I have always enjoyed baking, and homemade challah was on my list of recipes to try and master. Beyond that, it’s also an important mitzvah for women in Judaism to “mafrish” or separate the challah. During the process of separating out a piece of dough, you say a blessing. It’s common to have in mind anyone who is sick, in recovery, trying to have a baby, or simply needs a prayer. The prayer for separating the challah is an extremely special one, especially when there are 40 or more women doing it at the same time, with the same names in mind.
My Challah Story
About 14 years ago, my neighbor and I decided to start trying out different recipes (very convenient when you’re going through and running out of eggs, sugar, flour constantly and don’t feel like running to the supermarket before the days of Instacart)
During the baking trial and error, I then learned that preparing a challah is actually a segulah (remedy / protection) for easy labor and delivery.
While I was pregnant with baby #3—and since baby #2 was a 30-hour labor during which I watched the entire first season of 24 but she was not budging—I decided it was worth a shot! So, my challah story began.
We were at recipe 3 or 4 and my neighbor said to me: “This is it! This is the recipe that will make you want to stop trying other recipes.” She was right! To this day, it’s the homemade challah I make weekly (or almost weekly).
I've been asked to sell it, but it never felt right. I love to bake for a cause, so if there’s ever a bake sale I always make as much as I can to benefit those who could use the help.
There was one time (still pregnant with #3) when I had in mind to broaden my challah story even further. I had a good idea to bake 80 challahs and babkas and give them out as mishloach manot in my old house, in a tiny kitchen, with one small oven.
Not sure what I was thinking—clearly, I wasn’t—but for about 4 days my kitchen and freezers turned into a challah factory. Each person got a challah and a babka delivered in a bakery box to their door on Purim which fell out on a Friday. After that, I made my husband promise me that he would never let me try that again—unless I had an industrial kitchen.
So, Jackson was born. Labor wasn’t quite as bad as #2 but more than that, I gained a recipe that became a tradition. I hope my kids will make it one day. And I hope you will enjoy it if you try it out too.
I have been known to use the dough to make babka too. Is it true babka? Maybe not. But is it doughy and chocolatey and gooey and devoured nonetheless? Absolutely! Who doesn’t want a short cut? It’s one dough any number of ways.
One of the first recipes I ever made was in a bread machine. Alas, it didn’t fulfill the mitzvah of challah made as a single loaf and was not 5lbs of flour, so onto the next.
I sometimes mixed by hand, which is definitely an upper body workout! However, it did take time, and with young kids at home, I was actively looking for shortcuts.
I started using my kitchen aid stand mixer, but it was a bit messy.
I upgraded to a 6 qt bowl, and it was better, with a guard on top of the bowl, stirring on the lowest setting at first so flour wouldn’t go flying and gradually increasing the speed. Yet, after burning through 2 mixers, I realized the motor was not powerful enough for a 5lb bag of flour.
Finally, when I moved into my new home, friends gifted me an Ankarsrum, the mother of all mixers. This is truly a set it and forget it machine for kneading dough.
Homemade Challah Recipe
- 5 packets of yeast (I use SAF or Fleishman active dry)
- 2 Tbsp of sugar
- 4 1/2 C lukewarm water
- 2 eggs
- 3/4 C oil (I actually use extra light olive oil for baking)
- 2 C sugar
- 2 Tbsp salt
- 1 5lb bag bread flour (King Arthur or other high gluten bread flour - Glicks brand works well)
- Put the yeast and 2 Tbsp of sugar in the bowl of a mixer (as said above, I use Ankarsrum, but Bosch is also a good option)
- Add 4 1/2 C water
- Let the mixture bubble for appx. 5 minutes (if you don't have a stand mixer you can use any very large mixing bowl; 5 qt mixer will be too small and dough will spill out and make a mess)
- Add in oil, eggs, sugar, salt, and flour once it is proofed / thick and bubbly
- Mix it all together on a low speed with dough hook in the stand mixer for appx. 2 minutes or until all of it is blended into a sticky dough (if you don't have a mixer, you can mix it by hand - it will take longer but it is very therapeutic)
- Cover the bowl and let it rise on top of or near a warm oven for up to 2 hours till it is puffy and rising over the edge of the bowl
- Shape the dough into braids or pull apart loaves (roll the dough into small balls and place in greased / sprayed tins or pans; I like to line it with parchment)
- Put any fillings inside (i.e., sauteed onions, chocolate chips, etc.) if you like
- Cover and let it rise again another 1-2 hours
- Preheat the oven to 350 F
- Brush challahs with egg
- Sprinkle with any toppings - sesame seeds, cinnamon, or streusel crumbs
- Bake for 30 minutes
Enjoy homemade challah!
Here are some of my favorite items that I use while baking challah:
If you care parchment paper
Let me know if you try it! I hope you enjoyed this challah story.
Check out more homemade recipes.