Challah is a rich, sweet festive bread that is baked for and eaten on the Jewish Sabbath and holidays. It has moved from being something found only in Jewish neighborhoods to a bread that you can find in most stores and specialty shops.
This version is from George Greenstein’s wonderful book, “Secrets of a Jewish Baker.” The recipe itself is in cups and teaspoons, but I’ve converted these measurements into equivalents that are accurate enough to produce a delicious mahogany loaf. Challahs are usually made as braided loaves, but a friend asked me to make a wreath challah, a round challah, for her family. Since I’ve never made a round one before, I thought I’d best take a trial run at it. This is the result. For my normal challahs, I’ve used a three-strand braid, but here I tried a four-strand braid, following the instructions in Maggie Glezer’s “A Blessing of Bread,” page 65.
Here are her instructions.
“Begin with four strands of equal length and thickness. Pinch them together at the top spread them out. Lift the far right strand. Move the far right strand over the strand to the left of it. Move the second-to-the-left strand ove the two strands to the right, making it the far-right strand. Move the far-left strand over the strand to its right. Move the second-to-the-right strand over the two strands to the left, making it the far-left strand. repeat these steps until the dough is braided.”
These are instructions that will seem like child’s play to a fifth grade girl, but they caused me some tense moments before I got the hang of it.
Here is a link to my series on braiding, 3, 4, 5, and 6 strand braids.
This dough is quite a bit firmer than most sweet doughs, but the large amount of yeast gives it a great loft and expansion. I’m always amazed that the dough expands as much as it does.
|Water||8 1/4 oz||235 ml|
|Yeast||2 pkts||14 grams||1 1/2 Tablepsoons|
|Bread flour||23 ounces||650 grams|
|Large eggs||1||1||Lightly beaten|
|Egg yolks||2||2||Lightly beaten|
|Veg oil||2 ounces||60 ml||1/4 cup|
|Sugar||2 ounces||57 grams||1/4 cup + 1/2 Tbsp|
|Salt||0.6 ounce||17 grams||2 tsp|
Flour for dusting work top
1 egg beaten with 1 teaspoon of water for the egg wash.
Poppy or sesame seeds for topping, optional.
See alternate braiding method, below.
- In a large bowl, sprinkle the yeast over the water and let it develop for a few minutes.
- Add the egg, sugar, salt egg yolks, oil and half the flour. Mix until the dough comes away from the sides of the bowl.
- Turn the dough out onto a counter and knead, adding flour a bit at a time until all the flour has been added.
- Knead for 10-15 minutes, until the dough is firm and the gluten well developed.
- You can do the same mixing and kneading in a mixer. Just reduce the kneading time to 8 minutes. And it’s a lot easier, too.
- Transfer the dough to a lightly oiled bowl, turn to coat the dough with the oil, cover and let rise in a warm place until tripled or an indentation made with a finger pushed down into the center of the dough remains and doesn’t push back.
- Deflate the dough and divide into six equal pieces. This dough makes about 39 ounces / 1100 grams of dough, so each piece will weigh about 6 1/2 ounces / 185 grams.
- Roll the pieces of dough into strands about 1/2-3/4 inch / 12 – 18 mm thick, 15-18 inches / 40 – 45 cm long.
- Braid two three-strand loaves.
- Place on parchment paper or on a baking sheet sprinkled with cornmeal.
- Brush with the wash.
- Place in a warm place place and let rise until doubled.
- Brush again with the wash and then bake at 350F / 175C.
- Halfway through baking, take the bread out of the oven and brush the egg wash over any places that are light colored, mostly where the expansion of the dough has exposed the inside of a braid, then return the loaf to the oven.
- Bake until done and the loaf reaches an internal temperature of 195F / 90 C or until the braids are firm when pressed down on gnetly. If the braids give way, bake a few more minutes.
- Let cool on a wire rack.
You can also make this recipe into one large challah. In this case, there will be three strands and they should be 25-30 inches / 65 – 75 cm long.
If you are making a four-braid wreath challah, the strands will be 23-27 inches 60 – 70 cm long.
This recipe makes a slightly dry dough, which can cause problems in rolling the strands — there won’t be enough friction on the counter to hold the dough so it will elongate. You may have to spray a little water on the counter to get the dough to “stick” slightly so it will roll. I spray the counter and then wipe most of the water off, leaving the counter slightly damp.
Alternative Braiding – a Top Challah
Divide the dough into four parts.
- Roll three sections into strands 1/2 – 3/4 inch / 12 – 18 mm thick, 15–18 inches / 40-45 cm long.
- Divide the remaining strand into three parts and roll those into strands the same length as the three above. These will be very thin.
- Braid the two sets into two challahs, one large and the other a miniature version of the larger one.
- Make a slight crease down the center fo the larger challah. This will prevent the top challah from sliding off.
- Carefully place the miniature challah on top of the larger one. Make sure it is centered and placed so there are equal amounts of the larger challah showing at each end.
- Proceed with washing, rising, rewashing and baking as above.
- This is a spectacular bread.
To make a wreath challah, bring the two ends of the dough together and pinch them together tightly. I found that a four braid is a little thick for this. I think it would work better with a single three braid made with the whole recipe. What a sight that would be! I’ll make that one for my friend and post a picture of it.
Pictures and Commentary
The mise en scene for the George Greenstein Challah.
Adding oil to the water.
Adding sugar and salt
Adding the egg and the two egg yolks.
Stirring the mixture a bit.
Adding a bit of the flour to the mixture.
Some of the flour in the bowl.
The mxiture after a bit of mixing.
Everything is in the bowl now.
Starting to mix and knead the dough.
Almost done mixing. Notice that horn on the left? I get that a lot with recipes this size and fairly low hydrations.
The dough all kneaded and ready to ferment for a triple.
The dough in the fermentation container, ready to go.
The dough after tripling.
The finished dough.
Partially rolled out strands.
The strands of dough, ready to do the four braid.
The four-braid wreath challah all shaped and ready to rise.
Finished rising, ready to bake.
And into the oven.
The challah half baked. Have to re-wash those light areas.
Re-washing some light areas on the challah at the half-baked point.
Here’s the finished four-braid wreath challah.
This is a large three-braid top challah made from the whole recipe before baking.
This is a large three-braid top challah made from the whole recipe. I had to bake it catty-corner in my oven, but it was worth it. Yes, you can do it, too.