The challah of my dreams has many specific qualities. Sweet, eggy, a golden crust, and light insides that are peel-apart flaky. As it turns out, these qualities are not easy to attain. But on my sixth attempt in almost exactly a year, the perfect challah has been recreated!
The second challah I ever made is pictured above with Stella. It wasn’t sweet enough or eggy enough, but Stella didn’t mind. I came home one night to find her exactly like this. She had pulled it off of the counter, dragged it out of the kitchen, and gnawed away at it. At least she was kind enough to lick up the crumbs she made! That one was from Smitten Kitchen’s recipe. I also tried Mark Bittman’s and Shiksa in the Kitchen’s. After those not quites, I created an ingredient spreadsheet and was able to craft my own recipe. And then revise it. And tweak it. And here it is!
Start by pouring 1/4 cup of warmish water into a large bowl. Add in 1 packet of active dry yeast (7 grams) and 1 teaspoon of sugar. Whisk it to dissolve the yeast and sugar, and then let the bowl sit for 10-15 minutes until the yeast puffs up and doubles in size. It should look like a little, foamy dome. If it doesn’t, then wait a few more minutes or try again with another packet of yeast. If the yeast doesn’t puff, do not proceed because your dough won’t rise or it will just barely rise and then your loaf will bust open in the oven. Once it puffs, add 3/4 cup of warmish water, 1 egg, 3 egg yolks, 1 teaspoon of salt, 1/3 cup of canola oil, and just shy of 1/2 cup of sugar. Whisk everything together very well. I’ve tried making challah with both honey and sugar, and I like sugar better. Oddly, the honey-based challah gave me a sugar rush. Also, make sure to add the sugar at this step so that it can dissolve in the water. I also think that canola oil is the secret to the flaky quality I can’t live without, so don’t forget it!
Add 1/2 cup of flour to the liquid at a time, fully incorporating the flour with a spoon before adding more. In total, you should add 3-3.5 cups of flour. You want the dough to be slightly sticky, but still easy to handle. Set the dough aside and rinse out your bowl. Spray the inside of the bowl with non-stick spray, and put the dough back in. Spray the top of the dough as well.
Cover the bowl with plastic wrap or a kitchen towel, and set it in a warm spot. Let the dough rise until it doubles in size, which should take about an hour. Then, punch the dough down, and let it double again for a second hour. After the second rise, my dough looked like it was trying to punch back!
Punch down on the dough again, and knead it a few times until it forms a smooth ball. Divide the dough into 3 equal pieces. Stretch those pieces into long strands, making sure to squeeze out as much air from the dough as you can. Now it’s time to get down to braiding business. Pinch the tops of the strands together, and then start braiding away. Online tutorials make braiding seem more complicated than it has to be. Just pretend the dough is heavy hair. Pinch the other ends together when you’re done and tuck them under if you feel fancy.
Pretty and not so hard! Preheat your oven to 350ºF, and let your braided challah rise for about 30 more minutes.
Put your challah on an ungreased baking sheet. Once that time is up, make an egg wash by whisking together 1 egg and a splash of water. Use a pastry brush to coat the challah (except for the bottom) with a thin layer. The egg wash will help the challah get a nice, golden crust.
Bake the challah for 20 minutes. Then, take it out of the oven. The challah will have risen more in the oven, exposing areas that weren’t coated with the egg wash. Touch those white areas up with more egg wash so your challah comes out with a uniform color and crust. Rotate the pan, and bake the challah for another 20 minutes. If you feel like your challah is getting too golden, you can tent it with tinfoil.
My absolute favorite part of this challah is the flaky, peely inside. I love pulling it apart piece by piece. Or maybe my favorite part is the deeply flavored crust. A little crunchy and a little chewy. Or maybe my favorite part is eating the whole thing with Stella hovering around me to lick the crumbs off of my shirt and lap. Or maybe my favorite part is buttering both sides of the challah and then pan frying it until it is golden and crisp. I just can’t pick a favorite… the smell of it baking is pretty heavenly too. Take a leisurely afternoon and treat yourself to this one! Shabbat Shalom ♥
- Active dry yeast- 1 packet (7 grams)
- Sugar- about 1/2 cup
- Eggs- 5
- Canola oil- 1/3 cup
- Salt- 1 teaspoon
- Flour- about 3.5 cups