Challah, the traditional Jewish egg bread, is a special thing: not too sweet or rich, it makes the perfect toast and, when it gets stale, even better bread pudding. It’s made by braiding bread dough and then sometimes sprinkling the loaves with poppy seeds. Delicious! I’ve heard, too, that the traditional way to make it at Rosh Hashanah is by braiding the dough into a crown, sometimes adding more sugar, sometimes adding raisins, and sometimes both. Or you can try this version for an ultra-rich take on a classic.
Challah (adapted from James Beard’s Beard on Bread, the 1973 classic. Use this book, and your bread shall not disappoint)
- 21g (3 packages) active dried yeast
- 300mL (1 1/3 cups) warm water (warm to the touch, not boiling)
- 13g (1 tbsp) sugar
- 17g (1 tbsp) coarse salt
- 45g (3 tbsp) softened butter
- 3 eggs, at room temperature
- 625g (5 cups) all-purpose flour
- 1 egg yolk mixed with 1 tsp water
- poppy seeds, if using
Put the yeast into a large bowl with the warm water and leave for five minutes to proof. Add the sugar, salt, butter, eggs and the flour (slowly!). Beat the dough with a wooden spoon, adding more flour until you have quite a stiff dough.
Wash your bowl and then put the dough back in it to rise until it has doubled in size, around 1.5-2 hours. Punch the dough down gently, then divide it in half. Divide each half into three equal pieces and braid into a loaf like the picture above. If it’s been a while since you’ve braided your hair or, um, a loaf of bread–it’s left over middle, right over middle, left over middle and so on. Cover your loaves with clean tea towels and leave to double in bulk again. Sometime in there preheat your oven to 400°F. Brush the tops with the egg wash and sprinkle with poppy seeds, if using. Bake for 40-45 minutes until golden, and the bread sounds hollow when tapped. Place on racks and slice when coolish.
Makes two loaves