I used to go to a bakery that, amongst other things, specialized in baking challah. Challah is a rich egg bread that is made with oil and without butter or milk. It has a similar texture to brioche, very soft verging on flakey, and a very rich texture. Traditionally, the bread is eaten by Jewish people around the sabbath and on holidays and loaves are shaped in braids. Tradition aside, this is a fantastic bread all year round. It is moist, soft and fantastic for making sandwiches, french toast, bread pudding and all kinds of good things. It is also outstanding on its own.
Most challah loaves are plain, but sometimes they will have raisins or chocolate chips added in to make them a little bit sweeter and give them a dessert feel. After frequenting a bakery that made a great raisin challah as a kid, I am a big fan of challah with raisins and decided to make a few loaves this year for friends celebrating the Jewish high holidays. And, of course, I made a loaf for me to keep and eat.
The bread comes together easily and can be mixed by hand or with a dough hook in a stand mixer. The dough should be slightly sticky, so I’d recommend working with a mixer if you have one. Once your dough i made and has risen well, you can divide it down into three sections and braid them together. The braided dough will proof again before being baked, and the loaf will look fantastic when it is finished. This recipe makes a fairly large loaf, but it keeps very well for snacking, sandwiches and other uses when stored at room temperature for a couple of days.
Challah with Raisins
1 tsp sugar
1 cup warm (110F) water, divided
1 tbsp active dry yeast
1/2 cup oil
1 tbsp honey
2 large eggs
1/4 cup sugar
2 tsp salt
3 3/4 cups all purpose flour (and up to 1/4 cup extra for kneading)
2/3 cup raisins
1 egg white, beaten with 1 tsp water
Dissolve sugar and yeast in 1/2 cup warm water in a large mixing bowl. Let stand 10 minutes until mixture is foamy.
Add in oil, remaining water, oil, honey, eggs, sugar, salt and 2 cups of flour to the yeast mixture. Mix until dough comes together and is smooth. Gradually mix in remaining flour (if using a mixer, do this with the dough hook running on low speed) and mix until dough comes together into a ball and no longer sticks to the sides of the bowl. Mix in raisins. Let dough rest for 10 minutes.
If mixing by hand, sprinkle some of the additional flour onto a smooth surface and knead for 8-10 minutes, incorporating small amounts of flour as needed to prevent the dough from getting too sticky. Dough should be smooth, elastic and slightly sticky when finished. If mixing with a mixer, use the dough hook on a low speed to knead dough for 8-10 minutes.
Place dough into a lightly oiled bowl, cover it with plastic wrap and let rise until doubled, about 1 hour.
Place a piece of parchment paper on a baking sheet.
When dough has risen, flour your hands and gently remove dough from bowl onto a lightly floured surface. Gently deflate the dough. Cut dough into three even sections and gently stretch them out. Starting in the middle, braid them together (working from the center towards the ends for a more even appearance). Pinch the ends together and tuck underneath the dough.
Place loaf on prepared baking sheet. Brush very lightly with egg white. Preheat oven to 375F and let dough rise, covered loosely, for 35-40 minutes, until almost doubled.
Bake for 30 minutes, until deep golden brown.
Cool completely on a wire rack before slicing.