I always like to bake bread, but I have to admit that I have special enthusiasm for the project when it’s my three year old who looks at me brightly on a Friday morning and suggests, “Mama, let’s make challah!” Yes, let’s.
I use Claudia Roden’s recipe from The Book of Jewish Food, which I like best of the challah (or “hallah”) recipes I’ve tried. The recipe as written makes four huge loaves, which seems perfectly reasonable once we devour one warm from the oven, set one or two aside to make weekend French toast, and are left with one to eat for the next week’s toast or, more generously, to give away.
Four loaves of Challah: Dissolve 2 Tbsp. dry yeast in 2 1/4 c. warm water with 1 tsp. sugar and set aside 10 minutes, or until it bubbles up. In your biggest bowl, beat 4 eggs, then add 1 Tbsp. salt, 1/2 c. sugar, and 1/2 c. vegetable oil and beat again. Then add the yeast mixture and beat one more time. Gradually add enough flour for the dough to come together, 9-10 cups in all, first mixing in your bowl and then turning out on a floured surface and kneading. Knead for about 15 minutes, having your three-year-old sprinkle the counter and dough with more flour as needed to keep the dough from getting sticky. Stop adding flour when the dough becomes un-sticky and smooth and very enjoyable to knead. Oil your bowl and replace the dough ball, flipping once so both sides are oiled, then cover bowl and set aside to rise for 2-3 hours, until doubled. Punch down and knead again, then divide into 4 sections (each will become a loaf). If you’d like to add raisins to some of your loaves, knead in a few handfuls now. Next, shape the loaves: you can braid them (make three ropes, set them side by side, then braid outward in each direction from the middle), or you can make a round challah by rolling out a long rope and spiraling it around itself like a snail. Move loaves to well-oiled baking sheets and leave to rise for 1 more hour, until they have doubled again. Brush loaves gently with a bit of beaten egg, sprinkle with poppy or sesame seeds (or cinnamon sugar!) if you like, and bake at 350 for 30-40 minutes until well-browned and hollow-sounding when you tap the bottoms of the loaves.