Mix together to dissolve yeast. Let stand for 5 to 10 minutes until creamy looking (the yeast is working):
1 Tbs active dry yeast
1/2 cup lukewarm water
Beat in (easiest with electric mixer, but can do by hand):
1 cup lukewarm milk
3 large eggs (or equivalent)
3 Tbs honey
1/8 tsp turmeric (optional, for that zingy yellow)
Beat in, 1 cup at a time:
2-1/2 cups white bread flour
Beat for 3 minutes with an electric mixer, or for a strong 100 strokes with a wooden spoon. Cover the sponge with plastic wrap and set in a warm place for 1 hour, or until bubbly. It will rise well near a pilot light or an electric light, or in an oven that is barely warm (don’t leave the heat on!).
Stir down the sponge with a wooden spoon, then fold in:
1/4 cup melted butter or liquid oil
2-1/2 tsp salt (for proper rising as well as flavor)
2 cups white bread flour
Stir in and turn out onto a floured surface to knead. You may knead in up to 1 cup more flour if necessary. Knead for 10 minutes, until dough is stiff, very elastic and somewhat silky. Rinse, dry, and oil the bowl; shape the dough into a ball and put it into the bowl, and turn to cover the whole ball lightly with oil. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and a towel, and set it to rise in a warm place until double in bulk, about 1-1/2 hours.
Oil 2 baking sheets. Gently punch down the risen dough and turn onto a lightly floured work surface (use no more flour than necessary). Divide the dough into halves, then each half into 3 equal balls. Keep covered unless you are working with them.
Take 3 balls and roll each into a 12- to 14-inch long rope. Place the three ropes parallel to one other, then pinch together the ropes at one end. Braid and then pinch the opposite ends together. Fold the ends under. Place the braided loaf on one of the sheets and brush it with oil. Repeat with remaining dough.
Brush the loaves with an egg wash made of:
1 egg beaten with 2 Tbs water
Sprinkle with sesame seeds or poppy seeds, if desired, and brush again with egg wash. Cover with a dry towel and set in warm spot to rise for about 30 minutes, until they have risen by about 50%. Near the end of rising, preheat the oven to 375°.
Remove covering and bake loaves in preheated oven, with a rack in the middle and one in the upper third if baking both loaves. Halfway through, brush with egg wash again (and switch shelves if baking on two sheets). Bake for about 35 to 45 minutes, until loaves are golden and sound hollow when tapped. Remove from sheets and cool on a wire rack.
To make ahead: Freeze braided challah on cookie sheet immediately after shaping. Remove from sheet, cover in plastic wrap and freezer bag. Thaw overnight in refrigerator (or 5 to 7 hours at room temp), bake as usual. Do not freeze for more than 2 weeks. Baked challah may also be frozen.
Rosh Hoshannah Challah
Prepare the challah dough just as for Sabbath Challah, but make the following changes:
When you add the honey and eggs:
use 1/4 cup honey (instead of 3 Tbs)
and also add at that time:
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 tsp ground allspice
1/2 tsp ground cardamom
grated zest of one orange
Before dividing the dough for braiding, knead in:
3/4 cup currants or raisins
(Plump them first by letting them sit a minute in hot water, then drain well.)
And don't forget -- challah tastes much better torn, not cut!
Bread Machine Challah
Laurie Goldwasser shared her quick and easy bread machine challah recipe with us -- it's delicious and fast! Let the machine mix the dough, then bake it in the oven.
1-1/2 tsp yeast
3-1/2 cups bread flour
2 Tbs sugar
1-1/2 tsp salt
1/16 tsp turmeric (it's what we do)
2 eggs (or equivalent)
2 Tbs vegetable oil
scant cup water (2 to 3 Tbs less than a cup)
Place all ingredients in the machine in the order recommended by the manufacturer. Set dough only cycle. When complete, divide dough in 3 pieces. Roll strands and braid them. Cover and let rise for approximately 45 minutes. Brush top with beaten egg and sprinkle with poppy or sesame seeds, if you wish. Bake at 375° for 30-45 minutes.