I first fell in love with challah, back when I was 16 years old, my mom took me to this tiny Jewish bakery in Brooklyn. I remember the first thing that got me was the smell. I knew I had to have a piece of whatever was producing that warm, “perfumy” almost anesthetic smell.
Growing up, my grandmother made a version of challah, she would just called it “pan de trenza” (braided bread). Her version was a marriage between a brioche and challah. Very soft, tender and a little sweeter which went perfectly well when she made sandwiches with cured meat. That salty-sweet combination that makes your palate go crazy.
And who can resist French toast made with challah? Or bread pudding? There are a lot of yummy treats you can make with this bread besides enjoying it on its own.
This recipe is an adaptation of The French Culinary Institute recipe. I changed the recipe a little bit and the result… Well, I’ll let these pictures tell you the rest. Seriously, if you try this recipe, you will not want to buy a single challah, instead, you will find an excuse to make it.
makes 3 strand braids challah
970g all-purpose flour
290g water, cold
164g whole eggs (about 3 eggs)
116g egg yolks (about 6 yolks)
15g instant dry yeast
85g vegetable oil
In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a dough hook attachment, combine flour, water, whole egg, egg yolk, honey, yeast and salt. Mix on low speed for about 5 minutes, or until the dough starts to become shaggy (it won’t be smooth at this stage of mixing). Add the sugar (in three parts). With the mixer on low, slowly add the oil (in a slow stream) and mix until fully incorporated. Here,it may look like is a lot of oil and you have ruined the dough but it will come together nice and smooth. Also, once the oil was incorporated to the dough, I knead the dough over the counter by hand for a couple of minutes. Lightly oil a large bowl and place the dough there to rise, covered with a plastic wrap for 45 minutes. Uncover the dough and gently punch down, cover it again and let it rest for 45 minutes more.
Turn the dough in a lightly floured work surface. Divide into 9 equal pieces. (the best way to do this is to weigh the entire dough then divide it into 9, the result is how much each piece should weight). Mine came out to 190g per piece. Cover the pieces well with plastic wrap and let them rest for 15 minutes. Line 3 sheet pans with parchment paper, set aside. Carefully roll each piece of dough into a neat cigar-shaped log about 25 inches long. Keep them covered to avoid the dough to dry.
Place 3 strands parallel to each other (you can do this on the baking sheet, if it’s easier). Starting at the center, bring one outside strand over the center of the middle strand. Grab the other outside strand and fold it over the new middle strand. Repeat this process until you reach the end of the strands. Pinch ends together to seal it. When you are done, brush them with egg wash, cover it very well (make sure the plastic wrap don’t touch the dough otherwise it will stick). Let the dough proof for 1-½ hours.
When the dough is ready for the oven, brush it again with egg wash and generously sprinkle it with sesame seeds. Bake the challah on a preheated 350˚F oven for 35-40 minutes or until the crust is golden brown. Let it cool completely on a wire rack.