This traditional Jewish recipe has been enjoyed by our family since the early 1970’s when a dear friend of ours introduced it to us. It was a version of the sacred bread used for the Jewish Sabbath, and passed down from her family. We have always enjoyed this special bread at weddings, Thanksgiving and Christmas, and would like to pass it on to you.
Fresh Challah Bread.
Makes two large loaves
8 cups bread flour
2 teaspoons salt
2 tbsp. dry yeast
3 ½ cups milk
4 tbsp. honey
6 tbsp. unsalted butter
1 cup walnuts (optional)
5 more cups of flour
In a large bowl, stir together 4 cups of the flour with the salt and dry yeast. Save the remaining 4 cups of flour for later.
Next, place a sauce pan on low heat and mash up the butter, milk and honey. You can use a large fork or a whisk to do the mashing and mixing. Don’t let it get too hot or it will kill the yeast. When butter is melted and mixed with the milk and honey, remove from heat and add to the dry ingredients. Beat with a whisk until well mixed. This mixture is called a sponge. Cover with a damp cloth. Then place the sponge in a warm draft-free area for 15 minutes to let the yeast activate.
With the mixture still in the bowl, whisk in 3 eggs (as well as the optional 1 cup of walnuts.) Slowly add the remaining flour one cup at a time for the first 3 cups. Beat well with a wooden spoon after each addition. As the dough develops it will slowly come away from the sides of the bowl and become less sticky. At this point take the dough out and put it on a floured surface to start the kneading. Keep adding the flour in small increments until the Challah dough is smooth, elastic, and forms a ball. Knead the ball of dough for about 10 minutes more to develop the gluten. This is a great upper-body strengthening exercise!
I was taught that when you pull the dough apart, if it stretch’s thin, and does not break, it’s ready. (If you used whole wheat dough it will not be as elastic.)
Now, let’s let it rise. Dust a large bowl with flour, or smear with softened butter. Put in the dough and cover with a damp cloth and let sit in a warm place for approx. 45 minutes. A warm oven works well in cold weather. Let the dough rise until it doubles in bulk. (When using whole wheat flour, it rises and softens, but does not double in size.) Punch the dough down back to size, put it back on a board, and knead into a ball. Divide dough in half. Then divide each half into three. Roll each of the 6 pieces of dough into a long, thin strand. Braid three strands at a time, forming 2 loaves. Place braided dough on a cookie sheet in a warm area and let them rise. After they rise and are soft to the touch, beat an egg in a small bowl and very, very gently brush the egg wash onto the loaves using a pastry brush. Sprinkle with poppy seeds. (The risen dough is a bit fragile at this stage when ready to go in the oven. Don’t jostle it. If it deflates, knead it again and let it rise again.)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place the two breads in oven and bake for approx. 35 to 40 minutes, or until Challah is golden brown and sounds hollow when knocked gently with your knuckles.
It’s superb when served with sweet butter!
Challah dough made with whole wheat and added wallnuts.
(Recipe & images copyrighted © Tamara Frey, 2013. All right reserved.)