Though this recipe has quite a few steps and take some time to prepare, it's really not difficult. I mean, aside from the brute strength it takes to stir in 8 cups of flour into the wet ingredients to form the dough. Oh. my. word. That was a seriously workout.
In any case, the pain and time is TOTALLY worth it. This really lives up to Smitten Kitchen's description of the Best Challah. This is a traditional Jewish egg bread that is slightly dense and perfectly sweetened with a gorgeously crisped crust. A day or two after baking, the bread is amazing as toast and makes the most incredible French Toast from what I hear.
Perfect for your holiday gatherings, this loaf can be created with a simple 3 strand braid or an impressive 6 strand braid and even shaped into a festive wreath.
Best Challah (Egg Bread)
recipe adapted from smittenkitchen.com
Time: about 1 hour, plus 2 1/2 hours’ rising
Yield: 2 loaves
1-3/4 cup lukewarm water
1 1/2 packages active dry yeast (1 1/2 tablespoons)
1 tablespoon plus 1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup olive or vegetable oil, plus more for greasing the bowl
5 large eggs
1 tablespoon salt
8 to 8 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup raisins per challah, if using, plumped in hot water and drained
Poppy or sesame seeds for sprinkling, optional
In a large bowl(large enough for mixing 8 cups of flour), dissolve yeast and 1 tablespoon sugar in 1 3/4 cups lukewarm water.
Whisk oil into yeast, then beat in 4 eggs, one at a time, with remaining sugar and salt. Gradually add flour. When dough holds together, it is ready for kneading. (You can also use a mixer with a dough hook for both mixing and kneading, but be careful if using a standard size KitchenAid–it’s a bit much for it, though it can be done.)
Turn dough onto a floured surface and knead until smooth. Clean out bowl and grease it, then return dough to bowl. Cover with plastic wrap, and let rise in a warm place for 1 hour, until almost doubled in size. Dough may also rise in an oven that has been warmed to 150 degrees then turned off. Punch down dough, cover and let rise again in a warm place for another half-hour.
At this point, you can knead the raisins into the challah, if you’re using them, before forming the loaves. To make a 6-braid challah, either straight or circular, take half the dough and form it into 6 balls. With your hands, roll each ball into a strand about 12 inches long and 1 1/2 inches wide.
Braiding the loaf: (for a photo depiction of these directions check out this helpful site.)
Place the 6 in a row, parallel to one another.
Pinch the tops of the strands together.
The 2nd strand from the left goes all the way to the right (crosses over).
The 1st strand from the left goes to the center.
The 2nd strand from the right goes all the way to the left.
The 1st strand from the right goes to the center.
Continue this until all strands are braided.
For a straight loaf, tuck ends underneath.
For a circular loaf, twist into a circle, pinching ends together.
Make a second loaf the same way. Place braided loaves on a greased cookie sheet with at least 2 inches in between.
Beat remaining egg and brush it on loaves. Either freeze breads or let rise another hour.
If baking immediately, preheat oven to 375 degrees and brush loaves again. Sprinkle bread with seeds, if using. If freezing, remove from freezer 5 hours before baking.
Bake in middle of oven for 30 to 40 minutes, or until golden. (If you have an instant read thermometer, you can take it out when it hits an internal temperature of 190 degrees.) Cool loaves on a rack.
Note: Any of the three risings can be done in the fridge for a few hours, for more deeply-developed flavor. When you’re ready to work with it again, bring it back to room temperature before moving onto the next step.
Round or straight braid? Raisins or skip them? Straight loaves of braided challah are eaten throughout the year–typically on the Sabbath–round challahs, often studded with raisins, are served for the New Year and the other High Holidays that follow.