What’s wonderful about challah is that it can be used in so many ways: to sanctify the Sabbath, of course, but just as important, to make French toast, grilled cheese, and croutons and as breading in meatballs. Maybe not the way God intended it, but I’m sure She understands. Israel is the land of milk and honey, and this challah has both. For those of you who want to stay away from milk, it’s fine to substitute water.
MAKES 4 loaves
2 ½ cups whole milk or water
8 2/3 cups all-purpose flour, plus flour for the work surface
1 ½ tablespoons active dry yeast
¾ cup honey or sugar
¼ cup canola oil, plus more oil for the bowl
3 large eggs
1 ½ tablespoons kosher salt
White sesame or nigella seeds for sprinkling
1 Heat the milk in a small saucepan over low heat just until it’s warm to the touch. Remove from the heat.
2 Dump the flour into a large bowl and make a well in the center. Add the yeast to the well along with a few drops of honey and 1/2 cup or so of the warm milk. Let stand until foamy, about 10 minutes.
3 In a separate bowl, combine the remaining milk and honey, the oil, and 2 of the eggs. Stir together. Add the salt and stir again. Gradually stir the liquid mixture into the flour, about 1/2 cup at a time. When the dough becomes sticky and difficult to stir, dump onto a floured surface and knead it by hand, adding a little more flour if necessary to keep it from sticking, until smooth and elastic.
4 Knead the dough into a ball. Slick another large bowl with oil, add the dough, and turn to slick the surface with oil. Cover with a damp cloth and let stand in a warm place until double in size, 1 to 11/2 hours.
5 Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. Gently punch the dough down and turn it onto a floured surface. Divide the dough into four equal portions, working with one portion at a time and keeping the rest covered with a damp cloth. Divide one portion of dough into three equal pieces and roll each piece into a rope about 1 foot long and slightly tapered at the ends. Line the ropes side by side on one side of the baking sheet and braid them, pinching the ends to seal and tucking them underneath. Repeat this process with the remaining dough until you have four nicely braided loaves. Cover with a damp cloth and let stand until nearly double in size, another 25 minutes or so.
6. Preheat the oven to 350° F.
7. Lightly beat the remaining egg and brush it over the tops of the challah loaves. Sprinkle with the nigella or sesame seeds. Bake the loaves until golden brown, 20 to 30 minutes.
Excerpted from Balaboosta by Einat Admony (Artisan Books). Copyright © 2013. Photographs by Quentin Bacon. Used with permission by the publisher.