challah. holla!

Please forgive me for the terrible pun, but every time I make this bread I can't help but say it. It's too perfect. Too corny. Too predictable. And as much as I strive to be unpredictable, a Rubix cube of sorts, there are times when I can't pass up a lousy play on words. I think I get it from my Dad, because he's famous for his cheesy lines. I spent most of my teenage years rolling my eyes at him and reminding him that's he's really not all that funny, but for some reason, and perhaps it's a recent state of lightheartedness that makes it easy to laugh at him. Just a few weeks ago we had a little conversation that went something like this:

Brittany (to Mom): Some of these bakeries have to be banking it, they sell cupcakes at four for twelve dollars. It's crazy.

Dad: Britt, I've seen 'em as high as three dollars a piece!

Cue laugh track.

It's been quite a while since I hosted an episode of The Breakfast Club, and to be quite honest, the caramel apple cinnamon rolls we stuffed ourselves with months ago have just now digested and we were all finally hungry again. So to remedy the unfortunate situation, we converged on the kitchen over a pan of sizzling butter and custard soaked slices of challah French toast. Just as it happens anytime I'm in the kitchen, there's always some tiny issue that I'll fuss over for days on end like that time I made challah French toast and I put five eggs in the dough instead of four and I'm still convinced that's why my braid collapsed into one very rectangle looking loaf instead of the curved twisty loaf it should be. Thankfully, I have very gracious friends who didn't say a word about it, even though I secretly think they all noticed and are probably still talking about my mediocre bread braiding skills. But probably not.


A good, proper challah - a Jewish celebration bread, and you know how much I enjoy channeling my inner Jew - should be rich but not heavy, with a crispy lacquered crust on top from a double egg wash. If you really want to get fancy, you can knead in plumped raisins or sprinkle poppy seeds over the top or twist it into a circle after you braid it.  Either way, the best way to get six feet of flavor is to let it rise three times. Stop fussing about it, it's not like you're doing any actual work, you can go clean the bathroom because you know it needs to be done and you've got guests coming over, or take your whiney German Shepherd for a walk, or consider the implications of eating chocolate cake three times a day because that's all you really want in life. See? Look at everything you accomplished in addition to two loaves of bread. Nicely done.


Most people miss the left at Albuquerque in French Toast Land when it comes to the bread because for this, plain white sandwich bread simply will not do. What's worse, I'm going to go out on a limb here and suggest that many people use soft, fresh bread to make it. Quelle horreur! How can you possibly soak up all that creamy custardy goodness with soft bread!? You cannot. It will fall apart in the dish and you'll end up with mush in the pan instead of a nice crispy crust to seal in those soft and silky insides. It's best to bake the bread the day before, let it rest until bedtime, then slice it up and lay them out on a cooling rack overnight. They'll be dry and won't have much give when your press your fingers against their bellies, but they won't be rock hard either. When you make the honey-sweetened custard, let them soak for a full minute before turning, and you'll hear a soft, quiet sigh of relief from those rehydrated slices, the feeling one gets when you settle into a hot bath with sore muscles.


I like maple syrup even though I know the majority of French toast eaters are just fine with table syrup. Either way, serve it hot with lots of it.

Best Challah (Egg Bread)
Adapted from Joan Nathan

Yield: 2 loaves

1 1/2 packages active dry yeast (1 1/2 tablespoons)
1 tablespoon plus 1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup olive or vegetable oil, plus more for greasing the bowl
5 large eggs
1 tablespoon salt
8 to 8 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup raisins per challah, if using, plumped in hot water and drained
Poppy or sesame seeds for sprinkling.

1. In a large bowl, dissolve yeast and 1 tablespoon sugar in 1 3/4 cups lukewarm water.

2. Whisk oil into yeast, then beat in 4 eggs, one at a time, with remaining sugar and salt. Gradually add flour. When dough holds together, it is ready for kneading. (You can also use a mixer with a dough hook for both mixing and kneading, but be careful if using a standard size KitchenAid–it’s a bit much for it, though it can be done.)

3. Turn dough onto a floured surface and knead until smooth. Clean out bowl and grease it, then return dough to bowl. Cover with plastic wrap, and let rise in a warm place for 1 hour, until almost doubled in size. Dough may also rise in an oven that has been warmed to 150 degrees then turned off. Punch down dough, cover and let rise again in a warm place for another half-hour.

4. At this point, you can knead the raisins into the challah, if you’re using them, before forming the loaves. To make a 6-braid challah, either straight or circular, take half the dough and form it into 6 balls. With your hands, roll each ball into a strand about 12 inches long and 1 1/2 inches wide. Place the 6 in a row, parallel to one another. Pinch the tops of the strands together. Move the outside right strand over 2 strands. Then take the second strand from the left and move it to the far right. Take the outside left strand and move it over 2. Move second strand from the right over to the far left. Start over with the outside right strand. Continue this until all strands are braided. For a straight loaf, tuck ends underneath. For a circular loaf, twist into a circle, pinching ends together. Make a second loaf the same way. Place braided loaves on a greased cookie sheet with at least 2 inches in between.

5. Beat remaining egg and brush it on loaves. Either freeze breads or let rise another hour.

6. If baking immediately, preheat oven to 375 degrees and brush loaves again. Sprinkle bread with seeds, if using. If freezing, remove from freezer 5 hours before baking.

7. Bake in middle of oven for 30 to 40 minutes, or until golden. (If you have an instant read thermometer, you can take it out when it hits an internal temperature of 190 degrees.) Cool loaves on a rack.

Note: Any of the three risings can be done in the fridge for a few hours, for more deeply-developed flavor. When you’re ready to work with it again, bring it back to room temperature before moving onto the next step.

French Toast
Adapted from Alton Brown

1 cup half-and-half
3 large eggs
2 tablespoons honey, warmed in microwave for 20 seconds
1/4 teaspoon salt
8 (1/2-inch) slices day-old or stale country loaf, brioche or challah bread
4 tablespoons butter

In medium size mixing bowl, whisk together the half-and-half, eggs, honey, and salt. You may do this the night before. When ready to cook, pour custard mixture into a pie pan and set aside.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Dip bread into mixture, allow to soak for 30 seconds on each side, and then remove to a cooling rack that is sitting in a sheet pan, and allow to sit for 1 to 2 minutes.

Over medium-low heat, melt 1 tablespoon of butter in a 10-inch nonstick saute pan. Place 2 slices of bread at a time into the pan and cook until golden brown, approximately 2 to 3 minutes per side. Remove from pan and place on rack in oven for 5 minutes. Repeat with all 8 slices. Serve immediately with maple syrup, whipped cream or fruit.

1 comment:

  1. So I made this bread for the first time a couple months back. I replaced the oil with butter because I had no oil and about died because it tasted sooo good. My little girl refused to eat anything else, and the french toast the next day was to die for. Also, I've now researched different braiding patterns and done lots of fun stuff. Thanks for posting this, one of my family faves now.


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