While this braided, slightly sweet loaf is most commonly associated with Jewish cuisine, it’s a staple in several European cultures as well. This is a great recipe for beginning bread bakers as it is not a finicky dough that needs a lot of attention. I like to bake my challah in 5 x 9 inch loaf pans so it keeps a uniform shape, which makes my toaster happy. This recipe can easily be doubled; the loaves freeze well. For best results, be sure you use fresh yeast (check the date on the package) whenever making bread.
1 ¼ cups warm water
1½ tsp active dry yeast
¼ cup honey or white sugar
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 teaspoon salt
3 ½ to 4 cups unbleached flour
1 teaspoon sesame seeds
- In a large bowl (use a stand mixer if you have one), sprinkle yeast and a pinch of sugar over warm water and let stand till foamy, about 5 minutes.
- Beat in honey or sugar, oil, 1 egg, and salt.
- Add the flour a half a cup at a time, beating after each addition, graduating to kneading with hands as dough thickens.
- Knead until smooth and elastic (2 – 4 minutes) and no longer sticky, adding flour as needed – if you add a bit too much flour and the dough gets too dry, add a teaspoon of water at a time and keep kneading.
- Take a clean, large bowl and add 1 tsp of vegetable oil. Put the ball of dough in the bowl and rotate it to coat completely with oil. Cover the bowl with a damp, clean cloth and let rise for 1 to 1½ hours or until dough has doubled in bulk. If it’s a bit cold in your kitchen, preheat the oven for a minute then turn it off and put the bowl of dough in there to rise.
- When it has doubled in bulk, turn the dough onto a stone counter or a floured board.
- Divide the dough into three approximately equal pieces using a sharp knife. Roll each piece into a long ‘snake’ about 1 ½ inches in diameter and about 12 inches long. Pinch the ends of the three snakes together firmly and braid from middle.
- Tucking both ends under, place the braid on a parchment lined baking sheet or in a parchment-lined loaf pan.
- Cover with a clean tea towel and let rise about one hour. Again, if your kitchen is a little cold, put the bread in a barely warm oven for its second rise. It should almost double in height, taking anywhere from 45 – 60 minutes.
- Preheat oven to 360 degrees F (be sure to first remove the bread from the oven if it’s been rising in there).
- Separate the remaining egg, keeping yolk only. Beat yolk and thin it with a very little bit of water then brush a generous amount over the loaf. Sprinkle with sesame seeds.
- Bake about 25 minutes. Bread should have a nice hollow sound when thumped on the bottom.
- Cool on a rack for at least one hour before slicing.