Note: All challah is for beginners. It’s a very uncomplicated thing to make. But in case you’ve never made bread before and you’re a little intimidated – I hadn’t before I started making challah, and I was totally intimidated – I didn’t hold back on details. Let me know if you have any questions!
Many challah recipes are for making two loaves at a time. I’m not sure if there’s a traditional reason for this, and I do love the idea of making twice the bread for pretty much the same effort, but then again, twice the bread can be too much, especially if you can’t quite get it together to deliver the second loaf to a good home before it’s too old to give away. So this recipe is for one loaf (it lasts a weekend in my family of three; longer if we don’t make French toast). If you double the recipe (which the handy recipe template below allows you to do easily), note that you’ll only need three eggs, not four (because you’ll still need only one egg for the glaze).
In large bowl (use the bowl of your stand mixer if you'll be using one), add water, yeast, and 1 tsp sugar. Let stand about 10 minutes, give or take, until yeast is frothy. Stir in salt and honey (or sugar). Add 1 3/4 cups flour.
Beat at medium speed until dough is elastic and pulls away from sides of bowl, about 5 minutes. If dough is too wet, add about 1/4 cup flour more.
Beat in margarine. Add egg, beating well.
Stir in the rest of the flour, about 1/2 cup at a time, to make a soft dough. It should pull away from the sides of the bowl, and not be *too* sticky. No worries if you end up needing to use more than a total of 3 cups of flour.
If you're using a dough hook in a stand mixer, continue kneading for a few more minutes. If you're kneading by hand, turn the dough out onto a floured surface and knead for 10-15 minutes. (If it's wintertime, or even fall or spring, before you knead turn your oven on to the lowest temperature it will allow [for my oven it's 180F]. Then start kneading, or have your stand mixer do the kneading for you. When your oven reaches that temperature, or even before then, turn it off and open the door a few inches to let it cool down to about 80F – you should be able to stick your arm in there without feeling like you'll burn yourself.)
Grease a mixing bowl with a small amount of olive oil (I spread it around using my fingers), place dough in bowl and flip dough over so all sides are greased. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place for about an hour (that would be the oven if it's not hot like summer in your house; close the door once you put the bowl in there so it remains warm).
After an hour, remove the plastic wrap and punch the dough down. This can be a very satisfying thing to do. Just keep the dough in the bowl and knuckle punch it so it deflates. Flip it over to make sure it's not sticking, put the plastic wrap back on, and let it rise a second time (in the oven again if you'd like) – about 40-60 minutes.
Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and separate it into portions for braiding (three equal[ish] portions for a three-strand braid; six for six strands). Roll the strands using your hands (make snakes like you used to make out of Playdough [or still do, no judgment here]). Lay the strands out vertically, parallel to each other.
Gather the strands at the top and squish/pound them together to join. Braid (see video for how to braid six strands). When you run out of dough to braid, squish/pound the bottom strands together to join. Tuck them under the loaf (see video). Set loaf on cookie sheet that's lined with parchment paper.
Crack egg into small bowl and beat briefly. Brush egg onto top of braided loaf, trying not to let it drip onto the parchment paper (no big deal if it does). Put egg bowl in the fridge – you'll use it again.
Set oven to preheat to 400F. Put loaf (still on cookie sheet) on stovetop while oven preheats (the heat will again aid rising). Let the loaf rise a third time, for about 30-45 minutes.
Grab the egg bowl from the fridge and brush egg onto top of loaf a second time.
Bake loaf at 400F for ten minutes then, without opening the oven door, turn heat down to 350F and bake for an additional 20 minutes or so, until the loaf is a deep, gorgeous, shiny brown. You'll know for sure the loaf is done when you flip it over (use gloves, it's hot!) and knock it gently on the bottom with your knuckles – you should hear a hollow sound.
Here's a Periscope I did on how to braid a six-strand challah: