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Challah, a Versatile Ceremonial Bread

Most of the people I know here in the Midwest, perhaps the same is true with my friends and relatives  in Asia, do not know anything about challah (ha la).  But mention the braided bread and everyone seems to have seen or tasted it at some point in their lives.

Challah is a ceremonial bread, typically eaten on the Sabbath or Jewish holidays.  For those who follow strict Jewish dietary law, challah is “parve”, meaning it does not contain any dairy.  It has something to do with the restriction about mixing meat and dairy in meals.

Of course, any bread is enhanced when it contains dairy, either milk or butter.  For this blog, I will post two recipes, one with dairy and one without.  Sorry, the parve recipe is in metric (grams).

Bread flour 4 cups (637g)

All-purpose flour 1 1/3 cups (212g)

Water 1 1/4 cups (272g)

Sugar 1/4 cup + 3 tsp (68g)

Honey 1 tbsp. (23g)

Instant yeast 4 tsp (13g)

Butter 7 tbsp. (93g), softened but not melted

Salt 2 1/2 tsp

3 large brown whole eggs

Egg yolk, 4 yolks from brown eggs

This recipe is good for 2 loaves of 800-gram challah.  Using a 5 or 6-quart mixer is better than manual kneading as the dough is sticky.

Mix water and instant yeast in mixing bowl.   Stir until combined. Add the rest of the ingredients, except salt. Using a dough hook, mix on speed 2 for about 5 minutes.

The dough is sticky so scrape and mix until the dough is fully formed into a ball and relatively smooth.

I use instant yeast as it is NOT a finicky ingredient as long as the temperature of your water or milk is not freezing or boiling.  I usually play it safe and make sure that the temperature is around 80 degrees.

Add the salt and continue to knead (speed 2) for 3 more minutes.  For  a better rise of your dough, try to hold off on adding salt until the last 3 minutes of mixing.

Put in greased bowl and cover top with plastic wrap or use 2 greased Ziploc bags. Deflate after 30 minutes. Proof for another 30-45 minutes. Deflate. If too soft to shape, put in fridge for 30 min.

Now you are ready to shape.  I am only showing the 3-strand long challah.  I will post another one for the round challah.

Fold the dough into a rectangular shape. Then cut it into 3 pieces and roll until they are about 12-13 inches long. Sprinkle rice flour on the table to make rolling easier.

For the 3-strand challah, I braid rom the middle to the end; rotate the pieces to do the other side.

Place the bread on parchment paper on a 1/2 sheet pan.   I staple the opposite ends  to get the cradle effect.   Proof for about 1 h 30 min. (approx.). Check after 1 hour. Dough is ready when almost double in size.  If you do not have a proofer, a large plastic box, with top, can be used as a makeshift proofer.  Place in the warm area of your house.  The laundry room is a good place.

Egg wash (1 egg + 1 tbsp. water, beaten) top of the bread with a pastry brush. Bake in preheated 350° oven.

Put a pan in the oven while preheating. This will be the base for the challah pan, placed sideways, to prevent bottom of the bread from browning too much. Cover the top of the bread with aluminum foil after 20 min. Bake for another 10 min.

Prop the oven door by using a folded piece of aluminum foil and leave bread in the oven for another 5 min. This process allows the moisture to escape and prevent the bread from collapsing.


Oops, sorry here is the parve recipe.  Follow the instructions for the other challah.

Bread flour                   654g

all purpose                   218

Water                           262

Sugar                             44

Honey 1 tbsp.                 23g

Canola or olive oil         105

Yeast (instant)               13

Salt                               17

Eggs (approx. 3)           157

egg yolks from 4 large

brown eggs                   131







Nelia Hostetter

Nel Hostetter was born in the Philippines and came to the United States in 1977. She spent over 20 years in the information technology field but left a management job in California in 2006 to go to culinary school in New York city. She owned Sweet Claire Bakery in downtown Bloomington for five years but moved her commercial kitchen to Spencer in 2015. She specializes in international bread and pastries and sells her baked goods at the Farmers’ Market in Bloomington. Nel’s recipes are influenced by her travels to other countries and a childhood filled with memories of food and cooking.

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