Monday, June 8, 2009
When I first moved to New York, I lived in a Victorian house with 5 roommates, most of whom were Jewish girls, one of whom was kind enough to call her grandma and get the family recipe for challah for me. I have tested a handful of other challah recipes in the years since then, but none of them do it for me. One of the best parts of this recipe is that it makes two gigantic loaves without much effort, and they're really soft and tasty. The other best part is that it's great for French toast or bread pudding when it's stale, which is a total bonus.
3 packages (6 1/2 tsp) active dry yeast
2 1/4 cups warm water
1/2 cup sugar
1 1/2 tbsp salt
1/2 cup melted butter
3 eggs + 1 egg for the wash
7 1/2 to 8 cups bread flour or all-purpose flour
oil for greasing the bowl
Stir together the yeast, water, and sugar in a very large bowl and set aside to react. After five minutes or so, when it's nice and foamy, add the salt, butter, and eggs and stir to combine. Add the flour one cup at a time. Once all the flour is incorporated, continue to knead for about ten minutes, outside of the bowl. Seriously. Kneading it for a long time is a good thing. This is what makes it soft.
Coat the inside of that giant bowl with oil and place the dough in it, cover with plastic wrap, and let rise until doubled, about 1 1/2 to 2 hours.
Remove the plastic wrap and punch the dough down and knead it briefly, then divide in half. Divide the two pieces into four, two slightly larger and two slightly smaller. Divide each of these pieces into 3 and knead/roll into thick ropes about 15" long. Take 3 small ropes and pinch them together at one end. Braid the dough, pinch the other end, and turn both ends under. Repeat with all of the dough until you have 2 large braids and 2 small braids. Set the small ones atop the large ones and place each loaf on a greased cookie sheet. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise until doubled, about 45 minutes to 1 hour. At the halfway-risen point, start preheating the oven to 400º.
Beat an egg and brush the loaves with it before putting in the oven. Bake at 400º for ten minutes then turn down to 350º and bake another 30 to 40 minutes or until golden brown.