Yes, this takes several hours from start to finish, but the beautiful thing is that you can prepare the dough in the morning, let it rise briefly, then pop it in the fridge for hours and return to it. It only needs another brief rise after braiding and about 45 minutes in the oven. It is so well worth the effort.
(adapted from Marcy Goldman)
makes one circular challah, approximately 10” in diameter
2 tablespoons dry yeast
1½ cups warm water
3 eggs + 1 egg yolk (reserve extra egg white for egg wash)
2 tablespoons honey
½ cup sugar
2½ teaspoons kosher salt
⅓ cup vegetable oil
5-6 cups bread flour (I’ve used all-purpose in a pinch, and it turned out beautifully)
1 cup dark or golden raisins, or dried cherries, plumped in ½ cup heated orange juice for 30 minutes, then drained
egg wash made from 1 egg white combined with 2 tablespoons of cold water
poppy or sesame seeds for sprinkling
Place the warm water and yeast in a Pyrex measuring cup; let stand 5 minutes until foamy. In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, place the eggs, egg yolk, honey, sugar, salt, and oil. Mix on low speed to combine, then add the water/yeast mixture. Add 1 cup of the flour to the egg/yeast mixture and beat on low speed, gradually adding the additional flour. (If your mixer has a dough hook attachment, swap it for the paddle. If not, carry on.) Mix the dough for about 6 minutes, scrape down the sides and the dough hook (or paddle) and add the drained raisins or cherries. Mix briefly to incorporate the dried fruit into the dough.
Turn the dough out of the mixing bowl into a large bowl that has been lightly sprayed with non-stick cooking spray or greased with butter. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let rise for 30 minutes. Gently deflate the dough, re-cover it with plastic wrap, and place the bowl in the refrigerator where it will continue to rise. I like to let the dough rise for 5-6 hours in the fridge and come back to it. Retrieve the bowl of dough, remove the plastic wrap and gently deflate the dough which will have risen dramatically. Cover the dough with a clean kitchen towel and let the dough warm up to room temperature for about 15 minutes. With lightly floured hands, divide the dough into 3 even pieces. On a clean, floured surface, roll each piece of dough into a rope approximately 14” long. Join the three ropes of dough at the top and make a nice snug braid. Coil the braid around itself to create a circle. Carefully transfer the challah to a lightly buttered 10” springform pan. Brush with egg wash and sprinkle with poppy or sesame seeds. Cover with a clean kitchen towel and let rise until double, about 45 minutes. 15 minutes before baking, preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
Remove the kitchen towel and place the springform pan on a parchment lined baking sheet. Bake until golden and the inner temperature registers between 190 and 200 degrees F on an insta-read thermometer, about 45 minutes. Let cool thoroughly before diving in. If there are any leftovers, french toast is key the next morning.