Thanks to my mother’s interest in baking, I started making loaves by hand at the age of 8 and very quickly fell in love with the art of baking bread. James Beard was one of my all-time favorite authors on the subject of bread baking as was the King Arthur Flour Company. When they introduced their Baking Sheet I promptly subscribed for four years (still have every copy) and The King Arthur Flour 200th Anniversary Cookbook sits on my shelf as a baking Bible of sorts.
Soft sandwich loaves, whole wheat rolls, bagels and baguettes were my some of my favorite breads to make, but I never attempted the famed ‘Challah’ until recently. Something about that intricate braid scared me away. It was too beautiful to attempt.
A couple of months ago, when my friend Ciaran posted this tutorial on how to make the gorgeous braided loaf and I psyched myself out to try it myself. A KitchenAid mixer has been on my wish-list for 10 years and remains on that list to this day, so I had to pull up my sleeves and try it out the old-fashioned way.
I pulled out my The King Arthur Flour Baker’s Companion: The All-Purpose Baking Cookbook and followed the following recipe with my kids. We had such a blast mixing, kneading and shaping this loaf. It was the highlight of their day!
The result was a sweet, rich loaf that was devoured by my family that evening. It has since made appearances on our table every other weekend. If you are stuck with the braid, visit YouTube and search for “Challah Braid”. There are lots of great tutorials to help you through. It isn’t as hard as you may think!
Yields 1 loaf
1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1 cup water
2 teaspoons instant yeast
3 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 3/4 teaspoons salt
1/3 cup sugar
1/4 cup vegetable oil
2 large eggs plus 1 yolk (save 1 egg white for the wash, below)
1 egg white
1 teaspoon sale
1 tablespoon water
To make the sponge: Mix the flour, water, and yeast together in a large bowl and let it sit for about 45 minutes.
To make the dough: Add the dough ingredients to the starter and mix and knead together – by hand, mixer or bread machine – until a smooth, supple dough is formed. This dough is a pleasure to work with – smooth and silky, it almost feels as if you’re rubbing your hands with lotion. Place the dough in a greased bowl, turning it over once to coat it lightly with oil. Cover and let rise for 1 12 hours, or until it has doubled in size.
To shape the dough: Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and fold it over once or twice to gently deflate it. Divide the dough into three or four pieces, depending on what kind of braid you want to make. Roll each into a log; if you’ve got three pieces, roll each to about 24 inches; for four pieces roll to about 18 inches each. On a lightly greased or parchment-lined baking sheet (I recommend parchment-lined), braid a four-strand braid (I opted for a six-strand braid)
To make the wash: In a small bowl mix together the reserved egg white, sugar, and water. Brush the loaf with this mixture, reserving some for a second wash. Cover the loaf with lightly greased plastic wrap and let it rise for 45 minutes to 1 hour, until it’s almost doubled in size.
Preheat the oven to 375F. Brush the loaf with the remaining egg wash, if desired (adds a beautiful shiny cruse) and bake for 35-40 minutes or until the challah is lightly browned. Remove it from the oven and cool completely before slicing.