Yields: 8 medium challahs
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In a medium-size bowl, combine the yeast with the two tablespoons of sugar and the warm water. Cover the bowl and allow the mixture to start activating. Yeast activation should take about 10 minutes; it will be bubbling and foamy.
Set one cup (125 grams) of flour aside. Sift the remaining flour, sugar, and salt into a large bowl. Form a well in the center.
Pour the yeast mixture and oil into the well. Combine all the ingredients, using a spatula. When it begins to form a dough, it is time to knead. At this point, you can remove the dough from the bowl and knead on the kitchen counter if it’s easier for you, or directly in the bowl.
To knead the dough: Grab the side of the dough furthest away from you and fold it toward yourself. Fold the dough in half and use your body weight to push the dough into itself. If you find that the dough is sticking too much to the surface and preventing you from kneading properly, dust the dough with flour. Give the dough a quarter turn (90 degrees). Grab the other side and fold it in half. Again, with a lot of weight behind it, push the newly folded half into itself. Repeat this process for 10-15 minutes or until the dough is smooth, silky, elastic, and it does not stick to the surface.
After the dough is thoroughly prepared, lay it on the counter top while you grease the bowl with a fine layer of oil. Next, turn the dough in the oil several times so that the dough is greased lightly on all sides.
Cover the bowl with a large plastic garbage bag or kitchen towel and allow it to rise for one hour.
Fresh yeast is harder to come by than dry yeast. It is found in the refrigerated section of the supermarket and should be kept in the refrigerator until ready to use. If you have difficulty finding fresh yeast, you can try your local kosher bakery and ask them if they stock it. Often they do – it’s a little known secret.
Make the blessing on hafrashat challah. (More about hafrashat challah here.)
Knead the dough again for a few more minutes. Use the remaining cup of flour, as needed, to flour the surface area, and hands to prevent sticking. Form the dough into shaped loaves of your choice.
Cover the loaves again and let them rise in a warm place for one hour, or until the dough has doubled in volume from its original size.
If you cannot bake the challahs immediately, then this is the time to wrap the shaped dough in plastic wrap to prevent drying. You can store it in the coldest part of the refrigerator for up to 48 hours. On the day of baking, remove the dough from the refrigerator and let stand on kitchen counter until it comes to room temperature, about one hour.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit (180 degrees Celsius). Brush your challahs with beaten eggs and sprinkle with the topping of your choice (traditional choices are sesame seeds or poppy seeds).
Bake in your preheated oven for about 30-35 minutes, or until loaves turn golden brown and shiny. Bread should have a nice hollow sound when thumped on the bottom.
Remove from the oven and cool on a rack. Wait at least one hour before serving. If you are freezing the challah, wrap in waxed paper and foil. It can be stored in the freezer for up to two months.