Have you ever visited a bakery and seen those long beautiful braided breads and wondered, what are those lovely golden brown loaves? I used to work at a European bakery called Boniere in high school and the pastry chef used to bake these aromatic challah loaves each morning and place them on the bread rack in the front of the store for display. These rich milk, butter and egg based breads were especially popular with customers during the spring time for Easter and the winter for Hanukkah. These yeast-leavened breads are tender with a hint of sweetness and are simple to make!
Challah bread dough is easy to work with allowing you to create any shape you desire. I like the traditional braided challah bread, topped with sesame or poppy seeds if I have them on hand. Challah bread is best eaten fresh, however it’s perfect a few days after sliced for toast and fruit jam, lemon curd or just plain butter. One of my favorite uses of day old challah bread is making French toast! Cutting thick slices of the bread and then dipping it into a spiced custard batter is divine! The bread is more dense that regular French or white bread that you can purchase at the store, so it is much sturdier for dipping into liquid which gives a nice crisp outside and tender inside once fried in a hot pan. I created a strawberry French toast recipe stuffed with fresh berries and cream cheese filling with this challah bread and it was my favorite recipe so far! For the most delicious flavor, serve this challah bread fresh and warm the same day to your eager eaters, it will be a surprise if you have one crumb left!
TIP – How does the challah bread achieve such a beautiful golden brown color and taste? Adding egg wash to the bread right before baking and maillard browning of the bread dough as it cooks are two secrets behind the gorgeous appearance. As the proteins and sugars in the egg and bread dough cook, maillard browning reaction occurs. The maillard reaction is a chemical reaction between an amino acid (lysine in the flour and egg) and reducing sugar (like glucose), usually requiring the addition of heat (temperatures above 285°F). This process that occurs during baking will give you the characteristic baked bread aroma, flavor and color. It’s quite a delicious reaction if you ask me!
- 1-1/8 teaspoons rapid rise instant yeast, about half a package (Fleshmann’s brand)
- ½ cup plus ⅛ cup milk
- 1/16 teaspoon of salt
- ⅙ cup of unsalted butter
- 1 large egg, beaten
- ¼ cup granulated sugar
- 2 cups all-purpose flour, more as needed for dusting and kneading
- 1 large egg, beaten with 1 teaspoon of water
- Sesame or poppy seeds (optional)
- In a small saucepan, add the milk and butter to the pan. Heat the milk to 120 to 130°F, stirring the milk until the butter melts. Do not allow the milk to go above 130°F.
- In a large mixing bowl, combine the yeast, salt, eggs and sugar. Add the warmed milk and butter mixture. Add 2 cups of the flour to the mixing bowl. Attach a dough hook to the mixer and combine until smooth on medium speed, for about 2 minutes. Scrape side of the bowl with a spatula as needed to incorporate the flour.
- Slowly add the remaining 2 cups of flour to the mixing bowl, kneading the dough on medium low speed, scraping the sides as needed. Knead until smooth until the dough is stiff and no longer sticky, about 10-12 minutes. Turn dough onto a lightly floured board, and knead for about 2-4 minutes, adding a little more flour as kneaded to prevent sticking. Shape dough into a ball and place into a lightly greased bowl (vegetable cooking spray or oil). Cover the bowl with plastic wrap, and let rise for an hour in a warm place until the dough doubles in size.
- Punch the dough down, then divide into 3 pieces. Roll each piece to form a 1 to 1-1/2 inch rope, about 14 inches long. Create the bread on a sheet tray lined with parchment paper, the same tray you will use for baking.
- To create the braid: Pinch to ends of the 3 ropes together so they stick, then separate the 3 ropes so they are parallel to each other. Start with the rope furthest on the left, cross it over the center rope. Then take the rope farthest on the right, crossing it over the new center rope. Continue with this pattern until the braid reaches the bottom of the dough. Pinch the ends of the braided dough ropes together. Tuck the pinched ends of the braided dough under the dough on each side to create rounded ends.
- Loosely cover the baking sheet with plastic wrap and allow to rise for 1 hour, until it doubles in size.
- Brush each braided bread with the beaten egg wash. Top with sesame or poppy seeds as desired.
- Bake the bread at 350°F until golden brown, approximately 17-20 minutes. Quickly transfer the baked bread to a cooling rack. Enjoy!