Challah bread is the coveted tradition of my Jewish upbringing; it's the sweet and unifying symbol of our Shabbas meal together every Friday evening, whether spent with family or friends or during Jewish Summer Camp meals where I met my husband. It's also the greatest french toast foundation out there.
Admittedly, though I had practiced challah braiding here and there throughout my childhood, I had never before learned the "Jewish grandmother" secrets, if you will -- the differentiating methods that would make a next-level loaf for sweet Friday night gatherings.
Thanks to a wonderful Sunday morning with my adopted Jewish grandmother Ellen Salky (whom I call "Mimi"), my friend Anna and I were taught the secrets to a perfected challah. Luckily, she's letting me spill the secrets with you. I can't wait to hear how yours turns out!
1 cup very warm water
1 package Fleishmann's active dry yeast
1/4 cup canola oil
1/3 cup sugar + 2 tablespoons sugar, separated
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 egg, room temperature, slightly beaten
4 cups King Arthur Bread Flour
Cinnamon sugar (optional)
1 tablespoon butter, melted
Golden raisins (optional)
1. In a large bowl, dissolve yeast in water with one tablespoon sugar. Once foamed and dissolved, about 15-20 minutes later, add canola oil, remaining sugar, vanilla, salt and egg.
2. Add three cups of flour, one at a time, mixing with a dough hook or by hand. Dough should be sticky to the touch.
3. Pour fourth cup of flour on countertop and place dough in center. Knead remaining flour into the dough for five minutes -- not all flour might be needed!
4. Place dough into a large greased bowl. Cover with a towel and allow to rise for 3-4 hours.
5. Carefully divide risen dough into four knots. Roll each section into a 12-inch log; then use a rolling pin to flatten each into a 3-inch wide strip. Brush each with butter, then sprinkle with cinnamon sugar and raisins. Fold into strip over to conceal toppings and roll back into log shapes. You may skip this step if you prefer a plain challah!
6. Braid challah as desired (use YouTube for a variety of options) and place in a Bakers Spray greased round pan or on a baking sheet. Allow to rise for 1 1/2 hours (see photos below for guidance).
7. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Carefully brush top of risen challah with egg wash (1 egg with 1 tablespoon water).
8. Bake challah for 20 minutes. If challah is especially golden, cover loosely with a sheet of aluminum foil. Continue to bake for 5-10 minutes until fully baked.
9. Transfer challah out of pan and onto a cooling rack. Cool completely before storing in an airtight container.