In ancient times, Jewish women set aside a small piece of dough, called challah, for the Temple priest (kohen) whenever they made bread.
After the destruction of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, Jewish women began to burn a small piece of dough (challah) whenever they made bread in remembrance of the priest’s portion.
Over time, challah came to refer to the whole bread, rather than just the portion separated and burned. It is traditional, not mandatory, for challah bread to be a braided egg bread.
Time Required: Approximately 3 hours is needed to make challah. This includes time for the dough to rise.
- Prepare Dough
Dissolve yeast in a small amount of lukewarm water, plus 1 tablespoon sugar, for 10 minutes. Then add remaining ingredients according to the Challah Recipe being used.
- Knead Dough
Knead dough until its consistency is stiff and smooth (15 to 20 minutes). If the dough is too soft, add flour. If the dough is too firm, add water.
- Let Dough Rise
Put dough into a large, oiled bowl. Then turn the dough over so the top of the dough will also be oiled. Cover the dough, put it in a warm place, and let it rise until it doubles in size (1-2 hours). If the recipe calls for it, punch the dough down to remove air pockets and then let it rise for another 1/2 hour.
- Separate Challah
At this point, Jewish women can fulfill a biblical commandment called Separating Challah.
- Grease Pans
It is important to grease the pans in which the challah will be baked so that the challah can be easily removed from the pan after it is baked.
- Divide Dough
Divide dough into pieces and shape into loaves smaller than the pans. The most traditional shape for challah is braided. The diagram on this page illustrates how to braid a three strand challah. This video demonstrates how to braid a challah using six strands.
- Let Dough Rise Again
Place the dough into the pans and let it rise again until it doubles in size (approximately 1/2 hour).
- Preheat Oven
Preheat the oven to 350 F.
- Glaze Challah
Beat an egg yolk or an egg yolk with a few drops of water. Some people add a teaspoon of sugar into the egg yolk. Using an egg brush, spread the egg yolk on the top and sides of the challah. Poppy seeds or sesame seeds can be sprinkled on top of the challah after it has been glazed with the egg yolk.
- Bake Challah
Bake challah according to the recipe being used. The ready challah should look browned, but not too dark. We usually bake our challah for 30 minutes or until it sounds hollow when tapped on the bottom. Remove the challah from the baking pan immediately and place on a wire rack to cool.
- Incorporate the flour gradually for a smoother dough.
- Give the dough enough time to rise.
- Grease pan well so the challah comes out easily after baking.
- Be careful not to underbake or over-bake the challah.