The traditional, braided, symbolic Jewish loaf is a stunner—and not as hard to make as you might think.
For the dough
- 1 ½ cups lukewarm water (about 110°F), divided
- 1 package active dry yeast
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- 1 large egg
- 3 large egg yolks
- ½ cup honey
- 2 tablespoons canola oil, plus more for the bowl
- 2 teaspoons kosher salt
- 6 cups all-purpose flour
For the egg wash
- 1 large egg
- 1 tablespoon cold water
Pour ¼ cup of the lukewarm water into a large mixing bowl. Add the packet of active dry yeast and 1 teaspoon of sugar. Stir until the sugar is dissolved. Wait 10 minutes. The mixture should become foamy—if not, start again with a new yeast packet.
Add the remaining lukewarm water to the bowl, along with the whole egg, egg yolks, honey, canola oil, and salt. Whisk together.
Add flour, 1 cup at a time, stirring with a rubber spatula each time flour is added.
When the dough is too thick to stir, switch to kneading by hand. Continue to add flour and knead until the dough is smooth and elastic, not sticky.
Remove the dough from your mixing bowl and put it in a large, clean bowl greased with a little bit of canola oil. Flip the dough over so both sides of it are covered with a little bit of oil. Cover the bowl with a clean, damp kitchen towel. Place on a lower shelf inside the oven and let rise for one hour.
Punch dough down several times to remove air pockets. Place it back inside the oven and let it rise for another hour.
Lightly flour the countertop. Punch the dough into the bowl a few times, then turn the dough out onto the counter and knead for a few more minutes. Divide the dough into three equal parts and roll each piece into a tube about 20 inches long. (You can also make 2 loaves of challah by dividing the dough into six parts and rolling each piece into 10-inch-long tubes.) Pinch the ends of all three parts together, then braid to form the challah loaf. (The action is similar to braiding hair: Take the tube on the right and move it towards the middle, then the tube on the left and move it towards the middle, etcetera.)
Place the braided loaf on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper, on a diagonal. Using a whisk, beat the remaining egg and water together in a small bowl to make an egg wash. Use a pastry brush to brush the egg wash all over the dough. Save the leftover egg wash.
Preheat oven to 350°F. Let the loaf rise 30 to 45 minutes longer. Bake the challah for 20 minutes, remove it from the oven, and brush it again with the egg wash. Turn the pan around and bake for another 20 minutes. You can test the bread to see if it is done by turning it over and tapping on the bottom of the loaf—if it makes a hollow sound like you are knocking on a door, it’s done. Let the challah cool on the baking sheet or a wire cooling rack before serving.