The best foods are often the ones baked with love and surrounded by tradition, and challah bread happens to be loaded with both!
Coming with a range of options for tweaking the recipe, each with their own unique meaning, you may find yourself asking – what is challah bread?
The History of the Recipe
Challah bread is an important piece of the Jewish Sabbath, representing the sustenance that was passed from God to the Israelites during their exodus from Egypt.
In stories, this bread is referred to as “manna” and it was gifted to the Israelites as a test of will and faith. In the Hebrew language, the word challah translates to mean “portion,” a literal representation of the two servings of bread given to each Israelite every day.
The braided appearance of challah bread is meant to symbolize looping arms and the unification of the original twelve tribes of Israel, creating a beautiful food that represents love, peace, and togetherness.
Historically, rabbis ordained that the first portion of challah bread be separated and burned as gratitude to the Lord. This is a tradition that still exists today!
Many Jewish bakers, each with their own unique challah bread recipe, will still remove a small piece from their baking dough, wrap it in tin foil, and burn it in their oven as a blessing over their bread.
Challah Bread Modernly
However, today’s easy challah bread recipe is a far cry from the complicated recipes of the past. Modern challah bread can be found in a much wider variety of styles and flavors.
While challah bread is a timeless reminder to practice gratitude for our blessings and pay it forward when we find ourselves lucky enough to prosper, there’s no reason this delicious bread needs to be reserved just for high holidays or reverent moments!
The ingredient list in an easy challah bread recipe is typically quite short and simple to prepare, leaving plenty of room for interesting and tasty additions such as honey, raisins, or poppy seeds.
The baking process is simple and leaves you with a pillowy bread, which possesses a rich, semi-sweet flavor that is incredibly versatile.
Try it as a savory, chive-filled sandwich bread or, for a more decadent treat, use thick slices slathered in butter and cinnamon for an amazing French toast!
Easy Challah Bread Recipe
Yields 1 loaf
Things You’ll Need:
- 2 teaspoons active dry or instant yeast
- 1 cup (8 ounces) lukewarm water
- 4 to 4 1/2 cups (20 to 22 ounces) all-purpose flour
- 1/4 cup (1 3/4 ounces) white granulated sugar
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 2 large eggs
- 1 large egg yolk (reserve the white for the egg wash)
- 1/4 cup (2 ounces) neutral-flavored vegetable oil
For savory bread, add 1 tablespoon of sesame oil, 2-3 stalks of green onions, and a pinch of toasted sesame or poppy seeds as a topping.
For a sweet treat, add 2 apples cut into chunks, a squeeze of lemon juice and 1/3 cup of honey.
For decadent dessert bread, add 6 oz. of finely chopped bittersweet chocolate, 1/3 cup brown sugar, 1 1/2 teaspoons of cinnamon and a 1/4 cup of butter.
- Place your water in a medium-sized bowl. Sprinkle the yeast over the water and add a healthy pinch of sugar. Stir to dissolve the yeast and then let stand until a frothy layer appears on top.
- In a separate large bowl, whisk together 4 cups of your flour, then add the sugar and salt. (These can be prepared in a standing mixer, or in a plain bowl if you are going to knead by hand.)
- Create a well in the center of your dry ingredients and add the eggs, egg yolk and oil. Whisk together until well combined. Add any optional ingredients at this time.
- Add your yeast to the large bowl. Mix with a spoon until you create a thick dough that is difficult to stir.
- Knead the dough. If you are using a mixer, use the hook attachment on a low setting for roughly 6 to 8 minutes. If you are kneading by hand, lightly flour a surface and work the dough for about 10 minutes. If you notice your dough is too sticky, add small amounts of flour (no more than a teaspoon at a time) until it reaches a tacky consistency. The dough is ready when it is soft and can hold its shape.
- Let your dough rise. Placed your rounded dough into an oiled bowl, cover and wait until it has doubled. This usually takes about one to two hours.
- Separate your dough into three to six strands, depending on the complexity of the braid you would like. Roll each piece into a long rope a little over one foot in length and about an inch thick.
- Braid! Gather your strands of dough and squeeze them together at one end. Braid them as you would yarn or hair, keeping it as tight as possible. If you are using six strands, use the following rule: “over two, under one, over two.” Bring the outside strand over the two beside it, under the center strand and then back over the remaining two strands. Alternate sides and repeat.
- Let the dough rise again. Line a pan with parchment paper and, covered with a cloth, place the dough somewhere warm so that it can rise for another hour. Preheat your oven to 350°F while you wait.
- Before baking, whisk your remaining egg whites with a tablespoon of water and brush over the top of your challah. Try to get into all of the nooks and crannies of your braid to make sure the entire surface is coated.
- Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, rotating the pan at the midway point. The challah is finished baking when the top reaches a rich golden-brown color. Let the challah cool until warm, slice, and enjoy!
Here’s a video explaining more on how to make challah bread.
Do you have any tips for making challah bread?