Four-Strand Braided Challah

Rich with eggs and butter (or oil, to keep it kosher with a meat-based meal), challah is shaped in various braids and coils, and often gilded with a sprinkle of poppy seeds. Though not quite as rich, it's similar to French brioche; and, like brioche, it makes wonderful toast and French toast.
Prep
30 mins
Bake
35 to 40 mins
Total
4 hrs 5 mins
Yield
1 loaf, about 16 slices
Four-Strand Braided Challah

Instructions

  1. To make the starter: Mix the 1 cup flour, 1 cup water and yeast together in a large bowl or the bucket of a bread machine. Let the mixture sit for about 45 minutes. See "tips," below, for instructions using SAF Gold yeast.
  2. To make the dough: Add the dough ingredients to the starter and mix and knead together — by hand, mixer or bread machine — until a smooth, supple dough is formed. This dough is a pleasure to work with; smooth and silky, it almost feels like you're rubbing your hands with lotion.
  3. Place the dough in a greased bowl, turning it over once to coat it lightly with oil. Cover it and let it rise for 1 1/2 hours, or until it's not quite doubled in size.
  4. To shape the dough: Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and fold it over once or twice, to expel the carbon dioxide. Divide the dough into four pieces, and roll each into a snake about 18" long.
  5. On the lightly greased or parchment-lined baking sheet, braid a four-strand braid (see instructions in our blog,) or fashion a simpler three-strand braid.
  6. In a small bowl, make the glaze by mixing together the reserved egg white, sugar, and water. Brush the loaf, reserving some for a second application.
  7. Cover the loaf with lightly greased plastic wrap and allow it to rise for 45 minutes to 1 hour, or until it's almost doubled in size. Towards the end of the rising time, preheat the oven to 375°F.
  8. To bake the loaf: Brush the loaf with the remaining glaze (this will give the finished loaf a beautiful, shiny crust, as well as provide "glue" for the seeds), sprinkle with poppy seeds, if desired, and bake for 35 to 40 minutes, or until the challah is golden brown, slightly firm to the touch, and the internal temperature is 195°F.
  9. Remove the bread from the oven, and cool completely before slicing.
  10. Store completely cool bread, well wrapped, at room temperature for several days; freeze for longer storage.

Tips from our Bakers

  • This type of quick starter is called for in recipes that are high in sugar, in order to let the yeast get a head start. If you have SAF Gold yeast — formulated especially for sweet breads — this recipe may be prepared without the 45-minute rest, with all of the ingredients mixed together at once.