“Challah at Ya from Vienna!” The Austrian Origins of The Classic Jewish Braided Eggy Yeast Bread (Recipe) #IconicJewishFood

Beautiful Jewish Shabbos challah with sesame

 

[Updated February 2023]

The best challah recipe you’ll ever taste!

This is your traditional can’t-get-enough, soft, tearing-long-strands, perfectly sweet, Bubbe’s-childhood-memory-evoking deliciousness!

The special treat has a rich history behind it, so let’s get some definitions and historical facts straight before we create and enjoy our beautiful challah.

As one of the most iconic of all Jewish foods, challah is assuredly more ritual than recipe. Though it incorporates special covers, boards, trays, tins, cookbooks and (sometimes) knives, making challah is about more than just “things;” perhaps more importantly, it’s about prayers, initiation rituals, recipes and secrets.

Challah is omnipresent in Israel and in the Jewish diaspora, especially in the United States where, in many places, it’s a deli and supermarket staple, be it in the form of the ultimate French toast or even in a kugel, a Jewish baked pudding.

Here's my wife pulling the soft, long strands of my classic, simple challah recipe!
Here’s my wife pulling the soft, long strands of our classic, simple challah recipe!

Braided, egg-enriched bread is made in many other European cuisines. In Vienna, as in many other parts of Central and Eastern Europe, the locals claim their own local bread, presenting their own version of traditional braided bread as shtritslskalacs, and what-not. In German-speaking regions like Vienna, there’s even a so-called Zopf, which is German for “braided hair.” And don’t even start with the French about their wonderful brioche!

Most of these rather sweet, yeasty, and egg-rich delicacies are eaten on Sundays and holidays with butter, honey, and jam. The main difference between the gentile and the Jewish version is the absence of dairy products in the latter. This is to confrom to Jewish religious laws, which do not allow the mixing of dairy and meat.

Traditional challah recipes use oil instead of butter and milk, and add eggs. (Water challos is German with a distinct sourdough flavor and added potatoes to help the action of the yeast.)

Bacon and egg salad sandwich as found in Tel Aviv made with very frum, (Yiddish for pious) challah from Bnei Brak's famous Vizhnitz bakery.
Bacon and egg salad sandwich as found in Tel Aviv made with very frum, (Yiddish for pious) challah from Bnei Brak’s famous Vizhnitz bakery.

What’s particular about the Jewish tradition and where’s the strong connection to Vienna? Let’s start at the beginning.

In 2008, a third-century amulet inscribed with the central Jewish prayer Shema Yisrael was discovered in a Roman child’s grave in a burial ground near Vienna. This “archeological sensation,” as it was called in the headlines, remains the earliest trace of Jewish inhabitants in present-day Austria.

Thus, there were already Jews on the site of modern-day Vienna before the city existed officially, or at least since the late Roman Empire, when Jews made up a sizeable portion of its population.

The site of modern-day Vienna marked in German Wien as one of the important Jewish settlements of the 4th century in the area of the Roman Empire. (Map as exhibited at the Museum Judenplatz, the Jewish Museum at Vienna's Judenplatz, which is showcasing medieval Jewish life in Vienna, fronted by a monumental Holocaust Memorial.)
The site of modern-day Vienna marked in German “Wien” as one of the important Jewish settlements of the 4th century in the area of the Roman Empire. (Map as exhibited at the Museum Judenplatz, the Jewish Museum at Vienna’s Judenplatz, which is showcasing medieval Jewish life in Vienna, fronted by a monumental Holocaust Memorial.)

A couple of hundred years earlier, before Christian persecution of the Jews, when the temple in Jerusalem was still standing, the word “challah” exclusively referred to the portion of a bread or dough donated, to the Kohanim (priests), from every dough that was prepared as described in the Book of Numbers 15:18-20.

These donated portions, each about the size of an olive, had to be handed over in the form of loaves befitting the status of a priest. It was meant for their sustenance, “in order that the priests, who are always occupied with Divine service, should live without any exertion,” (Sefer ha-Hinnukh, no. 385). However, they were nothing like what we know as challah today. How they really looked is the object of interesting and long discussions in the Talmud.

Challah in the shape of a bird for Yom Kippur, a symbol of the sins “flying away,” or for Sukkos based on Yeshayahu (Isaiah). “...as hovering birds, so will the Lord of hosts shield Jerusalem.
Challah in the shape of a bird for Yom Kippur, a symbol of the sins “flying away,” or for Sukkos based on Yeshayahu (Isaiah). “…as hovering birds, so will the Lord of hosts shield Jerusalem.

After Titus’ Roman legions destroyed the second temple in Jerusalem in 70 CE, and the priests could no longer officiate, the rabbis decreed that the priestly portion had still to be taken from the dough in order to keep the memory of this holy obligation alive. With no temple though, the dough had to be destroyed — most often via burning — which some communities see as protection from the “evil eye.” Challah — or any bread from which this small portion has not been taken and destroyed — is not considered kosher. Thus, the priestly portion itself became an unconsumable rest.

Since then, the table in every Jewish home is seen as a little temple, and the Shabbos challah loaves represent the so-called twelve showbreads displayed in the temple in Jerusalem before its destruction as described in Leviticus 24:5-8. Those loaves of bread were flat, round, and made from semolina-like flour, but the exact shape and form is also subject of discussion.

Vienna's medieval Shul as it must have looked in 1421, the year of its destruction during the Viennese Geserah, the expulsion and murder of the Jewish community. (Model, as exhibited at the Museum Judenplatz.)
Vienna’s medieval Shul as it must have looked in 1421, the year of its destruction during the Viennese Geserah, the expulsion and murder of the Jewish community. (Model, as exhibited at the Museum Judenplatz.)

Meanwhile, Jewish Vienna resurfaced from the dark middle ages with written evidence from the twelfth century onwards — as such a Jew named Shlomo is mentioned as Duke Frederick I’s mint master in 1194. That’s when one of the leading rabbis of those times was born: Vienna’s rabbi Yitzhak bar Moishe, aka Isaac ben Moses of Vienna (ca. 1200-1270), also called the Riaz, was the author of Or Zarua (אור זרוע), which literally means “the arm of light.”

And it is here that in the early fourteen-hundreds Israel Isserlein (1390-1460), the famous author of Trumas HaDeshen (תרומת הדשן), an important foundation of Jewish law, for the first time extended the meaning of the word challah to the whole of the Shabbos bread, so that it no longer referred only to the small priestly portion.

The remains of the medieval synagogue were discovered during the construction of the Holocaust memorial at Judenplatz: When one analyses history, one uncovers the past. (Excavations as seen at the Museum Judenplatz in Vienna.)
The remains of the medieval synagogue were discovered during the construction of the Holocaust memorial at Judenplatz: When one analyses history, one uncovers the past. (Excavations as seen at the Museum Judenplatz in Vienna.)
Reverse shot of the excavations of the medieval synagogue at Museum Judenplatz, which is part of Vienna's Jewish Museum.
Reverse shot of the excavations of the medieval synagogue at Museum Judenplatz, which is part of Vienna’s Jewish Museum.

This usage of the word challah came about because, first, Rabbi Isserlein miraculously escaped death during the Viennese Gzerah (גזרה), Vienna’s decree from 1421 in which the local authorities had decided to systematically annihilate the Jewish population and among other horrors, to burn two hundred Jews alive.

Second, as noted in John Cooper’s wonderful 1993 book, Eat and Be Satisfied: A Social History of Jewish Food, we learned about the rabbi’s use of the word challah because it was later compiled together with many other customs of Rabbi Isserlein by his student Joseph ben Moses of Austria (1423–1490?) in the latter’s halakhic (Jewish Law) collection, Leket Yosher (לקט יושר), which dates back to 1488.

Later, all of this spread to the rest of Ashkenaz (Jewish central and eastern Europe) and beyond, back to Israel and onto the new world. And that’s how challah, as we know it today, came from a book by a Viennese rabbi.

My six-stranded star of David challah and the instructional video I made to illustrate the process.
My six-stranded star of David challah and the instructional video I made to illustrate the process.
https://youtu.be/Pjh67rIB6Zs

Notwithstanding Vienna’s (at times) extremely hostile environment, challah took on its particular shape and form in Austria and southern Germany at around the same time, according to Gil Marks’ Encyclopedia of Jewish Food. The distinctive embellishment of loaves of bread with various styles of braidings was seemingly adopted from surrounding populations. Some argue that the reason so many separatist laws and decrees were put in place by authorities on both Christian and Jewish sides was that there was quite a lot of mingling going on, at least in the public space. Anyway, that’s how, when, and where the braided strands of dough started to make up challah loaves.

Popular challah shapes from TOP, left to right: 1) Round, spiral or coil-shaped challah for the holidays from Rosh Hashanah to Yom Kippur, honouring the Yom Kippur tradition when you shake hands to ask for pardon and for Hoshannah Raba, symbolic of reaching for a blessing, and that the verdict of Yom Kippur should be signed on that day. 2) The tablets of the law for Shavuos. 3) Key-shaped challah, shlissl-challah in Yiddish, for the first Shabbos after Pessach were the manna didn't fall any longer. MIDDLE: 1) Ladder, on Yom Kippur five or seven-rung referring to Jacob's dream on Hoshanah Raba. 2) Grapes for Sukkos. 3) Torah scroll for Simchas Torah and Shavuos. BOTTOM: 1.) Ornament. 2) Fish for Purim. 3) Six-stranded challah with an extra vav (sixth letter of the Hebrew alphabet) on top.
Popular challah shapes from TOP, left to right: 1) Round, spiral or coil-shaped challah for the holidays from Rosh Hashanah to Yom Kippur. The additional hand honors the Yom Kippur tradition when you shake hands to ask for pardon and for Hoshannah Raba, symbolic of reaching for a blessing, and that the verdict of Yom Kippur should be signed on that day. 2) The tablets of the law for Shavuos. 3) Key-shaped challah, “shlissl-challah” in Yiddish, for the first Shabbos after Pessach where the manna didn’t fall any longer. MIDDLE: 1) Ladder, on Yom Kippur five or seven-rung referring to Jacob’s dream on Hoshanah Raba. 2) Grapes for Sukkos. 3) Torah scroll for Simchas Torah and Shavuos. BOTTOM: 1.) Ornament. 2) Fish for Purim. 3) Six-stranded challah with an extra vav (sixth letter of the Hebrew alphabet) on top.

In Vienna, often four strands are braided to form a challah, but six became very popular as the two customary loaves for each meal made up a total of twelve strands representing the twelfth showbreads of the temple. There are two loaves for each meal because of the double portion of manna that fell from heaven and was bestowed upon the Jews in the morning before Shabbos so as not to make them work. They would then collect the manna on Shabbos itself.

More shapes from TOP, left to right: 1) Spiral or coil shape for the holidays from Rosh Hashanah to Hoshanah Raba. 2) Six-strand Magen David or Star of David challah. 3) Four-strand round Challah for the holidays from Rosh Hashanah to Hoshanah Raba. MIDDLE: 1) Challah from a traditional tin. 2) Magen David or Star of David challah. 3) Little bird for Yom Kippur as the sins should fly away like birds and for a vers from Yeshayahu (Isaiah) As hovering birds, so will the Lord of hosts shield Jerusalem. BOTTOM: 1) Knot 2) Bun 3) Roll.
More shapes from TOP, left to right: 1) Spiral or coil shape for the holidays from Rosh Hashanah to Hoshanah Raba. 2) Six-strand Magen David or Star of David challah. 3) Four-strand round Challah for the holidays from Rosh Hashanah to Hoshanah Raba. MIDDLE: 1) Challah from a traditional tin. 2) Magen David or Star of David challah. 3) Little bird for Yom Kippur as the sins should fly away like birds and for Sukkot because of a verse from Yeshayahu (Isaiah) As hovering birds, so will the Lord of hosts shield Jerusalem. BOTTOM: 1) Knot 2) Bun 3) Roll.

Vienna was at the heart of the Western Yiddish region, and it is the resemblance of Yiddish’s “monn” (poppy seed) to the Yiddish pronunciation of “manna” that is at the root of the use of poppy seeds as topping for challah. French medieval Talmudic and biblical commentator, Rabbi Shlomo Itzhaki (Rashi), held that manna somewhat looked like sesame, which is why there’s often sesame on a challah.

In some areas, it is also common to use saffron in challah because manna was yellow, though eggs fulfill the same purpose. For a classic challah recipe however, this would amount to eight ingredients together with flour, sugar, yeast, salt, water, eggs and oil — a highly undesirable number. Why this? According to The Haimische Kitchen, written by the pious Ladies’ Auxiliary of Nitra (Mount Kisco in New York) named after the city 60 miles northeast of Vienna from where they were murdered and chased during World War Two, a true challah recipe “includes seven ingredients, corresponding to the seven days of the week.” At this point, we should remember the many other challah traditions that were lost forever due to the annihilation of European Jewry.

Dough preparation, from TOP, left to right: 1) Sifting the flour into the liquid ingredients mixed with the yeast beforehand. 2) Combine everything with the salt. BOTTOM: 1) Mix for a couple of minutes. 2) Push and tear the dough, fold it over itself and give it a quarter turn. Repeat for two minutes.
Dough preparation, from TOP, left to right: 1) Sifting the flour into the liquid ingredients mixed with the yeast beforehand. 2) Combine everything with the salt. BOTTOM: 1) Mix for a couple of minutes. 2) Push and tear the dough, fold it over itself and give it a quarter turn. Repeat for two minutes.
Shaping the challah strands, from TOP, left to right: 1) Flatten the ball of dough with a rolling pin is the easiest and quickest way. 2) Roll it onto itself lengthwise. BOTTOM: 1) Seal the dough with your fingers. 2) Shape the strand by giving it slightly tapered ends.
Shaping the challah strands, from TOP, left to right: 1) Flatten the ball of dough with a rolling pin is the easiest and quickest way. 2) Roll it onto itself lengthwise. BOTTOM: 1) Seal the dough with your fingers. 2) Shape the strand by giving it slightly tapered ends.

Coincidentally, another major ingredient for challah, yeast, though used since the Egyptians, in its modern form is also a Jewish product that was first perfected in Vienna by Hungarian Charles Louis Fleischmann, before he moved to the United States. There, he founded the well-known consumer and industrial yeast brand Fleischmann’s Yeast.

Setup for braiding a six-strand challah: Form six dough balls per challah. Pinch all strands securely together and proceed with the setup as instructed in the illustration.
Setup for braiding a six-strand challah: Form six dough balls per challah. Pinch all strands securely together and proceed with the setup as instructed in the illustration.
My wife demonstrating how to braid a six-strand challah Start top left till bottom right and repeat. Seal the ends by pinching and tucking the ends away under the challah.
My wife is demonstrating how to braid a six-strand challah: Start top left till bottom right and repeat. Seal the ends by pinching and tucking the ends away under the challah. (With challah strand positions numbered from left to right: 5->1 & 6->4 then 2->6 & 1->3. Repeat.)

So we see that challah’s name and shape date back to the Viennese middle ages. But the real sweetness came to challah much later as an additional allusion to manna, which had originally tasted like honey when pounded into cakes. Sweetness became affordable with the industrial revolution, in fact, parallel to the Haskalah, the Jewish enlightenment (ca. 1770-1881). Around this time, sugar prices dropped due to its large-scale mechanical extraction: it no longer had to be imported, as it would now come from locally grown sugar beets.

One cannot but notice the synchronicity with enlightenment’s secularist push precisely when religious practices, like eating challah, had to become even more addictive to keep the pious flock at the table.

Very gently brush the risen challah with egg wash, then top with sesame and/or poppy seeds. If you wish, you can give it another egg wash midway through baking. Using an instant-read thermometer will give you optimum results each and every time. Remove your challah from the oven when the internal temperature reaches 195°F90°C.
Very gently brush the risen challah with egg wash, then top with sesame and/or poppy seeds. If you wish, you can give it another egg wash midway through baking. Using an instant-read thermometer will give you optimum results each and every time. Remove your challah from the oven when the internal temperature reaches 195°F90°C.

With the big smile of one that just had deliciously sweet challah — meaning not overly sweet — I understand that the distinctive form of cultural Judaism, which is culinary Judaism, surely is a result of this fight between enlightenment and its reactionary antagonists. Challah is not only an expression of an actively practiced religious belief, or even the fond memory of a passing tradition; it’s also the expression of a living culinary culture.

This is how to form knots, individual buns, rolls or whatever you wanna call them in Yiddish... bulka, bilke, and so on.
This is how to form knots, individual buns, rolls or whatever you wanna call them in Yiddish… bulka, bilke, and so on.
And this is how I braid a typical Viennese high four-strand challah Start at the top left picture, continue towards bottom right, and repeat. Pinch ends and tuck them away under the challah.
And this is how I braid a typical Viennese high four-strand challah Start at the top left picture, continue towards bottom right, and repeat. Pinch ends and tuck them away under the challah.  (With challah strand positions numbered from left to right: 4->2 & 1->3 then 2->3. Repeat.)

Traditionally, Jewish mothers would teach their daughters how to make the sweet braided bread. Even though some tend to romanticize a women’s role in the shtetl world, women were (typically) marginalized in areas like religion, family, work, education, culture, and political life. To this end, the act of setting aside the challah portion, together with the obligation to light the Shabbos and festival candles and keeping in-line with laws pertaining to menstruation, was seen as a punishment for the original sin, as an atonement for female disobedience in the garden of Eden (Genesis Rabbah 17:8). Hassidic ideas directed especially at women may obviously present things quite differently to their audience. It was a general trend to sacralize popular rituals, like bread-making for Shabbos and holidays, thus lending greater value to female religious rituals (see Encyclopedia Judaica on Women).

My wife's installation for a talk at studio Weiss in Bnei-Brak with parchment papers gathered from her friends.
My wife’s installation for a talk in 2010 at studio Weiss in Bnei-Brak with parchment papers gathered from her friends (approx. 10ft x 13ft / 4m x 3m).

In our age and time, Jewish and non-Jewish crowds flock around bakers treated like gurus when they show how to make challah to a crowd of mostly newbies and those (re-)discovering their childhood memories and culinary heritage. Indeed, there’s a strong religious and rich cultural background to the tradition, which is all the more important as we remember the mass murder and destruction of European Jewry during World War Two. Keep in mind how this little Viennese historical overview of ours ends: Those few but lively challah bakers still left in the city of Vienna today are highly valued remnants of what used to be Europe’s third-largest Jewish community!

On Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, you can add an extra spoonful of sugar and some raisins soaked in rum or grape juice. Add the raisins when forming a long single strand for the coil-shaped challah, just before you roll up the dough to form the strand.
On Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, you can add an extra spoonful of sugar and some raisins. (No need to soaked in rum or grape juice, on the contrary, as this would add extra moisture.) Add the raisins when forming a long single strand for the coil-shaped challah, just before you roll up the dough to form the strand.
Challah is beautiful! Many people, including myself, like it slightly burnt on top. At the local bakery, these are usually the first to be sold.
Challah is beautiful! Many people, including myself, like them slightly burnt on top, שרוף (saroof). At many bakeries, these are usually the first to be sold.

 

Recipe: Classic Eggy Yeast Challah

 

Political and religious divides tend to get blurred when it comes to challah. Both secular and religious crowds have always been attracted by spots like the famous (now permanently closed) Maphiat Lender (מאפית לנדנר) in Jerusalem’s Mea Shearim neighborhood, or the fabulous Viznitz challah bakery (מאפיית ויז’ניץ) — worth every detour — in Tel Aviv’s suburb Bnei Brak. These places are all about classic and traditional challah, since no one flies home for the holidays eager to be the guinea pig for an updated recipe. But if you insist on innovation, you should definitely test out challah made by someone like Uri Scheft, the Denmark-bred and Lenôtre in Paris graduated cosmopolitan. His boutique bakery Lechamim has branches in Tel Aviv and even Manhattan. He also offers the classic challah he learned to love as a child.

A quick and easy recipe

In 2016, Uri Scheft shared this recipe in his book Breaking Breads. For the occasion, I retrofitted my classic technique, adapted and annotated Scheft’s recipe, and tested it countless times. The minimalist technique is a mixture of that of my wife’s and all the tricks and secrets we ever learned from moms, grandma’s, aunts and uncles of friends and friends of friends, to the Chernobyler rebbetzin’s and her mother’s and obviously all the great names from Claudia Roden and Joan Nathan, over Mark Bittman, Mollie Katzen back to Uri Scheft.

My wife makes a terrific whole grain spelt water challah she perfected together with her friend Blimi Spitzer a decade ago — more on that recipe another time. But for the moment, I want to stick with an ultra-classic though very simple recipe. Not to make this quick and easy recipe here for a delicious and very traditional braided eggy Jewish yeast challah simply is a sin.

Use a scale!

Many home cooks I know who make challah weekly for decades don’t really measure anything. They just take a bit of this and a pinch of that. Sometimes it comes out a bit stickier…so what? It’ll turn out fine anyway, believe you me! Because the most important part of challah making is the technique, the overall procedure. Here I’ve done my best to describe this foolproof process, which I tested for perfect results with absolute beginners. Do use a scale! And the metric system! It makes baking so much easier — and more professional.

Which Flour to Choose

The end result of your challah bread can vary depending on the type of flour you select. Opting for type W700 glatt/bread flour means you’ll be using a flour with a higher gluten content, which will result in a denser and chewier texture. The higher gluten content makes the dough stronger and more elastic, leading to a better rise and a defined texture. The final product may have a nutty flavor and a chewier texture.

Alternatively, type W480 glatt/all-purpose flour offers a lower gluten content, resulting in a softer and more tender texture. The dough will be more tender and less elastic, leading to a lighter and airier bread. The final product may have a sweeter flavor and a softer crumb structure.

It’s worth noting that flour brands and varieties vary from country to country, so it’s always best to check the packaging or consult with a local expert for guidance. Additionally, the type of flour you choose will also depend on personal preference.

Double the batch and freeze it

I always make a double batch, as my stand mixer can take it in one go. And it’s worth noting that challah freezes perfectly. To defrost, simply put in a microwave on high for 30 seconds, then turn the loaf and continue on high for another 30 seconds until the center of the loaf is defrosted — use an instant-read thermometer! Then place the loaf into a hot oven (345°-435°F/175-225°C) for a couple of minutes to crisp up the loaf quickly, and let cool on a rack. Some people even freeze sliced challah and then toast individual slices to defrost and toast them at the same time. You just have to add a bit of extra time to the regular toasting time to allow for the defrosting.

If you have enough time, just leave the frozen challos on the countertop still in their zipped up freezer bag. This works incredibly well!

For a Vegan Hasidic Water Challah and even more info on challah turn to my addendum to this post.

The Seven Ingredients

Classic challah (yields 2 loaves or 12 large rolls1):

 

  • 400g (1 2/3 cups) lukewarm water (between around 105ºF/ 40.5ºC and 115ºF / 46ºC)
  • 15g (1 tablespoon and 1 3/4 teaspoons) active dry yeast or 40g (3 Tablespoons and 2 teaspoons) fresh yeast
  • 100g (1/2 cup) granulated sugar
  • 114g (2 large) eggs lightly beaten
  • 75g (5 tablespoons or 1/3 cup) canola or sunflower oil
  • 20g (1 1/3 tablespoon) fine salt (iodine-free to avoid bitter taste)
  • 1kg (7 cups) sifted bread flour or all-purpose wheat flour (In Austria take “Typ W700 glatt” for bread flour or “Typ W480 glatt” for all-purpose flour / In Israel קמח לבן or קמח רב תכליתי) The final result of your challah bread will vary depending on the type of flour you use.

raisins (optional for Rosh Hashanah)

Egg wash

  • 1 large egg at room temperature
  • 1 tablespoon water
  • pinch of fine salt (iodine-free to avoid bitter taste)

Topping

  • 80g (2/3 cups) poppy seeds and/or sesame seeds 

The Procedure

  1. Read through this recipe before you start. Do not skip this step!
  2. Heat the oven to 113°F/45°C (regular convection, no fan).
  3. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook mix the lukewarm water with the lightly beaten egg and the yeast.
  4. Mix in the sugar and the oil.
  5. Sift the flour with a sifter if you didn’t do it yet. (Weigh the flour as amounts indicated often include the weight of the packaging!)
  6. Preferably use the dough hook of a stand mixer on low speed to add the flour
  7. Immediately drizzle in salt.
  8. Continue to combine everything for 2 to 3 minutes on low speed (don’t worry if it’s a little bit sticky).
  9. On medium speed, knead the dough for 18 minutes.
  10. Take out the dough of the mixing bowl onto a working surface. Again, don’t worry if the dough is a bit sticky and firm. If necessary, use a dough scraper to get the dough from the work surface.
  11. Stretch and fold the dough over (see illustration above). Use your hands to push and tear the ball of dough, then fold it over itself and give the dough a quarter turn. Stretch fold and turn again for a couple of minutes if you can.
  12. Make a ball out of the dough and put it back into the bowl. (If you want you can cover the dough. I don’t bother. Certainly, don’t grease it or dust it with flour.)
  13. Place the bowl into the warm oven.
  14. Let rise for 45 minutes in the 113°F/45°C oven (no fan), until it has nearly doubled in size. (You can let the dough rise for 2-3 hours in a warm place on the counter, or you can leave it in the refrigerator overnight, which will result in even more flavor development.)
  15. Divide the dough into as many balls as strands needed to braid two loaves (Two times one strand for two spirals, or two times six or four strands).
  16. With a rolling pin, flatten a ball of dough. (If using raisins, scatter them on top of the piece of dough). Roll up the dough onto itself, then shape it into a strand that is slightly tapered at the ends.
  17. Braid the challah (see illustration for six or four strands) and place on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. (For optimum results, use a perforated aluminum baking sheet or, at least, a perforated baking mat.) Also, there is no need to grease your tabletop or use flour to facilitate braiding.
  18. Prepare the egg wash by mixing everything together in a small bowl with a fork so as to create as few air bubbles as possible. Very gently brush the egg wash onto the loaves.
  19. Let the braided loaves rise in the warm oven for another 25 – 30 minutes. To see if the dough has risen enough, press on it lightly with your finger. If the hole slowly fills in by no more than half, the dough is ready. If on the other hand, the hole fills in completely and quickly, the dough needs more time. If you press on it and the dough deflates, you have over-proofed it. (To remedy this, go back to step 14.)
  20. Take the loaves from the oven and place in a draft-free free spot.
  21. Preheat the oven to 425°F/220°C (regular convection setting, no fan).
  22. Brush the loaves a second time with the egg wash, again being careful to apply it gently.
  23. Sprinkle with sesame and/or poppy seeds. (If using both, start with sesame.)
  24. Bake the loaves on the middle rack or if they don’t fit, divide onto two racks. After 15 minutes, change the position of the baking sheets so the bottom one is on top, and the top one is on the bottom. Continue to bake for another 10 minutes or until golden brown (or slightly burnt). Since baking times will vary depending on the size of the loaves, it’s best to use an instant-read thermometer: Remove the loaves from the oven when their internal temperature is just above 195°F/90°C.
  25. Take them off the baking sheet and let them cool completely on a rack.
Shlissel challah for the first Shabbos after Pesach (Passover). when the manna stopped falling from heaven. Maybe sesame or poppy seeds are not that appropriate for the occasion after all... I never really know.
Shlissel challah for the first Shabbos after Pesach (Passover). when the manna stopped falling from heaven. Maybe sesame or poppy seeds are not that appropriate for the occasion after all… I never really know.
Challah 101 continued: Another classic is to bake your hallah in a traditional (non-stick) tin. The main advantage of using tins is that challos can get higher and one can put more loaves at once in the oven.
Challah 101 continued: Another classic is to bake your hallah in a traditional (non-stick) tin. The main advantage of using tins is that challos can get higher and one can put more loaves at once in the oven.
My proud daughter with her beautiful — and delicious — classic six-strand challah! She did cut the strip (the "vav") with scissors to make this nice ornament. The long strip placed on top of the challah stands for the Hebrew letter "vav", which has the numeric value six. Hence, the two shabbos loaves next to each other add up to twelve, which was the number of showbreads at the temple in Jerusalem.
My proud daughter with her beautiful — and delicious — classic six-strand challah! She did cut the strip (the “vav”) with scissors to make this nice ornament. The long strip placed on top of the challah stands for the Hebrew letter “vav”, which has the numeric value six. Hence, the two shabbos loaves next to each other add up to twelve, which was the number of showbreads at the temple in Jerusalem.

For a Vegan Hasidic Water Challah and even more info on challah turn to my addendum to this post.

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Footnotes

  1. To take challah with a brucheh, you need at least 1.66 kg of flour:

    • 640g lukewarm water
    • 24g active dry yeast
    • 160g sugar
    • 182g eggs (ca. 3 large eggs)
    • 120g neutral oil
    • 32g salt
    • 1.6kg flour
Nino Shaya Weiss
Greetings, I am Nino Shaye Weiss, an unbridled foodnik kibbitzing (aka blogging) from Vienna, a place steeped in history and culture. The city of music and dreams, once loved and hated by Sigmund Freud, has been home to many celebrated Jewish figures, including Theodor Herzl, Gustav Mahler, Viktor Frankl, Martin Buber, Stefan Zweig, Ludwig Wittgenstein, Arnold Schoenberg, and Erich von Stroheim, among others. In my blog, I endeavor to pay tribute to these great figures as well as to the anonymous Jew of pre-Shoah Jewish Vienna by delving into memory's kitchen and celebrating their once-rich and diverse cuisine, now lost forever. From Italian and Hungarian influences to Bohemian and Galician, I explore the eclectic flavors and unique stories of this previously vibrant culinary tradition, often with a Freudian twist. Join me in my virtual kitchen as I offer a culinary armchair therapy for a fictional restaurant, and discover the delicious world of Jewish Viennese food…

12 Comments

  1. Hi Nino!
    I am just starting to nibble my way through your blog posts. What a treat! So much history — Jewish, Viennese or both — entwined with your writing. I really appreciate your thoroughness. Your conversational writing style is really easy to digest. I have already learned a lot. I usually follow Joan Nathan’s Challah recipe but now I am inspired to try yours.

    A couple summers ago my daughter and I spent several days in Vienna. We felt such an absence of Jewish life but maybe we did not look in the right places. Naturally, we visited Berggasse 19. As my father was a psychoanalyst, this was a particularly meaningful stop for me. Even though Freud and his immediate family made it out, the remains of his Vienna home were a poignant reminder of what was lost during the Shoah.

    1. Naomi, thank you so much for these kind words about my blog. You might want to subscribe to the automated notifications about new posts and important updates, as my articles appear very irregularly.
      You are right about the almost complete absence of any sign of active Jewish life in Vienna. There’s a very small but lively community in what used to be the heart of Vienna’s Jewish neighborhood in the 2nd district. But even there signs of active life are hard to come by. But actually, Vienna as a whole is a trace of past Jewish presence. It is its Jewish inhabitants that shaped great parts of what Vienna is today – just think of the Ringstrasse, the coffeehouses, the arts and the music aso. – even though its inhabitants have chased and murdered its Jews.
      You’re visit to Vienna must have been full of stark emotions. Next time you plan a trip, don’t forget to let me know!
      I hope to see you around – at least virtually!

        1. Dear Nino,

          If you are reading this comment now, you know that we are living through difficult times. The world is facing the greatest peace-time crisis of this generation, and as a result of our invisible enemy, we are confined to our homes. Because of the stress and anxiety that comes with such uncertainty, I have taken to baking bread and found your wonderful recipe for challah.
          First, thank you so much for providing such a detailed history of challah and how its evolution is a result of geopolitical events of the day. It was really interesting and I shall do more reading.
          Secondly, this is by far the best recipe I’ve tried. The New York times had a challah recipe but it didn’t come out right and the proportions were uneven. This recipe is a lot more what I know to be challah and grew up with. And my mother agrees!
          Thirdly, I tried to get a little creative and braided it in a star of david shape and I have to say I am very pleased with the look! Definitely will be experimenting again with designs.

          Best regards,

          Loic

          1. Dear Loic, I blushed while reading through you comment on multiple occasions because of the great prise you have for this recipe post. Thank you so much! I honestly try very hard and put much effort into these recipes so they should really turn out as good as possible when following the instructions. The fact that the result reminds you of your childhood is to me the biggest honor.
            Don’t forget to subscribe to the news and updates and have a look at my other posts.
            I hope to see you around. Stay safe and good baking!

  2. I only have one thing to say. Amazing amazing!!!
    Hoping to be able to watch this many times so some will sink into my head.

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