challah for Christmas


(this is a reprint of a recipe post from 2 years ago)

For Christmas Eve dinner this year I decided on a "Russian Jewish" theme.  Partly this was out of a desire to have all of he food ready and waiting well before our guests were due, as some of them were coming from Christmas Eve services and wouldn't arrive until nearly 9pm.   I settled on a menu of borsht, cabbage salad, and perogi with carmelized onions, and Kris did trifle for dessert (which I failed to get a picture of, dammit).  Originally, I thought I would make some dark rye bread, but then it occurred to me ... it's Friday night!  We should have challah!

After all, the little guy was Jewish, wasn't he?

So that morning, at 9am, I started on a triple-batch of challah.  Click more for full recipe and instructions.

Challah Berkus

  • 1 cup warm water
  • 2 ½ teaspoons active dry yeast (or one packet)
  • 5 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3 generous tablespoons sugar
  • 2 teaspoons salt (1 if using salted butter)
  • ¼ cup melted butter
  • 2 large eggs + 1 yolk, beaten
  • Oil sprayer
  • 1 egg beaten with 2 tbs water or milk for an egg wash
  • Large bowl, dough rising bowl or bucket, dough scraper, bread board, cookie sheet, baking parchment, pastry brush.

Proof the yeast in the warm water for 5-10 minutes.

In the large bowl, mix all of the dry ingredients.  Dump in the warm water, the melted butter, and then the beaten eggs.  Mix until it forms a cohesive and slightly sticky mass; knead for 5-10 minutes until silky but still tacky. 

Spray the dough bucket or rising bowl lightly with oil, drop in the dough ball, seal the lid, and leave in a warm place until more than doubled in size (1½ to 3 hours depending on temperature and yeast).  Can rise in the fridge overnight.  Punch down if necessary, and dump on the bread board.

rising challah dough

The Dough Which Ate Cleveland Heights: a triple-batch of challah rises.  

Split the dough into 3 to 6 pieces, depending on how you want to braid it. You have three options with this quantity of dough:

  • 1 ginormous 3-strand challah
  • 2 smaller 3-strand challot
  • 1 ginormous 6-strand challah

splitting the dough

Because I needed to make a triple batch, I opted for making 3 giant three-strand loaves.  The 6-strand challah is very impressive but a 6-strand braid is hard to get right.  I recommend practicing with string.

dividing the dough into strands

Roll the pieces into long ropes (about 18 inches long). 

braided loaf

Cover the cookie sheet with parchment, and braid the ropes into a loaf on it.  For the above loaf, I rolled the strands extra-long and evenly.  You can also make a more traditional shape by rolling somewhat shorter strands which taper towards the ends, as shown below.

braided loaf rising

Spray a sheet of plastic wrap with oil, and cover the loaf loosely.  Preheat the oven to 375F.

glazing the loaf with egg wash

Make the egg wash.  After 20-30 minutes, the loaf should have grown significantly in size.  Remove plastic, brush it with the egg wash all over the top, and put it in the oven.

Bake for 25-30 minutes, rotating halfway through.  At the end of baking, the loaf should be very brown except in the crevices, and should sound hollow when thumped in the middle.   Remove from oven, put on a rack, and allow to cool for at least 15 minutes before slicing.

baked loaves cooling

Enjoy your challah!  And Merry Christmas!