I have been talking about my challah recipe for weeks and weeks. Maybe even years? But I wasn’t quite ready to share it until now. I have been tweaking it each time I baked it, and now I’m pretty sure it’s perfect! (See my edits-I’ve tweaked it a bit since originally posting). I’ll explain my process as well as tips and tricks I use to make my challah picture perfect.
Lets talk about yeast. I buy active dry yeast in bulk. I store it in an airtight container in the back of my fridge. It stays fresh for months that way. You can also store it in the freezer. Then when I’m making challah, cinnamon buns, vanilla rugelach, or anything else that calls for yeast, I’m ready to go. Here are some tips for using active dry yeast. When mixing your yeast with water and sugar, that is called proofing. When proofing your yeast, if your yeast mixture is not puffy or bubbly after 5-10 minutes it is probably dead. Please discard it; your bread will not rise. Your yeast could have been old, or your water could have been too hot or cold. The water temperature should be between 105 and 110 degrees F. If you don’t have a thermometer, run the water over your wrist. If it feels warm, it’s just above body temperature (98.6 degrees F) and should work perfectly to proof your yeast.
If you buy instant yeast, you can proof it first, but you can also just add it directly in with the flour; there is no need to proof it with water. Then continue the recipe as normal. If you buy rapid rise you should add it directly to your flour. You should then technically knead the dough and immediately shape the bread. Then allow to rise and bake. The rapid rise yeast is not meant to rise twice. I would stay away from it altogether just because it makes things more complicated and you may have different results.
I like to mix my dough until it just comes together, leaving out the salt. Then I allow the dough to rest for 10-30 minutes. This gives the flour some time to absorb the liquids in the dough. I find that if I mix it all right away, I need to add more and more flour to make the dough stop sticking. By allowing the flour to properly hydrate, the dough doesn’t usually need extra flour. I live in New York and this recipe works for me, but if you live in a higher elevation or very different climate, you may need to adjust your flour amounts, rising, or baking times and temps.
Once your dough is mixed and smooth, place it in an oiled bowl. Rub a thin coat of oil all over the dough. I like to lay a piece of plastic wrap directly over my dough. Then I add a second piece of plastic wrap over the entire bowl, completely sealing it. You can also just rest a clean kitchen towel over the bowl. Allow the dough to rise in a warm place until doubled. If it is a hot summer day, it may double in 45 minutes. If it is really cold in your kitchen, it could take up to 2 hours. If it’s a cold day, I like to turn my oven on very low, place my dough on top and sometimes even crack the oven open slightly. Or I will run my dishwasher and place the dough nearby so it benefits from the warmth. Just be careful not to overheat your rising dough. Do what works for you!
If you have mixed your dough but don’t have time to bake it, place it directly in the fridge. Do not allow it to rise first. The dough will rise in the fridge, it will just rise very slowly. You can even allow it to rise in the fridge overnight (currently my favorite method). Just make sure to bring the dough to room temperature before continuing. Your dough may smell extra yeasty or like alcohol. This is okay! Your dough just had extra time to ferment and let off extra alcohol gasses. Do not allow your dough to rise on the counter overnight, you have eggs in the dough which are perishable.
When I make this recipe, I divide my dough into 6 equal pieces, 6 equal challahs. Then I braid each challah and bake them in greased Magic Mill oval challah pans, size 8 (8″). If I want larger challahs, I divide my dough into 3 loaves and bake them in Magic Mill oval challah pans, size 10 (10″). If I doubled my recipe, (and it does double beautifully) I would bake 6 loaves in the size 10 challah pans. The pans that I use are technically non-stick, but I like to grease my pans with cake release or non-stick spray before placing my braided dough inside.
Once my challah loaves are braided, I brush them with egg wash and cover them loosely with a clean kitchen towel. Then I preheat my oven. Allow the bread to rise until doubled in size. This can take anywhere from 30 minutes, to 1 1/2 hours. You can test your dough by pressing your finger into the bread slightly. If your dough springs back, it’s not ready yet. If your indentation stays, your dough is ready for the oven. You can carefully brush with egg wash again and then bake.
Bake for about 25-30 minutes until the bread is evenly browned and the challah sounds hollow when tapped on the bottom. Baking time can vary depending on the size you shaped your bread. Oven temperature can also vary depending on the pans you use. The pans I use are dark in color so I bake my bread at 325 degrees. Allow to cool and enjoy!
Once my challah bread is baked, it freezes beautifully, just make sure to wrap it well in plastic wrap and a freezer bag.
(Edit 4/12/2018 The past few times I’ve made my challah I have adjusted some of my measurements. I increased my yeast from 2 packages to 3, so now I use 6 3/4 tsp. of active dry yeast. I increased the water from 2 cups to 2 1/4 cups; and I increased the oil from 1/2 cup to 2/3 cup. In my opinion the dough is even easier to work with and the bread comes out even richer. But if you have been happy with previous amounts, stick with those!)
- 2¼ cups warm water
- 3 packages active dry yeast (6¾ tsp.)
- ½ cup sugar
- 3 eggs
- ⅔ cup oil
- ½ cup sugar
- 2.5 pounds flour (7-8 cups)
- 1 Tbs. salt
- In a medium sized bowl mix the warm water with the yeast and ½ cup of sugar. Whisk until the sugar is dissolved. Set aside to proof for 5-10 minutes.
- In the bowl of an electric stand mixer fitted with the dough hook, add the eggs, oil, sugar, and flour. Turn the mixer to low speed and pour in the yeast mixture. Mix for a minute or two until the dough just comes together. (It will look shaggy and messy). Turn the mixer off and allow the dough to rest for 10-30 minutes.
- After 10-30 minutes, add the salt then turn the mixer back on and mix until the dough is smooth; about 10-15 minutes.
- Once the dough is smooth, transfer to a large oiled bowl. The bowl should have enough room to allow the dough to double inside. Make sure the dough is completely covered in a thin coat of oil. Then cover and allow to rise. It needs to double in size. This can take anywhere from 45 minutes to 2 hours. Or allow to rise overnight in the fridge.
- Once risen, divide the dough, braid, and egg wash. If the dough rose overnight in the fridge, allow to come to room temp before dividing and shaping. Once shaped, cover loosely with a clean kitchen towel.
- Allow to double in size again. This can take 30 minutes to 1½ hours.
- While the dough is rising for the second time, preheat your oven to 325-350 degrees F.
- Once risen, carefully brush with more egg wash and bake until golden brown. Baking time varies depending on the size that you shaped your bread. Oven temp varies depending on the pans used to bake. A darker pan needs a lower oven temperature or the bread will get too dark before the bread is fully baked.