Kosher Challah Bread

This past April, I made Challah bread for the first time using the recipe found in "The New Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day" by Hertzberg and Francois.  To me, that recipe was easy to follow and produced a great tasting bread.  I was totally content making challah bread that way, but when a friend invited me to a challah making class at a Jewish Temple, I jumped at the chance to learn a new recipe and develop my dough braiding techniques.  

During this class I learned that "challah" not only refers to the bread eaten on Shabbat and holidays (like Rosh HaShanah, the Jewish New Year, celebrated in September), but also refers to the small piece of dough that is pulled off and set aside.  Historically, this small piece of dough was set aside for the priests when making the bread (refers to Numbers 15:20), but in today's culture it is used as a remembrance portion in which the first portion is given to God.  This ritual is done to remind the person that all sustenance ultimately comes from God.

After making the large batch of dough, just prior to shaping the dough into loaves, the separating of the challah is performed.  A blessing is recited over the dough, "Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the Universe, Who has sanctified us with His commandments and commanded us to separate Challah."  Immediately after the blessing, a small piece of dough is pinched off and then you will say "this is challah".  Our instructor, Mindy, said it is typical to wrap the challah in foil, then it is placed in the oven to be burned, so that it is no longer usable. 

I became aware that eggs are acceptable in kosher bread, but not eggs and butter together.  The main difference in the challah bread that I made back in April and this kosher bread is the butter vs oil {oil = Kosher}.  It seems like the dough bakes up lighter when using the vegetable oil vs butter.  Mike liked the kosher challah bread more than the challah made with eggs and butter.  Reviewing the recipes again, I noticed that the kosher challah bread uses granulated sugar and the other uses honey.  I am purely guessing, but I would think honey would be okay to add to the kosher dough, since on the first night of Rosh HaShanah the challah is dipped into honey to recall Israel is the land of "milk and honey" (Exodus 3:7-8). 

During class we made a braided napkin ring and a 4-strand woven round challah.  The napkin ring was pretty simple to form.  We braided 3-strands of risen dough together (the same technique when braiding hair).  After the braid was formed, it was wrapped around a foil lined cardboard paper towel roll that was sprayed with non-stick cooking spray.  The ends were pinched together, then placed on a parchment lined baking sheet.  You can place 3-4 rings on each foil roll.    

Weaving the 4-strand round challah looked very intimidating when watching the instructor create her loaf, but once I started, it wasn't too hard.  The instructional handout I received was copied out of the book, "A Taste of Challah" by Tamar Ansh.  The photocopy I was given is light and somewhat hard to read, but I found the same instructions online by the book's author.  To view the braiding technique, just click here.  

Since this challah dough was made for the Rosh HaShanah celebration, it is sweeter than challah bread served at other times in the year.  You can add golden raisins, chocolate shavings, or cinnamon-sugar to the dough to create an even sweeter bread.

The recipe below makes 8 loaves of bread.  You can freeze the dough up to 3 months, or keep the dough in the refrigerator for 5 days.  I love the idea of reflecting on God's goodness and provision while baking.  This is what I'll be praying,"God, you have never left me without evidence of Yourself and Your goodness.  You give me food and fill my heart with gladness." (adapted from Acts 14:17) 

CLICK HERE for a printer friendly recipe

Ingredients for Kosher Challah Bread

  • 5 pounds (1 bag) of all-purpose flour
  • 2.5 cups granulated sugar (may reduce sugar for less sweet dough)
  • 4 cups lukewarm water (100-105 degrees F)
  • 2 tablespoon coarse salt
  • 4 tablespoons quick rise yeast
  • 6 whole eggs + 1 for egg wash
  • 1 cup vegetable oil
  • 2 tablespoon vanilla (optional)

Directions for Kosher Challah Bread

  1. Transfer flour into a very large bowl.  Make a hole in the middle of the flour.  Pour the warm water into the hole, then sprinkle the yeast over the water.  Add 1/2 cup of sugar to the yeast/water.  Let it stand for about 15 minutes, allowing the yeast to dissolve and bubble.  Along the perimeter over the flour only, sprinkle the salt.
  2. In a separate large bowl, combine the remaining sugar, oil, eggs, and vanilla.  With a fork or whisk, beat until well blended.
  3. After the yeast has risen and many bubbles have formed, transfer the mixture of eggs/sugar/oil (step 2) into the flour/yeast mixture (step 1).  Using a large wooden spoon or your hands, fold all the ingredients together.  Set aside in a warm location.  Cover bowl loosely with plastic wrap or a towel.  Allow to rise until it doubles in size.  
  4. Punch the dough down, then divide into 6 to 8 equal portions.  Don't forget to first take a small piece off and make a blessing (Jewish law).
  5. Form dough into your desired shape.  Place on a greased baking pan or pan lined with parchment paper.  Allow bread loaf to rise 30-60 minutes.  Your finger should leave a small indent when poking the loaf dough.
  6. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Brush tops of loaves with egg wash.  Bake 20-40 minutes until golden brown.
  7. Allow to cool before slicing with a serrated knife.