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Hi Bold Bakers!
What Is Challah Bread? How To Pronounce Challah
Challah, pronounced “ha-luh,” with a silent “c,” is a simple yeasted dough made with milk, eggs, and butter. To get Challah’s slightly-sweet taste, my recipe employs honey, but many people also use sugar. Before baking, the bread is coated in an egg wash to give the Challah its distinctive golden hue.
If you’ve never had Challah before, this enriched loaf is a lot like brioche. It’s super soft, pillowy, a little sweet, and makes great French Toast.
Challah translates to “a loaf of bread,” but historically and traditionally, it has a much deeper meaning. For people of the Jewish faith, baking Challah is a way to bless their home, and a small piece is portioned to serve as an offering. While you can bake Challah every day of the week, most people save it for holidays and the Sabbath. The only holiday where Challah wouldn’t be served would be on Passover — leavened bread isn’t allowed to honor the Jewish people who had to flee their homes so quickly that there wasn’t time for their bread to rise.
Why Is Challah Braided?
Challah has different shapes depending on what is being observed. For example, for Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, loaves are round to symbolize the continuity of the year.
This recipe is for a three-strand braid, symbolizing peace, truth, and justice. Sometimes, people make two loaves, adding up to six strands, representing the work week minus the Shabbat.
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Ingredients For Challah Bread
Challah is a simple bread to make and requires just a few ingredients. They are:
- Milk: I always use whole milk in my recipes. Traditionally, Challah is made with water, but I like to use whole milk to make the bread extra soft.
- Instant Yeast: I always use Instant Yeast instead of Active Dry Yeast. If you can only find Active Dry, you will need to use a little more. The ratio is ¾ teaspoon of instant yeast to 1 teaspoon of active dry yeast.
- Salt: Salt helps flavor the Challah, bringing out the sweetness of the honey.
- Honey: I love the taste of honey in Challah, though some recipes call for sugar.
- Eggs: You need eggs for the egg wash and to help flavor and color the bread dough.
- Butter: Butter helps enhance the flavor and richness of Challah.
- All-Purpose Flour: This is the base of your dough!
How To Make Challah Bread
- First, you need to make the dough! To make Challah dough, combine the dry ingredients (flour, yeast, and salt) in a large bowl. At this point, keep the salt and yeast on separate sides of the bowl — salt can deactivate the yeast.
- In another bowl, mix the wet ingredients (milk, honey, and butter.) Gently heat this mixture in the microwave or in a saucepan until the mix is lukewarm.
- Add a bit of the warm wet ingredients to the eggs while whisking quickly. This is to temper your eggs, which is a fancy way to say you’re bringing the eggs to the proper temperature without cooking them. Then, whisk the tempered eggs into the rest of the warm mixture until combined.
- Pour the wet ingredients into the dry and mix until your dough is formed. This should take only a short time. You don’t want to over-mix.
- Cover the dough with cling wrap and let it rest at room temperature for at least 4 hours. This is your first rise. After the first rise, gently scoop the dough out of the bowl onto a floured surface. Use either a knife or a dough cutter to cup 3 even parts. Roll each portion into a rope about 1 1/2 inches in diameter.
- Don’t panic if you don’t know how to braid Challah! It’s simple. First, pinch the 3 ropes together at the top. Then take the left rope and bring it into the middle. Take the right rope and put it in the middle. And repeat. The best way to explain this is — the outside strands are fighting to be in the middle. When you are done, pinch the ends together.
- Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and put your braided Challah in the middle. Cover it loosely with plastic wrap and let it rise for about an hour. This is your second rise.
- Preheat your oven to 350°F (180°C). Whisk 1 egg with a tablespoon of water and brush it on top of the Challah.
- Bake in your preheated oven for 30 to 35 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through cooking.
- Once the Challah has finished baking, remove it from the oven and allow it to cool on a rack.
Can this Challah recipe be made vegan?
To make a vegan Challah, replace the milk, butter, and eggs with olive oil and warm water. Use 1 cup of water and 6 tablespoons of oil.
How can I tell when my Challah is done baking?
The top of your Challah should be golden brown. To test if your Challah is done baking, turn it over and tap the bottom of the loaf. If it sounds hollow, it’s done.
Why did the braid of my Challah bake apart?
If your braid comes undone while baking, you may have under-proofed your dough. On the final rise, you want your loaf to be puffed up fully — it should be doubled in size from when you initially braided the Challah.
What can I make with leftover Challah?
I like to make French Toast with leftover Challah! You can also use leftover Challah to make Bread Pudding. You can also make breadcrumbs or croutons out of your leftover bread.
What to do if Challah dough is too sticky?
If your dough is too sticky, I suggest adding a bit of flour, a little at a time, until your dough comes together. You can add flour, but you can’t take flour back!
How To Store Challah
Store Challah by wrapping it tightly in plastic wrap. It will keep for up to 5 days at room temperature.
Can I Make Challah Ahead?
You can make Challah dough up to 3 days ahead of baking. After it’s first proof, cover the dough with cling wrap and place it in your refrigerator. When ready to bake, allow the dough to proof at room temperature until it has doubled in size. Bake off as normal.
Gemma’s Pro Chef Tips For Making Challah Bread
- Time is your best friend here! Be sure to allow plenty of time for your Challah dough to proof before baking to avoid flat, dense bread.
- For a super glossy finish, brush your loaf with the egg wash twice. First when you have just finished braiding it, then again right before baking.
- Don’t go overboard on the flour. You don’t want to add too much flour to the recipe or while braiding — this leads to a dense Challah.
- This dough can be separated and baked into 2 smaller loaves.
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