With its rich, slightly sweet flavor, shiny golden crust, and pillowy interior, challah isn’t just for the Jewish holidays — it appeals to everyone, any time!
Servings: One 16-inch [40 cm] loaf
4¼ cupsall-purpose flour, spooned into measuring cup and leveled-off, plus more for dusting
1 tablespooninstant/rapid-rise yeast (see Note)
¾ cuplukewarm water
6 tablespoonsvegetable oil
3eggs, at room temperature
1egg yolk, at room temperature
In a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook, combine the flour, yeast, and salt. Mix on low speed for 30 seconds to combine. In a separate bowl, combine the lukewarm water, oil, honey, 2 of the eggs, and the egg yolk. Add to the dry ingredients and knead on medium-low speed until you have a sticky dough that clings to the bottom of the bowl, 5 to 7 minutes. The dough may seem too wet but have faith—it’s supposed to be.
Dust your hands generously with flour, then scrape the sticky, elastic dough out onto a lightly floured work surface. Dust the top of the dough lightly with flour and knead briefly into a soft, smooth ball. Lightly grease a large bowl with oil or nonstick cooking spray. Place the dough in the bowl, flip it over once so the top is lightly oiled, and then cover the bowl with plastic wrap. Allow the dough to rise in a warm, draft-free spot until it's puffy and doubled in size, 2 to 3 hours.
Invert the dough onto a lightly floured work surface and dust with flour. It will deflate. Cut the dough into four even 9-oz pieces, and then stretch and roll each piece into a rope about 20-inches long. Lay the ropes parallel to one another (vertically). Pinch them tightly together at the top, and then fan them out. If the ropes shrink a bit, just work them back into their original length.
Begin by taking the strand farthest to the right and weave it toward the left through the other strands using this pattern: over, under, over. Take the strand furthest to the right and repeat the weaving pattern again: over, under, over. Repeat this pattern, always starting with the strand farthest to the right, until the whole loaf is braided. Tuck the ends under to give the loaf a finished look.
Carefully transfer the braided loaf to a parchment-lined 13 x 18-inch baking sheet. Cover the loaf loosely with plastic wrap and let it rise in a warm, draft-free spot until about 1.5 times the size, 1 to 2 hours. Toward the end of the rising time, preheat the oven to 350°F and set an oven rack in the middle position. (Note that the loaf will continue to rise significantly in the oven.)
In a small bowl, beat the remaining egg and brush the beaten egg generously over the risen dough. (Note: If you like, sprinkle poppy or sesame seeds onto the challah before putting it in the oven.) Place the baking sheet atop another baking sheet; this will prevent the bottom crust from browning too much. Bake for 25 to 35 minutes, until the crust is a rich brown color and the internal temperature is between 190°F and 200°F on an instant-read thermometer. Remove the bread from the oven and place it on a rack to cool. Challah is best enjoyed fresh, but leftovers will keep for a few days in a sealed plastic bag.
Note: Active dry yeast may be used instead of instant/rapid-rise yeast, however, the dough will take longer to rise.
Note: When baking yeast breads, rising times are only a guide; the temperature in your kitchen, the humidity level outdoors, and how you knead the dough will all affect the rising time.
Make-Ahead Instructions: Prepare the loaf up to the point where it's braided and on the pan. Cover it with greased plastic wrap, and place it in the refrigerator overnight. The next day, remove the braided dough from the refrigerator and set it on the countertop (keep it covered). Let it come to room temperature and rise for about 1 hour before baking as directed.
Freezer-Friendly Instructions: Challah can be baked, cooled, tightly wrapped, and frozen for up to 3 months. Allow it to thaw at room temperature for at least 3 hours before serving.