My mom, Paulina makes the perfect challah. Her braided Jewish egg bread recipe makes two fluffy loaves that get devoured the same day they're made. I must tell you, it's the most satisfying of comforts in bread form. The soft elastic strands of bready goodness conjure up all kinds of memories from my childhood, too. I hear my Grandma Ruth saying, "break off a knup and bring it to me, sugar" (knup meaning knot, in Yiddish). And to this day, my dad always cuts off a piece on the end, explaining that he just needs to 'even out' the loaf.
This recipe is a thorough one, with an emphasis on the sequence and trusted methods for really really making the softest, most beautiful looking braided egg bread possible. This includes tips like starting your braid in the center of the loaf. Enjoy!
Makes 1 Large loaf or 2 small ones
To proof yeast, place in a measuring cup:
¼ Cup very warm (not hot) water
2 ¼ tsp active dry yeast (or one packet)
1 tsp sugar
Set aside for 5-10 minutes until the yeast is bubbly
Beat in a small bowl:
2 large eggs (room temperature)
Blend together in bowl of a stand mixer:
One cup warm water
3 TB vegetable oil
2 TB sugar
1 ¼ tsp salt
Active yeast mixture
Beaten eggs, reserving a tablespoon or so for the egg wash after challah has risen.
Slowly add 3 cups of bread flour, using the paddle attachment in the stand mixer. Switch to the dough hook and add:
approximately 1 cup of unbleached white flour. The dough should be not too dry, nor too sticky. Let the mixer knead the dough for several minutes, adding a bit more flour if dough (¼ cup at a time) if the dough seems too sticky. The dough should be completely blended with no dry flour in the mix. Turn it out onto a floured board and knead by hand for a few minutes.
Place the dough in a large ceramic bowl, oiled with vegetable oil. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise until doubled in bulk.
Punch dough down and transfer back to the kneading surface, sprinkled with flour. Divide the dough into three long sections of equal bulk. Braid the three, beginning in the middle and braiding in each direction, as snugly as possible. The braid will open up during the final rise and baking, so braid as tight as possible.
Watch this video at second 35 for the method of braiding from the middle.
Add a tablespoon or so of water to the reserved egg and brush onto the braided challah. Immediately sprinkle with poppy seeds or sesame seeds if desired.
Let rise a second time until doubled in bulk.
Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for approximately 25-30 minutes. Challah should be golden brown and sound hollow when you tap on it.
Enjoy fresh from the oven, or if you manage to have any leftovers, it makes great french toast!