Challah [1]

A rich, yummy loaf for artistic expression

dwt 28 June 2001



2cups warm (120 F) water 2tspsalt
tspsugar 1cupsshortening (melted butter[1] and/or oil)
2pkgsdry yeast 5cupsunbleached wheat flour
2 eggs, beaten cuphoney
1Tbscornmeal 1tsp poppy seed


Dissolve sugar in warm water, sprinkle dry yeast on top, allow to sit until foaming well.  Stir in two cups of flour and salt.  Reserve about a tablespoon of the beaten eggs, add the rest to the dough.  Stir in the shortening (if melted butter, temperature should be less than 120 F (49 C) to avoid hurting yeast).  Continue adding unbleached flour a little at a time, kneading it in thoroughly.  Use enough flour to bring dough to a not too firm, elastic consistency.

Cover dough and allow it to rise to double the bulk (approx. 1 hour).

Punch dough down and divide it into four equal portions.  On a lightly floured board, gently stretch and roll each section of dough into a long (20 to 24 inches) rope an inch or so in diameter.  Lay two of the ropes down on the board, crossing near their centers.  Loop the ropes around and braid the four strands, tuck and pinch the ends.  Place the braided loaf on a baking sheet (or parchment) sprinkled with corn meal.

Perform the same procedure with the remaining portions of dough.  Cover loosely with plastic wrap and allow to rise until the loaf is about 50% larger in size (about 30 to 40 minutes).  While loaves are rising, place a baking stone on an oven shelf just below mid-height.  Preheat oven to 360 F (182 C).

When loaves have risen sufficiently, add a sprinkle of salt, a few drops of honey, and a splash of water or milk to the reserved beaten egg.  Brush this egg wash on the loaves and sprinkle poppy (or sesame) seeds over the tops.

Slide the loaves (and parchment) onto the baking stone to bake about 30 to 35 minutes.  When the loaves are done, place them on a wire rack and cover with a towel until cool.

As an alternative, this dough may be divided into egg-sized balls.  Allow it to rest a bit and roll each ball into ropes about 10 inches long by a half inch or so in diameter.  Twist and knot each single rope to make delicious and attractive dinner rolls.  Brush them with egg wash and, if desired, sprinkle seeds on them.  Bake about 20 to 25 minutes at 360 F (182 C).

[1]NOTE: When made with butter, this bread may not pass muster as to kosher dietary rules and thus might be denied the name "challah," If that's a problem for you, substitute your preferred oil to reach a cup to a cup and a quarter of shortening.  Some say it might be OK with butter if not eaten with meat (as a humanist WASP, wadda I know?!)  I use 2 sticks of butter and add a little corn oil.