An easy, fool-proof recipe for traditional challah bread passed down from my Grandmother, Ema Ljuba.
Ema Ljuba, my grandmother on my dad’s side, is the matriarch of the Jewish half of my family. She lives on Martha’s Vineyard but visited Michigan a couple months ago to meet the newest babies in the family, my son Jacob and my niece Aria.
Ema Ljuba was in town for no more than 48 hours over 2 months ago and my 3 year old son Asher has been asking for her almost every single day since. She has that sort of lasting impact on children, and adults! Effervescent, charismatic, joyful and always smiling from ear to ear, Ema Ljuba is the most magical grand mother in the world.
After weeks and weeks of having to tell Asher that Ema Ljuba wasn’t here, I was finally able to say “Ema Ljuba’s kids are here!” when two of her seven children paid us a visit from Berkeley, California. Aunt Sabrina (on the far left next to my mom and Aunt Patsy), aka “Sabi D”, was more than able to fill in some of the void Ema Ljuba had left behind.
Of course, in our family, that always means cooking together. Sabrina’s visit happened to take place over a Friday night so we ended up spending the day together preparing an incredible Shabbat dinner.
Lucky for me, Sabrina was finally able to teach me how to make my Ema Ljuba’s famous challah bread. I have some of the earliest and most wonderful memories celebrating the Sabbath with them as a kid during our frequent visits to Berkeley.
After blessing the bread, Papa Leo, my grand father, would rip off pieces of the homemade challah bread and literally throw in across the table to all of the kids in the room. To this day, we do not believe in slicing challah. We tear it and throw it, just like Papa Leo did.
If you’ve never baked homemade bread before, I urge you to give this fool-proof recipe a shot. Believe me, if I’m baking bread (with yeast!), I can assure you anyone can do it.
One HUGE baking tip: Admittedly, I don’t love the giant mess that baking bread can create in the kitchen. Turns out, neither does my Aunt Sabrina! The solution? All of the kneading can be done in a stand mixer with a dough hook! We all use and love the classic KitchenAid stand mixer so if you don’t have one, you should certainly think about adding it to your holiday wish list.
After our recent evening with Sabrina, my sisters and I have vowed to celebrate Shabbat dinners as a family more frequently. We will cook together, drink wine, light the candles and throw pieces of homemade challah bread.
Even though we could purchase challah bread at a local bakery, Sabrina made a good point I won’t soon forget: nothing beats a house that smells like freshly baked bread.
No forks required.
- 1½ to 2 cups warm water
- 3 tablespoons dry activated yeast
- ½ cup plus 1 tablespoon sugar
- 6 cups plus 1 cup all purpose flour
- 1 tablespoon salt
- 4 large eggs - beaten
- ½ cup oil or melted butter
- poppy seeds or sesame seeds for topping
- 1 beaten egg
- In a small bowl, dissolve yeast with 1 tablespoon sugar in warm water; set aside.
- In a separate large bowl, whisk together 6 cups flour, ½ cup sugar and salt.
- Add beaten eggs and the water with dissolved yeast and sugar to the large bowl of flour.
- Stir in oil or melted butter and mix well with a wooden spoon. Once the entire mass sticks together turn out onto a floured surface and knead for about 5 minutes, adding in that last cup of flour as needed to form a smooth, pliable glossy mass. Alternatively, this can be done in a stand mixer with a dough hook. Note: If dough isn't coming together, add more flour, one tablespoon at a time, until it pulls away from the bowl. You want the dough to be sticky though.
- Oil a large bowl then place dough into bowl flipping it over to make sure it is covered with the oil. Cover with a towel and let dough rise until doubled in bulk.
- Punch down, knead one or two times and then divide dough in half.
- Divide each half into either 3 strands (or 4 or 6 depending on how intricate your loaf braid will be.) Here is a guide on How to Braid Challah.
- Place each braided loaf on a greased large baking sheet (cook spray works well), cover with a dry towel and let rise a second time until loaves are double in size.
- Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees. Brush each loaf with a beaten egg, sprinkle poppy seeds or sesame seeds if you wish.
- Bake for about 30 minutes or until bread is golden brown on the surface.
Here is a guide on How to Braid Challah if you aren't sure how many strands you'd like to use.