I love challah all year-round, but during the High Holidays, good challah is a necessity. This recipe represents a hybrid between my friend Robin’s challah, and the mighty Joan Nathan’s (my Jewish cooking Idol) challah. There’s a lot to love about it. First off, it’s easy—easy to remember (thanks to the straightforward measurements), easy to whip up (because it’s just for one loaf), and easy to handle (because all the dough fits in my Kitchen Aid.)
For the challah-impaired, this post will be text-light, but image-heavy (scroll down after the recipe).
Also, check out this video which I think is totally helpful for learning how to braid a round challah, which is what you want for the holidays. In terms of looks, I’m not too fussy. I’m more concerned with how something tastes. If you don't want to bother braiding your challah, just twist it like a snail shell into a spiral. Looks just as nice though not quite as boast-worthy.
Flavor-wise, this challah is perfectly egg-y and perfectly honeyed (I use honey in the dough for a deeper, more complex taste). My friend Olga had the brilliant idea of using really good extra-virgin olive oil, but if you want to just use safflower oil your challah would still turn out delicious, though maybe not as interesting.
There are two key elements here: The dough should be sticky (as Dahlia so deftly displays above). The stickier the dough, the softer and more supple the loaf (I wrote about this last year, too). And the double egg wash is essential to give your loaf that super-glossy, dark brown look.
If you have a darling child around to help, that will make your challah all the more special and festive. Happy New Year!
Really, This is The Best-ever Challah
Makes 1 large loaf
1 package dry yeast
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 cup warm water
1/3 cup orange juice (freshly squeezed from 1 big orange)
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, more as needed
1/4 cup good honey
1 1/2 teaspoons fine sea salt
4 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, more as needed
1 teaspoon poppy seeds, optional
1. In the bowl of a Kitchen Aid mixer, combine yeast, sugar, and 1/2 cup warm water. Let yeast mixture stand at room temperature for about 5 minutes until it starts to look foamy.
2. Whisk in orange juice, olive oil, 2 eggs, honey, and salt. Fit mixer with dough hook and begin slowly beating in flour 1 cup at a time to form smooth dough, beating well after each addition. Beat on medium speed until smooth and elastic, but still sticky, about 5 minutes. Turn dough out onto a floured work surface and knead for about 2 minutes until the dough begins to spring back. It should stick to your hands, it's annoying, but worth it.
3. Lightly oil large bowl. Add dough, turning to coat with oil. Cover with plastic wrap, and let dough rise in warm draft-free area until doubled in volume, about 1 to 2 hours.
4. Punch down dough. Cover again with plastic and let rise another hour. Punch dough down again.
5. Grease a 9-inch pie pan or baking sheet. Turn out dough onto lightly floured work surface. Divide dough into 4 equal portions. Roll each piece into ropes. Arrange ropes in a criss-cross pattern and braid into a round. (See photos below.) Place braided round in the pie pan or on the baking sheet. Whisk remaining egg, brush dough all over and let rise again until almost doubled, about 30 minutes.
6. Preheat oven to 375°F. Brush dough again with egg. Sprinkle with poppy seeds and transfer to oven. Bake 30-40 minutes until golden and the bottom sounds hollow when tapped. An instant read thermometer should read 190 degrees F. Transfer challah to rack and cool completely.