Makes 3 three-strand loaves
A challah is a special braided bread in Jewish cuisine typically eaten on the Sabbath and on major Jewish holidays. It has a sweet, egg-y flavor profile and a texture of similar to cotton candy being pull apart. This yield of this recipe (three loaves) might seem excessive but it is easier to mix the ingredients and knead the dough when your yield is larger. So if you can’t consume all three challah loaves at once, simply freeze the remaining ones, either whole or sliced, or consider gifting them. You gift will surely stand out and your friends will be quite impressed!
1 ¼ cup room temperature water
1 ½ tablespoon dry active yeast
2.2 pounds all-purpose flour
4 large eggs
4 egg yolks
3 ½ ounces sugar
1 tablespoon salt
¼ cup vegetable oil
Egg wash and topping
1 tablespoon water
¼ teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon fleur de sel or two tablespoons of poppy seeds (optional)
In the bowl of standup mixer fitted with a dough hook, mix the water and yeast together and allow to dissolve for 2-3 minutes. Add the flour, eggs, egg yolks, sugar, salt and oil. Mix the dough on low speed for about two minutes just to combine the ingredients. Use a bowl scraper to work in the dry ingredients that settled in the bottom of the bowl. If at that point there are a lot of dry bits that do not get worked into the dough, add a bit of water, one tablespoon at a time. If on the other hand, the dough is too soft and sticky, add a bit of flour, one tablespoon at a time. Increase the speed to medium and knead the dough for about four or five minutes or until the dough becomes smooth yet firm.
Transfer the dough to a lightly floured surface. Using the palm of your hand, push and stretch the dough against the surface and away from you. When the dough is so stretched that it starts tearing, fold the end farthest away from you towards the center and give the dough a quarter turn. Repeat the pushing/stretching/fold movement for about two minutes. Then form the dough into a ball by pushing and pulling it against the surface in circular motions.
Place the dough in a bowl that is lightly dusted with flour and cover with plastic wrap. Place the bowl aside at room temperature, away from any cool drafts and allow the dough to rise for about 40 minutes.
Remove the dough from the bowl and shape into a rectangle. Using a dough scraper or a knife, divide the dough into three smaller rectangles. Then further divide each dough into three smaller parts. You will have nine pieces of dough and you will use three pieces for each challah.
Set a piece of dough on your work surface with the longest side facing you. Fold it over towards the center and press into the center of the dough. Repeat this process three more times. You will end up with a “rope” of dough about 7 inches long. You will want to roll the rope so the ends are tapered. Allow this rope to rest and form the remaining eight pieces of dough into ropes.
Return to the first rope and roll it further so it is doubled in length. Repeat with the remaining eight ropes.
Take three ropes and pinch them together at one end. Start braiding the dough by bringing each strand up and over. This will help give height (rather than length) to the challah. When you get to the end of the ropes and can longer continue braiding, pinch the ends with your fingers and tuck them under the body of the challah. Place the challah on a baking sheet. Repeat with the remaining six ropes. At the end you will have three challah loaves.
Place each challah onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat and cover with a kitchen towel. Set aside in a warm place, away from any cool drafts and allow to rise for about 40 minutes or until double in size. Preheat the oven to 425°F.
In the meantime, whisk the egg, water, and salt for the egg wash. Once the challahs have doubled in size, brush the egg wash in a thin coat all over the loaves. Generously sprinkle the loaves with either the fleur de sel or poppy seeds, according to your preference.
Place the loaves in the oven, each on its own rack. Bake for about 9 minutes and then rotate the bottom baking sheet to the top and the top one to the bottom. Bake for another 9 minutes, or until the loaves are golden brown. Remove from the oven and allow to cool completely on the baking sheets.