Reena’s Challah bread

Challah is a traditional fortified bread, and Reena’s version is simultaneously more straightforward and more complicated than most recipes, much like Reena herself. The recipe starts with a tangzhong: a mixture of cooked flour and water than will both strengthen and soften the finished crumb. Reena loves making this bread into grilled cheese sandwiches with sharp cheddar and Indian green cilantro chutney.

1 cup lukewarm water, separated
2 teaspoons active dry or instant yeast
4 ½ cups all purpose flower, separated
2 teaspoons salt
¼ cup granulated sugar
¼ cup vegetable oil
3 eggs
Black sesame seeds

  1. Proof the yeast: put ¾ of a cup of lukewarm water in a large mixing bowl, along with the yeast and a pinch of sugar. Let stand for 10 minutes until bubbles form on the surface.
  2. Make the tangzhong: Take the remaining ¼ cup of water and mix it with 1 ½ tablespoons of flour in a small bowl. Microwave for 10 seconds on high. Stir. Microwave for five more seconds. Stir again. You may need to microwave another five seconds. You are aiming for a thickened, pudding-like consistency. If it’s lumpy, whisk until smooth.
  3. Mix all ingredients: Add 4 cups flour, 2 whole eggs, 1 egg yolk (save the white for later), the sugar, the oil, and the tangzhong, into the bowl containing the yeast and water. Using a rubber spatula, break up the eggs and fold the mixture onto itself to make a shaggy dough.
  4. Knead on a board for about 10 minutes (or knead in a mixer with a dough hook). It’s going to be a sticky dough—you may need to add more flour if you can’t work with it. But refrain from adding too much extra flour. You want a slightly sticky, smooth, elastic dough.
  5. Place in a greased bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Let rise in a warm place until doubled, about 1 hour.
  6. Divide dough into 12 pieces using a kitchen scale, and form into balls. Roll each ball into a 16-inch snake.
  7. Braid dough – take 6 of your dough snakes and lay them on your board, pinching the tops together. To braid: Take the strand on the far right and move it towards the left, going over the first two strands, under the third, then over the fourth and fifth. You will continue braiding this way: over two, under one, over two, always starting with the strand on the right and bringing it to the left. When complete, tuck ends under to neaten.
  8. Repeat with the remaining 6 strands. You know have two braided loaves.
  9. Cover with plastic wrap and rise in a warm place for one hour until puffy.
  10. Beat the reserved egg white and brush over the loaves. Sprinkle with black sesame seeds.
  11. Bake at 350 degrees for 30-40 minutes until golden brown.
  12. Cool before cutting the bread. Enjoy!