Grandpa’s Christmas Challah

Last Thanksgiving I decided to, once again, try and follow in my grandfather’s footsteps. After listening to a story from my grandmother, I was inspired to recreate a memory from her past. My late grandfather, Thomas McMahon, was a man of many great talents and attributes. He was a contractor, a Korean war veteran, an avid golfer, huntsman, and had a love for cooking and baking. Every Christmas he would bake Challah bread for the country club that he and my grandmother belonged. Baking cinnamon rolls, wheat bread, and gingerbread together, I never learned how to make this specific bread. So, I researched how it was traditionally made.

This yeast dough is raised three times and the recipe makes two loaves or one stacked loaf, called a crown. Intending on using at the holidays; I wanted two loaves. I used poppy seeds for topping one loaf and one with sesame seeds. I do have a younger sister, so braiding isn’t too foreign to me, but adding a 4th strand I was lost. So after watching a video or two I learned the trick of the dough.

Challah Bread

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INGREDIENTS

  • 5 tsp. active dry yeast
  • 1-3/4 cup warm water
  • ⅔ cup sugar
  • ½ cup olive oil, plus extra to grease a bowl
  • 5 eggs, plus 1 extra for an egg wash before baking (6 eggs total)
  • 1-2 Tbsp. salt, depending on your taste (I use 1-1/2 Tbsp. or so)
  • 8 to 8-1/2 cups flour, plus extra for kneading/dusting

INSTRUCTIONS

  • In a large bowl or the bowl of your stand mixer, dissolve the yeast in the warm water. Let sit for 5 minutes or until yeast begins to foam.
  • Mix oil, sugar, and salt into yeast.
  • Add 5 eggs, one at a time.
  • Add 8 cups of flour in 1-cup increments, mixing the dough a bit between each flour addition. (If you’re using a stand mixer, use the dough hook attachment here. If you’re working without a mixer, stir in as much flour as you can with a wooden spoon and then knead the rest in by hand).
  • When you’ve added 8 cups of flour, take a look at your dough. It should be slightly sticky but should still hold together and pull away from the sides of your bowl as you mix. If the dough is too wet, add more flour in ¼-cup increments until dough reaches the right consistency.
  • If you’re working with a stand mixer, add an additional 1 Tbsp. of flour to the mixer and continue to knead the dough with your dough hook attachment until the dough is smooth and holds together. If you’re working without a mixer, turn the dough out of the bowl onto a floured surface and knead it by hand until it reaches a smooth consistency. (I have a stand mixer but also love the act of kneading)
  • Oil a large bowl and place your dough inside. Cover with plastic wrap or a clean towel and let it rise in a warm place for 1-1/2 hours or until it has doubled in size.
  • When dough has doubled, punch it down and turn it over in your bowl. At this point, you let it rise again on the counter though, re-cover the dough and let it rise again for 45 minutes on the counter.
  • Turn the dough out onto a floured surface, punch it down slightly, and cut it into 12 equal pieces. (Each loaf will use 6 of those pieces). Set 6 pieces aside while you form the first loaf.
  • Roll each piece of dough out into a long rope, about 12-14″, and place the ropes parallel to each other on your floured surface. Braid one loaf, set aside, and repeat the process with your remaining 6 pieces of dough. Transfer the loaves to a large baking sheet.
  • At this point, you can freeze one or both loaves for baking later or you can let them rise a final time. If you freeze a loaf, remember to let it come back to room temperature and rise before you bake it. If you’re moving straight onto baking, cover each braided loaf and let it rise a final time – in a warm place for 1-1/2 hours or until the loaves have nearly doubled in size (they should be puffed up pretty significantly).
  • Beat your remaining 1 egg with 1 Tbsp. of water to make an egg wash. Brush it liberally on each loaf. Place loaves into a 375 degree oven and bake for 20 minutes. After 20 minutes have passed, pull the baking sheet slightly out of your oven and give each loaf another liberal brush of egg wash.
  • Return loaves to the oven for 10-20 minutes or until loaves have developed a deep golden color. Fully cooked loaves should make a hollow sound when you tap them and will have a sturdy outer crust.
  • Let loaves cool for 15-20 minutes.

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Original recipe credit to lifeasastrawberry.com

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