Heidi's Challah

Submitted by Heidi Lovit

Challah, braided yeast bread, is traditional to have for weekly Shabbat and High Holiday meals.  Many years ago I took on the responsibility for being the bread maker for my family.  I have to admit, I changed recipes several times since my original recipe called for 9 eggs.  Challah is considered an egg bread so I thought that was normal until I became conscious of increased cholesterol from that many eggs in one recipe. Several recipes called for more yeast and less eggs and I finally found the perfect combination for my recipe.  I do think one of the secrets is adding an extra tablespoon of honey to give it a sweet taste and it also makes the texture slightly more moist. 

Growing up in Columbia, my family would come together every Friday night for a Shabbat dinner.  At that time we probably had challah made from a bakery because I don’t remember my mother baking bread.  I learned how to make brisket and meatballs with cabbage and other Jewish foods from my mom, but not bread. My mother’s sister, Phyllis Firetag Hyman, shared her recipe with me when I was in high school and I started baking challahs for the High Holidays.  From then on, no more bakery challahs for our family.  I would always make sure we had challah for Shabbats and every holiday.  I even made extra round challahs with raisins for Rosh Hashanah to share with our family friends, the Levinsons, Polinskys and Levines and a few others.  I even remember one time going over to Gloria Rittenberg’s home to teach her how to make Challah.  When my children were younger I would get them involved in the mixing, kneading and braiding.  When the kids moved away, I always made it a point to send them each a fresh challah for the holidays if they could not make it home.  I am happy to say that my daughter, Morgan, still follows my recipe and bakes challah today.  Every time she does, I get a beautiful photo of her fresh baked bread.  She loves to share with her friends and coworkers.  Sharing recipes with friends is always fun, but when you share a traditional Jewish recipe with others of different faiths it helps to teach about our culture.  Sally Patterson, a Presbyterian and a friend for over 40 years, now makes challah for her family.  

Beth Shalom Synagogue has a fundraiser every fall, called Bubbie’s Food Extravaganza. The very first year in 2009, it was Bubbie’s Bake-Off, a competition for the best recipes of brisket, kugels, chicken soup and challah. I entered my challah recipe and won first place.  For the past seven years I have baked hundreds of challahs in the synagogue kitchen for the annual Bubbie’s Food Extravaganza.  This has also given me the opportunity to teach dozens of women in our synagogue this beautiful and traditional food art of kneading dough and braiding bread.  This year the event is scheduled for Sunday, November 12th. Come by and purchase several loaves of bread, they freeze perfectly for months.     

Making Heidi's Challah at the Beth Shalom Synagogue.

Making Heidi's Challah at the Beth Shalom Synagogue.

Makes 7-8 loaves.

  • 4 cups warm water
  • 4 packages yeast (1 ounce total or 3 tbls)
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 13-14 cups bread flour
  • 3 eggs (save one for brushing loafs)
  • 1 cup oil
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • Poppy seeds

Dissolve yeast in water and add sugar and salt. Let stand until bubbly. Put 7 cups flour in large bowl. Combine oil and two beaten eggs, add 2 tablespoons honey to the mixture. Add to flour. Slowly mix in yeast mixture, making sure all flour is mixed in. (This can be done by hand with a wooden spoon or in an extra-large mixer with dough hook attachment.) Add 5 to 6 more cups flour slowly and mix well until slight gooey but easy to manage. (Hand kneading is best.) Transfer ball of dough into a lightly greased bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Set in a warm place to rise for 2 hours. Knead and divide into seven balls to make seven challahs. Take each ball, divide it into three or four strands and braid, making sure you pinch and tuck the ends under the loaf. While kneading and braiding, keep flour on counter surface to keep dough from sticking. Place braided challahs on pan that is lightly sprayed with nonstick cooking spray. Let rise for another 30 minutes to an hour. Brush top with egg wash (one beaten egg should cover all seven challahs). Sprinkle with poppy seeds. Bake at 325 degrees for 30 minutes until golden brown.