Baking for the Soul: Challah

There’s no easy way to say this, my grandmother (Nona) is almost 90 and not doing very well. She’s in the hospital refusing to eat and drink and take her medications. Some people eat when they’re sad, today I’m baking. Challah. There is nothing more comforting to me than a house that smells from freshly baked bread.
Challah is an egg-enriched bread that is served on Shabbat and Holidays. Its slightly sweet and very delicious. It makes great french toast. The recipe that I use is from the Ratner’s Meatless Cookbook. Ratner’s was a famous dairy resturant in New York. I was lucky enough to eat there once in high school. I’m fairly certain that I made sure to taste their challah, and I’m also fairly certain that I remarked that the one we make is better—even though its from their recipe.

My mother made this recipe when I was a kid, not quite every week, but very frequently. And while we don’t ‘do’ shabbat every weekend, I make this quite frequently. Its actually the only recipe in the book that I’ve ever used. The book opens quite naturally to the challah page. Over the years I’ve found challah recipes that I like and use every now and then….a whole wheat challah that makes enough for several weeks of challot, a lovely pumpkin challah for the fall, and a wonderful recipe in the Baking with Julia book, but I always come back to the original recipe. This one from Ratner’s.
I mentioned that this is an egg-enriched bread. Most challah recipes that you see call for one or two eggs. Not this one. This recipe calls for 2 whole eggs and then 1/3 cup of egg yolks. Today it took 5 yolks to fill 1/3 cup (but I was using eggs from my friend Tisha’s hens–it usually only takes 3 or maybe 4 to fill 1/3 cup with ‘large’ eggs) This is a very rich bread
Delicious. This challah gets rave reviews whenever I serve it to guests or bring it to someone else’s house. Makes one large or 2 smaller loaves.

2 packages active dry yeast (or 4 1/2 tsp)
2/3 cup lukewarm water
1/2 cup whole eggs (usually 2)
1/3 cup egg yolks (usually 4)
7 Tbs vegetable oil
1/4 cup sugar
2 tsp salt
4 1/2-5 cups all purpose flour
1 egg, well beaten, for wash
sesame or poppy seeds (optional, for topping)

  1. In a large bowl, soften yeast in the warm water, add a little bit of the sugar to get things moving. Once the yeast is active, stir in eggs, yolks, oil, remaining sugar and salt. Add enough flour to form a stiff, sticky dough.
  2. Knead dough on a floured surface until smooth and elastic. About 5 minutes
  3. Place in a greased bowl and turn to coat. Let rise, covered, in a warm place until doubled in bulk. About 2 hours
  4. Punch down, knead again and divide dough into strips. Braid into one or two loaves.
  5. Cover and let rise again until doubled…about 45 minutes. Brush with egg wash and top with seeds, if desired.
  6. bake at 375 until richly browned. bake for 35-40 minutes for one loaf, less for two. Cool thoroughly before slicing
  7. This bread freezes really well. Wrap in saran wrap and then aluminum foil. I’ve kept loaves in the freezer for months and had them emerge just as delicious as the day they went in.

3 thoughts on “Baking for the Soul: Challah

  1. It looks delicious. I’m scare about the braiding(I don’t know how?) and the eggs made from Tisha’s hens are beautiful.

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