I’m not entirely sure where my mom got this recipe, but I got it from her. It’s a surefire way to impress at a Friday night dinner. It has this warm, yeasty flavor in the hours after it’s baked that dissipates as the hours pass, turning it back into just another regular bread (very good bread, nonetheless). Oh, and it’s downright massive.
It’s also quite forgiving. Last time I made it, I let my dough rise too much the second time around, and the challah became bloated and shapeless, and threatened to take over my oven. So I punched it down, braided it again and let it rise for a third, shorter time.
If you’re not making this for a religious celebration, you could just make little knots of dough. That would be good, too.
For one very big loaf of bread (or two smaller loaves):
2 teaspoons dry yeast
1/4 cup sugar
1 cup water
3/4 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons oil
3 to 3 1/2 cups flour
Optional first step: Proof the yeast by mixing it with the sugar and the (warm) water. Within about 10 minutes, the yeast should start making bubbles or foaming. If it doesn’t, you might want to get new yeast.
Mix all the wet ingredients (water, oil, egg) with the sugar, salt and yeast. Add the flour slowly — first two cups, then the remainder, half a cup at a time — until you have an elastic, non-sticky dough. Let rise for 90 minutes, or until doubled in size.
My time-saver — I generally do all my mixing, kneading and rising in a single glass bowl. It also contains the mess.
Punch down the dough, and divide into three (or four) lumps. Squeeze the lumps into ropes. Place them next to each other on a baking sheet, pinch together the top ends, and braid the ropes. Tuck the bottom ends under the loaf to create a tidy result.
Optional next step (which I usually skip) — glaze the challah with a mixture of 1 egg plus 1 teaspoon water.
Place on a baking sheet lightly coated in oil/cornmeal/semolina flour. Let rise one final time, until doubled in bulk — 30 to 45 minutes should be enough.
Bake at 180 degrees Celsius (350 Fahrenheit) for 30 minutes, or until the bread sounds hollow when rapped on the bottom.