Roberta Levine on April 23, 2020
As we self-quarantine during this pandemic, many of us are re-focusing on domestic arts, especially baking. This shabbat, why not try your hand at baking challah?
I contend that this recipe, shared many years ago at an NCJW meeting by Charlotte Sadofsky, is the best challah recipe, ever. It has all the eggs, oil, honey and sugar to make it the richest of all challahs. I add cinnamon for brightness and use lots of seeds – sesame and poppy – to coat. I usually stick to a simple 3-strand braid, but if you want to try more elaborate shapes, here’s a scan of Mrs. Sadofsky’s hand-drawn and typed instructions (much-used): Shaping Challah – Charlotte Sadofsky
To have a challah baked and ready for Shabbat, start by mid-morning on a Friday. Your home will smell heavenly all day!
- 2 packages (5 tsp.) active dry yeast
- 1 Tbl. sugar
- 1/2 cup warm water (105-115 F)
- 3/4 cup vegetable oil
- 1/4 cup sugar
- 1/3 cup honey
- 1 Tbl. salt
- 2/3 cup warm water
- 4 eggs
- 7-8 cups unbleached all purpose or bread flour
- 1 tsp. cinnamon
- poppy or sesame seeds, optional
- 1 egg for glazing
Proofing Procedure: Pour 1/2 cup warm water into a small bowl. Sprinkle yeast granules and let stand a few minutes to soften. Add sugar and mix thoroughly to dissolve.
To Make Dough: Measure the oil, sugar, honey, salt, cinnamon and 2/3 cup warm water into a bowl.
Using medium speed on an electric mixer, beat in 3 cups of flour, beat for one minute, scraping sides of bowl occasionally. Add another 1/2 cup flour or as much of the flour as mixer can manage, beating a few seconds with each addition. You do not need to use all the flour. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and let rest 10-15 minutes.
Knead the dough: Meanwhile, flour the board for kneading. Turn out dough. Knead for 10 minutes, adding flour as needed. If dough sticks, scrape and sprinkle lightly with flour. If hands become sticky, dip into flour and rub until flour absorbs dough and hands are clean. Kneading is completed when the dough is smooth and loses its rough, sticky quality. You may also see little blisters under the skin.
Let is rise: Lightly grease a bowl with oil, place dough in it and flip over so that dough is given a protection film. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and then with a large plate. Let rise until doubles, 1 1/2-2 hours or so. (Dough may be refrigerated for a slower rise; punch down regularly, for up to a week. When ready to bake, remove dough from refrigerator, punch down and allow to come to room temperature, about 3-4 hours.)
Shape the dough: When dough has doubled, turn bowl and let dough flow out onto a lightly floured surface. Knead for 30 seconds and cut dough into number of pieces needed; cover with plastic wrap while shaping.
Cover shaped bread with plastic and let rise on parchment covered pan until doubles, 40 minutes or so.
Preheat oven to 325 F.
Glaze loaves with lightly beaten egg; sprinkle on seeds.
To bake: Raise oven temperature to 350 F as you load oven. Baking time depends on size of the challah – about 25 minutes for small loaves to 45 minutes for a large one. Watch bread carefully. If it is browning too quickly, lightly drape aluminum foil over it. To test for doneness, thump bread at its thickest point for a hollow sound, which means it’s done. Immediately remove from oven and place bread on a rack to cool.