Bubbe Sarah’s Challah Recipe

Ingredients:

  • ¾ cup vegetable oil
  • ½ cup warm water
  • ½ cup sugar
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 3 eggs
  • 5 – 7 cups of flour

For yeast mix starter::

  • 1 tsp sugar
  • ½ cup warm water
  • 1 tbs (1 package) yeast

For glaze:

  • 1 egg yolk
  • Poppy seeds or sesame seeds
  • 1. In a large, warm mixing bowl, dissolve 1 tsp sugar in ½ cup warm water. Sprinkle yeast on top. Let stand about 10 minutes (until yeast starts to break down).
  • 2. Into the above mixture, stir the oil, the second ½ cup of warm water, sugar, salt, and eggs. One cup at a time, stir in as much of the flour as you can. The mixture will be stiff and sticky.
  • 3. Cover and let rest for about 10 minutes.
  • 4. Turn dough out onto a floured surface and knead, adding in more flour as needed. It should stay soft and tender.
  • 5. Ball up dough in a greased bowl. Cover and let rise in a warm place, until doubled in bulk (about 1 ½ - 2 hours; if you use quick rising yeast, it may take less time.)
  • 6. Punch down and let rise a second time until double (about 45 minutes – 1 hour).
  • 7. Divide dough to make two or four loaves.
  • 8. To braid each loaf: divide the dough into four equal parts, and roll into four ropes same size and shape. Pinch together into an "X" shape and twist; see illustrations on opposite page.
  • 9. Cover and let rise about ½ hour. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Make glaze by beating 1 egg yolk with about 1 tsp of water and ½ tsp of sugar. Brush glaze over challah and sprinkle with seeds.
  • 10. Bake for about 30 minutes until golden brown.
  • 11. Enjoy!
  • (Of course, store bought works just fine, too.)


Like so much in Jewish tradition, challah is a deeply symbolic food, and one that’s worth savoring. One of the key components of a Shabbat table, this braided egg bread is a festive, delicious way of making the Sabbath distinct from the routines of the rest of the week. Eating challah is the last Shabbat ritual before the Friday-night meal begins (though it enjoys a tasty second life as the best French toast).

Traditionally, “challah” refers to a little piece of dough that gets separated out from a loaf of bread before baking. In ancient times, Jewish women would set a portion of dough aside to give to the temple priests. After the destruction of the second temple in Jerusalem in 70 C.E., this dough was still removed from the whole but was burnt as a sign of remembrance. Today, this tradition endures as a kind of contemporary sacrifice—bakers often remove a small portion of dough and let it burn in the oven—reminding us about the offering to the priests. Eventually “challah” came to refer to the entire loaf of bread eaten during the Sabbath meal.

Challah recipes typically call for eggs, white flour, and sugar; the amount of eggs, in particular, is what sets it apart from “everyday” bread. Of course, it’s possible to find recipes that leave out the eggs or use different types of flours or sweeteners, and some people like to add cinnamon, raisins, or even chocolate chips to their challah dough.

The dough is rolled into long ropes of equal thickness—usually three, but the more ambitious can try a larger number for a more intricately woven design—which are pinched together at one end and braided. Though there are competing theories about why we braid challah, it’s said that the braiding represents unity—the strands woven together create a harmonious whole. Finally, challah is brushed with a simple egg wash and baked in the oven until golden brown.

Challah is customarily eaten during Shabbat meals. While the candles are lit and the blessing over the wine is chanted, the challah is traditionally kept covered on the table, usually with a cloth expressly for this purpose (it is said that this keeps it from getting jealous that it comes after wine). According to some traditions, the first serving of challah should be torn from the loaf by hand rather than sliced with a knife, so as not to use a “weapon of war” on Shabbat. Before eating it, salt the pieces a bit, to symbolize the ancient sacrifice in Jerusalem.