Sometimes I make bread at home and wish it looked as amazing as it tastes. This is, thankfully, not one of those days, because this challah is the rare loaf that both looks and tastes like a work of art. The dough is surprisingly easy to put together, and although the braid may look intimidating, if I can do it, so can you. This is going to be in regular rotation in the Today We Bake kitchen from here on out.
It’s another chilly Sunday here in Michigan, and I can’t think of a better way to enjoy it than slicing a piece of this challah, slathering it with butter and/or jam, and staying in all day. I know that for many people, it’s Super Bowl Sunday, and I will never ever turn down a fried pickle or jalapeno popper, but this year I don’t think I’m even watching the game. Instead, I’ll be hanging out with the kids and slowly eating my way through this loaf of bread. There are worse ways to spend a weekend.
I have a Slovak Sunday tradition around here, where I bake out of my grandmother’s old Slovak-American cookbooks. The last time I was at my dad’s house, I found another(!) cookbook gem, the Slovak Catholic Sokol Cook Book. As far as I can tell, it’s from an organization that both provides life insurance and encourages physical fitness, and is still around today. I have the 1986 edition of the book, but many of the recipes are Slovak traditions or American classics from the 1950s and 1960s. So let’s get baking up some vintage goodness!
Challah is a dough enriched with eggs. This version also includes a few tablespoons of vegetable oil, which makes for a dough that is a dream to work with. Once the dough is kneaded it is smooth, elastic, and easy to shape. I think I’ll be playing around with this, adding fillings and making new shapes with it. But that doesn’t mean we should skip the original, because this dough has a lovely crust and a rich, slightly sweet chewy interior. And with the braid, it looks like a real work of art. As long as you have the time to let the dough rise, this bread is an easy way to dive in to trying to make your own bread at home.
I have step-by-step recipes for you today, so here we go! First, stir together the water and yeast in a large bowl until the yeast is dissolved. Add the salt, sugar, and 1 1/2 cups of the all-purpose flour, and mix everything together with a wooden spoon until smooth.
Add the rest of the flour and stir everything together.
Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured countertop, and knead it for about 10 minutes. You’re done when the dough is smooth, elastic, and springs back when you poke it.
Allow the dough to rise in a lightly oiled bowl, covered lightly with plastic wrap or a kitchen towel, until it doubles in size, about 1 hour.
Turn the dough back out onto the counter and divide it into six relatively equal pieces. Roll each piece into a 10 inch rope with your hands, allowing the ropes to taper slightly at the ends. Join three of the ropes together at one end, pressing them together. Repeat with the other three ropes, then lay them all onto a baking sheet, like so.
To braid the ropes, take the right-most strand and cross it over into the middle of the strands. Then, take the second strand on the left and cross it all the way over to the right. Now take the first strand on the left and cross it over to the middle of the strands. Finally, take the strand second from the right and cross it all the way over to the left, across all of the strands. Repeat this same pattern one more time, then press the ends of the strands together firmly, pinching them together.
Brush the loaf with the egg wash, and let it rise for 45 minutes while you preheat the oven to 425°F. Brush the loaf with the egg wash again, then bake for 15 minutes at 425°F, then lower the temperature to 375°F and bake for another 30-40 minutes.
- 4 cups + 1 ½ cups sifted all-purpose flour
- 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 1 cup warm water
- 3 eggs
- 2 teaspoons sugar
- 2 ¼ teaspoons active dry yeast (1 packet)
- Pour the water and yeast into a large bowl. Stir together until the yeast is dissolved, then add the salt, sugar, oil, and 1 ½ cups of the flour. Mix together with a wooden spoon until smooth.
- Add the rest of the flour and stir together, then turn the dough out onto a lightly floured countertop and knead for about 10 minutes, until the dough is smooth and springs back when pressed.
- Place the dough in a lightly oiled bowl and cover loosely with plastic wrap or a kitchen towel and let the dough rise in a warm place until doubled in bulk, about one hour.
- Turn the dough back out onto the counter and knead it a few times. Form it into a rectangle and cut the dough into six equal pieces. Roll each piece out into a 10” rope with slightly tapered ends.
- Attach 3 of the strands together at one end, pressing the ends together firmly. Repeat with the other 3 strands. Place the strands next to each other on a baking sheet so that 3 turn out slightly to the left and the other 3 turn out slightly to the right.
- To make the braid, take the right-most strand and cross it over into the middle of the strands. Then, take the second strand on the left and cross it all the way over to the right. Now take the first strand on the left and cross it over to the middle of the strands. Finally, take the strand second from the right and cross it all the way over to the left, across all of the strands. Repeat this same pattern one more time, then press the ends of the strands together firmly, pinching them together.
- Brush the loaf with the egg wash once, then allow the loaf to rise for 45 minutes. Preheat the oven to 425°F. Brush the loaf with the egg wash a second time, then bake it for 15 minutes at 425°F. Reduce the oven temperature to 375°F and bake for 30 - 40 minutes more, until the bread is richly brown and sounds hollow when tapped on the bottom.