When Friday night rolls around, there is nothing more satisfying than the fresh baked smell of challah. While the thought of baking your own challah may feel daunting, the more you do it – the easier it becomes. If you’re willing to sacrifice a few weeks of beautiful looking challot (it always tastes good – even if it doesn’t look good), it won’t take long until you’ve mastered the skill.
To take some of the pressure off, reach out to a seasoned challah baker. You might organize a workshop for women in your community or, perhaps, the synagogue sisterhood would be interested in running an event. If there are no classes or workshops available– then be bold and ask a friend, a Rebbetzin, or a local bakery if you can learn from them. Here in my community, there is a handful of women who get together every other month or so to bake together. We enjoy chatting while we are mixing, measuring, and kneading!
Before beginning your challah baking, it’s important to make sure you have – not only the ingredients you will need – but the proper utensils as well. For example, if you are going to dive in and use a 5lb bag of flour, you’ll need a large mixing bowl. I use one of those 15x12x5 plastic Rubbermaid dishpans. It makes mixing (and cleaning) much easier. You will also need a measuring cup, a small bowl, and measuring spoons. Read through the recipe you will be using prior to starting so you can ensure you have the proper utensils.
As mentioned above, you will also want to make sure you have the proper ingredients before you start baking. There is nothing more frustrating than going to the pantry for an ingredient and discovering you don’t have it. Timing with challah is important, and if you have to run to the store to pick something up – it may throw your timing off.
Below is a recipe I frequently use for baking challah. It typically allows me to make enough for two week’s worth of challah. The recipe uses enough flour to recite the bracha and separate the challah. Separating the challah is a mitzvah reminiscent of Temple times when a portion of dough was given to the Kohanim.
Challah with a Bracha
You will need:
5 lb bag of flour
2 Tablespoons of salt
4.5 cups of warm water
3 Tablespoons of yeast
a dash of sugar
Ľ cup of honey
1 teaspoon of vanilla (optional)
1 cup of vegetable/safflower oil
1.5 cups of sugar
*While I normally try to prepare healthy items when I cook, Shabbat Challah is a different story. My family loves a decadent challah. I am still working on a really good whole-wheat challah and a gluten free challah, but I do have a yummy vegan challah.
In a small bowl, put the warm water, yeast, and a dash of sugar. Let it proof for ten minutes. (If you’ve never proofed yeast before, the temperature of the water is important to its success.)
In your large bowl or Rubbermaid dishpan, pour your 5 lb bag of flour. Add the salt.
In another bowl, mix the eggs, oil, honey, sugar, and vanilla if you are using it. Once your yeast has proofed, add the egg mixture to the flour and mix. Then, add the yeast mixture, stir it up, and begin kneading. Knead until your dough is nice and smooth and round. This will probably take ten minutes or so. Your dough will no longer stick to your fingers when it is done.
Many people turn their dough out onto a floured surface to knead. I prefer to knead my dough in the Rubbermaid container (I don’t like to wipe off the counter or table after kneading).
Separate your challah and recite the bracha: Baruch atah ‘Hashem’ elokenu melech ha’olam asher kiddishanu b’mitzvotav v’tzivanu l’hafrish challah or Blessed are you, L0rd our G-d, King of the Universe who has sanctified us with His commandments and commanded us to separate challah.
Lightly oil the bowl, and cover it with plastic wrap and a towel to rise. Let the dough rise until it is doubled in size – approximately two hours. Once the dough has risen, punch it down. Really, punch it down. Deflate it.
Next, divide the dough into portions. Your portions will depend upon how many challah you would like to make, how big or small you would like them to be, and whether you want to make 3-strand, 4-strand, or 6-strand challot. Braid your challot and cover them with plastic again. You can let them rise – braided – for another hour or you can get them ready to bake at this point.
Make sure you have preheated your oven to 350 degrees. Before putting them in the oven, you will brush the loaves with an egg wash made from one egg yolk and one tablespoon of water. The amount of baking time will depend upon your oven and whether or not you are using a convection oven. Typically, it takes 30-40 minutes. To determine if your loaves are done baking, turn them over and tap on the bottom. If you hear a hollow sound, they are ready to be removed from the oven.
I am certain you will enjoy the smell of fresh baked challah and that once you bake challah, you will never buy someone else’s challah again.