Traditionally, the Shabbos after Pesach is referred to as “Schlissel Shabbos.” We decorate our challos with a piece of dough shaped like a key or place an actual metal key inside each challah. Some creative bakers cut their bilkelach using a large key-shaped cookie cutter.
If you have never baked challah, now is a good time to start. Following our recipe makes it easy. There are few steps and no complicated instructions. While scores of our readers are talented balabustas who have been baking challah for years and have always stood by their recipes, we are proud to say that many a seasoned cook has tried our recipe and switched.
Our challah recipe calls for instant yeast — the yeast that does not require rehydrating. This yeast is simply added to the flour in your bowl — no need to dissolve. Don’t confuse “instant yeast” with “active dry yeast” which does need to be rehydrated before adding other ingredients.
It also speeds up your challah baking as it cuts the rising time in half. We like Fleischmann’s instant yeast as it yields consistent results.
If your grocery does not sell high-gluten bread flour or bakery flour, you may want to purchase it from your local bakery rather than using bread flour off the supermarket shelf. It will probably be fresher and yield better results. Either way, always sift it for a lighter texture.
5 pounds high-gluten flour, bakery flour or bread flour
3 heaping tablespoons instant yeast
3/4 cup sugar
5 cups warm water
3 extra-large eggs or 4 large eggs
3/4 cup canola or vegetable oil
3 tablespoons kosher salt
2 eggs, beaten
Sesame or poppy seeds
Sift the flour into your mixer bowl. Add the instant yeast and sugar. Stir to combine. Add eggs and oil. Add the water and add the salt last. Mix at medium speed for 10–12 minutes.
Remove dough from the mixer bowl and allow to proof (rise) in a large bowl covered with plastic wrap for 45 minutes. Make brachah and take challah.
Divide dough into five equal parts. To be really precise, you can weigh each piece on a scale and check that they are, indeed, equal.
Using one of the five pieces, divide it into six equal pieces. Knead each piece lightly and roll into a strand approximately six inches long. Place all six strands on Silpat or lightly floured counter top. Pinch all the strands together at the top. Use our easy-to-follow braiding method to braid six strands.
Pick up the first strand on the right and move it two places toward the center, placing in between the third and fourth strands.
Take the second strand from the left and bring it to the extreme right — that is, over all the other strands.
Pick up the first strand on the left and move it two places toward the center, placing it between the third and fourth strands.
Take the second strand from the right and bring it to the extreme left, over all the other strands.
Go back to step 1 and continue with steps 2 through 4 until you have reached the end of the strands.
Pinch together the strands at the bottom and tuck any longer pieces neatly under the challah.
Repeat with remaining dough to make a total of 5 challos.
Place in a greased-and-floured 1-pound loaf pan, or a 10” or 11” oval challah pan. Stick a clean metal key into the loaf or use a small piece of dough to form an old-fashioned key.
Allow the challah to rise for 10 minutes longer. Brush beaten eggs lightly over the entire surface of each challah.
Put the challos into a cold oven and set the temperature to 450°. After 15 minutes, lower the temperature to 350°. Bake another 35–40 minutes.
Remove from oven and cool until you can comfortably touch the pans. Remove the challah from the pans and continue to cool on a cooling rack to promote air circulation and keep the challah from becoming damp due to the condensation in the pan.