I’ve been watching a lot of The Great British Bake Off, and it’s really inspired me to make more traditional bakes, like this six-braid challah you see here. The NYTimes is one of my most trusted sources for recipes, and I decided that my first ever attempt at challah should be based on this Joan Nathan “My Favorite Challah” recipe.
I think this recipe is very beginner-friendly – it doesn’t need any specialty ingredients, you can use all-purpose flour, and you don’t need a machine at all. However, I think there were some additional pointers I had in my brain that were not in the recipe as written that would be helpful for someone entirely new to breadmaking. The recipe also makes two loaves, and I don’t have a family to feed, so I halved the recipe. All my notes and pointers are in the recipe below, so keep scrolling to learn more!
I was worried that the braiding would have got my knickers in a knot (hey-yo!) but it was quite straightforward. I had to redo the braid because I realized I wasn’t braiding it tightly enough, but I was quite pleased with the finished product. As the bread baked, it filled my apartment with a wonderful smell and I couldn’t wait for it to be done.
Isn’t the loaf a beauty? The defined braids, the mahogany hue from the double egg wash… It almost looks like a carved wooden pillar. It also was quite large, and the finished product weighed 835 g (or 24 oz). It looked delectable on the outside, but would it taste as good as it looked? I waited for another 3-4 hours so it would cool entirely, and the inside did not let me down.
The bread was soft and fluffy and moist, but not quite as moist as a brioche or Chinese tangzhong bread might be. It pulls apart easily – nowhere near the tugging a sourdough bread would entail – but still with a bit of cragginess and texture. It was quite a delight to eat on its own.
NYTimes Favorite Challah
Adapted from NYTimes
Makes 1 loaf
3/4 tbsps (or 2 1/4 tsps) of active dry yeast
1/2 tablespoon plus 1/4 cup sugar
14 tbsps (or 3/4 cup + 2 tbsps) lukewarm water
1/4 cup vegetable oil, more for greasing bowl
2 large eggs plus 1/2 of a large egg
1/2 tablespoon salt
4 to 4 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
Poppy or sesame seeds for sprinkling
- In a large bowl, dissolve yeast and 1/2 tablespoon sugar in 14 tbsps lukewarm water.
- Once the yeast mixture looks slightly foamy (about 5 minutes), whisk oil into yeast, then beat in 2 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.)
- Turn dough onto a floured surface and knead until smooth, for about 5 minutes or so. Be sparing with the amount of flour you use to flour the surface. If the dough starts to become tacky again, you’ve gone too far, so stop kneading.
- Clean out bowl and grease it, then return dough to bowl. Cover bowl 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.
- Use a cooking spray or a thin spread of oil to grease the surface you’re working on so the dough does not stick. Adding flour to the countertop at this point will add unnecessary flour to your dough and make the finished product stodgy and dense.
- 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.
- Place the 6 in a row, parallel to one another. Pinch the tops of the strands together. Move the outside right strand over 2 strands. Then take the second strand from the left and move it to the far right. Take the outside left strand and move it over 2. Move second strand from the right over to the far left. Start over with what is now the outside right strand. 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. Place braided loaf on a greased cookie sheet or lined with parchment paper.
- Beat remaining egg and brush it on loaves. Either freeze the bread or let rise another hour in refrigerator if preferred.
- To bake, preheat oven to 375 degrees and brush loaves again. (If freezing, remove from freezer 5 hours before baking.) Then dip your index finger in the egg wash, then into poppy or sesame seeds and then onto a mound of bread. Continue until bread is decorated with seeds.
- Bake in middle of oven for 35 to 40 minutes, or until golden. Cool loaves on a rack for 2-3 hours or until completely cool to the touch.
- Store bread in a ziplock bag, or freeze to preserve freshness.