Challah is so much more than delicious bread. In the Jewish tradition, baking challah is an important blessing. Women even gather together in challah bakes to bestow blessings upon brides, babies, girls who will celebrate their Bat Mitzvah, and anybody who needs help. Girls and children can also help make this special braided bread.
During Hanukkah, the holiday celebrating the miracle of lights, olive oil can be added to the traditional challah recipe as a nod to this holiday. That is what we did and the result is so delicious.
Olive Oil Challah recipe
- 4 cups bread flour
- 3 teaspoons (about 2 ½ packets) fast action yeast
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 5 tablespoons honey
- ⅓ cup olive oil
- 4 large eggs, divided
- ⅔ cup water
- In a large mixing bowl, add flour. Place yeast and salt on opposite sides. Sift the flour slightly with a fork to begin incorporating the yeast and salt but not mixing entirely.
- To the mixing bowl, add the honey, 2 eggs, and 2 egg yolks (reserving the egg whites for an egg wash.) Mix on low speed.
- As the mixture begins to combine, slowly trickle the water into the bowl. Add just enough water that the dough is mixed well and is still sticky.
- Switch the mixer to medium-low and continue to knead, scraping down the sides as needed, for 5 to 7 minutes or until the dough is no longer sticky. If too much water was added and the dough is not losing the sticky feeling, slowly add additional flour in small increments, kneading between each addition, until the dough reaches the desired consistency.
- Transfer dough to an oiled bowl and turn once. Cover and allow to rise in a warm place free of drafts, for approximately 2 hours, until it has doubled in size.
- Punch down the dough to deflate the air. Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Divide the dough into 4 equal pieces.
- Roll each piece of dough into a long rope by running your hands over the dough pushing the dough from the center to the ends as you move your hands forward and backwards over the dough. If the dough continues to be too elastic to retain its length, allow the dough to relax while you work on a different piece. Dough strands should be approximately 20 inches long.
- Line the strands parallel to one another. Squeeze one side of the ends together.
- To braid, start with the third strand from the left. Gently pass the strand over the 2nd strand and under the 1st strand, like a basic basket weave. Then, move to the strand all the way to the right and begin weaving over and under each strand until it reaches the left. Repeat with additional strands (about twice) until the bread is braided. Squeeze the ends together and tuck the squeezed ends under the bread.
- Carefully transfer the bread to a parchment lined baking sheet or large baking stone. Loosely cover the bread with plastic wrap and then a towel. Place in a warm spot, free of drafts, and allow to rise for 1 hour or until doubled in size.
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
- In a small bowl, whisk together the remaining egg whites with 1 teaspoon water.
- Brush the egg wash over the bread, evenly coating the bread.
- Place the bread in the oven and cook for 10 minutes. Without opening the oven door, lower the oven temperature to 325 degrees and continue cooking for another 15 to 20 minutes or until the bread reaches an internal temperature of 190 degrees.
- Allow the challah bread to cool completely before serving.
In some traditional homes, challah is sliced before Shabbat starts, at sundown on Fridays. Other prefer to break the bread apart with their hands, and in Sephardic families, they throw each piece to the dinner guests.
If you have any leftovers, this challah bread can be used for a yummy french toast that everybody loves. Or just serve as toast. However you eat it, it’s so good that it’s impossible to have just one piece.
Let me know if you use this challah recipe and of your family enjoys it as much as mine does.