Cook | Bake your own challah and share the blessings

Looking for a New Year’s resolution you can keep? Consider baking your own challah. It will give your Shabbat meals a delicious twist.

There has been an upsurge in interest in challah baking, perhaps because of the braiding and shaping videos available online. Instructions here are for a three-braid challah.

The first recipe is made weekly by children in the Gan Avraham Preschool at Oakland’s Temple Beth Abraham. The other is provided by Shulamis Labkowski, co-director of Chabad of Oakland and Piedmont. Her recipe makes a lot, but extra loaves freeze well. If your oven isn’t large enough for 6 loaves, divide the dough into 2 greased, covered bowls before rising. Place 1 bowl in the refrigerator; you can store it overnight. Let return to room temperature, punch down and proceed with the recipe.

The word “challah” once referred just to the blessing of a portion of the dough before baking. Later it became synonymous with the braided bread itself. Labkowski’s recipe makes enough dough to perform the mitzvah. Say the blessing before shaping. (“Blessed are you, Lord our God, King of the Universe, who has sanctified us with His commandments and commanded us to separate challah.”) Remove a golf-ball-sized piece of dough, place on foil and burn separately in the oven.


Gan Avraham’s Famous Challah

Makes 1 loaf

1 package dried yeast (not quick rising)

1⁄2 cup warm water

1 tsp. plus 2 Tbs. sugar

3 eggs, divided

1 Tbs. plus 1⁄4 cup water

2 Tbs. oil plus extra for greasing bowl

11⁄2 tsp. salt

3 to 4 cups bread flour

sesame or poppy seeds

Dissolve yeast in warm water with 1 tsp. sugar. Let stand until bubbly. Break two eggs into large bowl. Separate remaining egg yolk from white. Add white to other eggs. Beat. Put reserved egg yolk in small bowl and mix with 1 Tbs. water and set aside.

Add 2 Tbs. oil, salt, remaining sugar and water to large bowl with beaten eggs. Mix well. Add yeast mixture. Gradually add flour. Mix until dough is smooth and satiny. Turn out onto lightly floured board. Knead for 12-15 minutes, adding flour as needed, until dough feels “as soft as a baby’s tush.” Place dough in greased bowl. Cover and let rise 45 minutes until doubled in bulk. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Punch dough down and knead for a few minutes. Divide dough into 3 equal pieces and form 3 ropes on a foil-covered cookie sheet. Braid ropes on sheet. Brush with egg yolk. Sprinkle with seeds. Bake for 30 minutes.


Shulamis’ Traditional Challah

Makes 6 loaves

2 Tbs. dry yeast

41⁄2 cups warm water

1 cup sugar

12 to 14 cups flour, divided

3 eggs, beaten, divided

4 egg yolks

2⁄3 cup oil, plus extra for greasing

2 Tbs. salt

poppy or sesame seeds

Dissolve yeast in warm water in large bowl. Add sugar and 4 to 5 cups of flour. Mix well. Add 2 beaten eggs, 4 egg yolks, 2⁄3 cup oil and salt. Mix. Stir in most of the remaining flour. (Until kneading stage, mixing can be done in an electric stand mixer.)

When dough begins to pull away from sides of bowl, turn onto a floured board and knead for about 10 minutes, adding only enough flour to make manageable. Knead until smooth and elastic. Place in oiled bowl, turning to coat. Cover and let rise for 1 to 2 hours. Punch down. Let rise 1 hour. Shape as desired. For a 3-braid challah, divide dough into 18 pieces and roll with hands to form ropes. For each loaf, braid 3 of the ropes together on a greased baking tray. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Let shaped loaves rise 20 minutes. Brush lightly with remaining beaten egg. Sprinkle with seeds. Bake until brown (about 40 minutes). Remove from pans and cool.

Faith Kramer is a Bay Area food writer. Her columns alternate with those of Josie A.G. Shapiro. Faith blogs her food at Contact her at [email protected]

Faith Kramer
Faith Kramer

Faith Kramer is a Bay Area food writer and the author of “52 Shabbats: Friday Night Dinners Inspired by a Global Jewish Kitchen.” Her website is Contact her at [email protected].