontal so they’re like a woven cross (see the pics). Move the bottom strands to the left (over the top strands). Then move the original top strands to the left. Then do what you have to do to make it look pretty. If you’re looking for more direction (or would like to try a 6 stranded braid), check out The Kitchn.
- Second rise: move the dough ball to a baking sheet covered in parchment paper. Give it a coating of egg wash and let it rise for 1 hour. *45 minutes in to the rise, preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
- Final touches: give the dough a second coat of egg wash and sprinkle the loaf with salt.
- Bake: for 30-35 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through baking. If you notice the top of the loaf is getting too dark, cover it with tinfoil.
- EAT!: Wait until the loaf just a little warm and dig in.