Baking with challah dough: Molly Yeh transforms her favorite bread recipe


In the Spring Issue of Sift, blogger Molly Yeh shares her love of challah and her quest to recreate the loaves she took for granted while living in New York City. Her new book, Molly on the Range, chronicles her time at The Juilliard School and her transition to life on a farm in North Dakota after marrying her husband. The book has more than 100 recipes inspired by everything from her hometown of Chicago to her love of Israeli street food. But we’ll let Molly tell you about baking with challah dough herself.

The reasons I love challah are the same reasons I love a fluffy, freshly groomed puppy: it’s cuddly soft, always there for you, and you can train it to do all sorts of tricks. Challah has long been one of my favorite foods, ever since I was little when it was one of the only foods that I would eat at dinner parties. Over the years it has morphed into different shapes and forms. It’s been stuffed with cheese and marzipan (not at the same time, ew!), and I’ve discovered that it really takes some effort to screw up a batch of challah dough.

The joys of baking with challah dough

Growing up, the thought of ripping into and destroying a puffy, golden, braided loaf was what got me through long synagogue services. At summer camp, Shabbat services ended with a mad dash to the dining hall. My bunkmates and I would make a sport out of challah-eating, amassing a mountain of crust in the center of our long table because, according to my best friend Gigi, “If you don’t eat the crust, that’s fewer calories.”

All of the Jewish holidays, in my mind, were classified into either challah holidays (okay, “challahdays”), or matzoh ball holidays, like Passover. While I love matzoh balls, there are truly no words more beautiful than “hot buttered challah.” (If you add the words “with salami,” all bets are off.)

As I aged into my 20s and got my first apartment in New York with an itsy-bitsy, closet-sized kitchen, I began alternating between buying challah at any one of the many grocery stores and delis that lined the city blocks, and making it using my mom’s recipe. This resulted in my roommates believing I was some kind of bread wizard. The kneading and braiding came naturally to my hands, and the thought of using eggs, sugar, and a large pour of oil to liven up the texture and flavor just made sense.

When I moved to Grand Forks, North Dakota, and had the fierce realization that a loaf of soft, eggy Zomick’s challah was no longer one stop away on the 2/3 train, I began making it like it was going out of style. It was a challah-less world and I was sent here to change that.

And it was then that I discovered using rye or wheat flour will yield a loaf that has a life of its own, and that throwing a pile of seeds into the dough to make a “seeduction” loaf will please even my healthiest family members.

I learned that it can be steamed into little bao buns or fried into sufganiyot, braided into babka, or waffled into a liege-like treat. It took moving far away from home to learn this, but I quickly saw that the ways to play with a batch of challah dough, like the sugar beet farm field outside my door, are endless and delicious.

Molly's challah via @kingarthurflour

Molly’s Challah

Challah is my safety-blanket dough. I use it for everything from doughnuts to babka to monkey bread. The sweet, tender crumb is adaptable to just about any shape or filling.

pimento cheese babka via @kingarthurflour

Pimento Cheese Babka

Inspired by the iconic babka at Zabar’s in New York City, this squishier textured, more savory approach to babka uses my basic challah dough. The filling is that Southern staple, pimento cheese, because mayonnaise and cheese are a match made in guilty-pleasure heaven.

honey whole wheat challah via @kingargthurflour

Honey Whole Wheat Challah

This breezy riff on traditional challah is dusted with sprinkles or seeds, brushed with honey, and made with nutty whole wheat flour. It’s great for a turkey sandwich, or on its own: hot and slathered with salted butter.

seeduction challa via @kingarthurflour

“Seeduction” Challah

This delightfully soft loaf is guaranteed to make you swoon. Slightly sweet, packed full of seeds and other flavorful crunchy bits, it more than lives up to its sultry title. You can shape it into a traditional braid or a more swirly shape, depending on your preference.

seeduction challa via @kingarthurflour

Za’atar Monkey Bread with Garlic and Onion Labneh

These fluffy herbed balls of bread are both comforting and delightful, almost like a savory doughnut hole. A heaping pile of garlic and onions is folded into labneh for a dip that’s reminiscent of the onion-y chip dip of your youth.

These delicious recipes will make you want to challah! Click To Tweet

Thanks again to Molly Yeh for these recipes. We hope you’ll give baking with challah dough a try. It really is great fun to handle and to work with. Use the comments section below to let us know what shapes and flavor combinations you come up with!

Susan Reid
About

Chef Susan Reid grew up in New Jersey, graduated from Bates College and the Culinary Institute of America, and is presently the Food Editor of Sift magazine. She does demos, appearances, and answers food (and baking) questions from all quarters.

comments

  1. Kay

    Ooh! Savory monkey bread! That sounds delicious and never occurred to me before. Challa bread is always so striking with its braids and golden crust. I really need to try baking a loaf. For some reason I’ve never given it a shot and that’s a shame.

    Reply
    1. Sue D.

      Sharon, I have made challah many times but all my loaves have never had a chance to make it to bread pudding. Would love your recipe and I’ll try my best to abstain and preserve some for the pudding. Thank you so much. Sue

    2. The Baker's Hotline

      Hi Sue, we hope Sharon shares her bread pudding recipe with you, but in the meantime we wanted to share our collection of bread pudding recipes too. The more, the merrier, right? You’ll have lots of choices now that range from Cinnamon-Filled Bread Pudding to Creamy Maple Bread Pudding, even Dark Chocolate Bread Pudding is an option too. Enjoy! Kye@KAF

  2. Hazel wagner

    I wish all bread recipes would include information on whether or how to adapt to making in a bread maker even if just till dough is ready to shape.

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      We’ve got you covered, Hazel! Check out the very first frequently asked question in our Bread Machines Basics section for an in-depth answer about how to use your bread machine to make bread recipes. (The short version is simply adding all of your ingredients to the bucket of your bread machine and using the dough cycle, but check out the full answer for details.) Happy baking! Kye@KAF

  3. Marsha

    Thank you so much for these challah recipes. Can you tell me what ingredients you would use to make a chocolate babka. Always wanted to try it. Thank you.

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Looking to make chocolate babka, Marsha? Try using this recipe here. The base dough is similar to challah, but it uses even more butter and no oil. The result is a creamy, velvety bread. Enjoy! Kye@KAF

  4. Brenda Johnson

    We adore challah bread, so I make it in big batches and freeze much of it. It freezes well and is just like fresh when thawed. I make 20 pounds or more, so some goes to friends and family. (We have a 30-quart Hobart in the kitchen here at home. It’s great fun!) Love these new ideas for challah, and yes, it’s a very forgiving and flexible type of bread, so I will expand my perspective on possible uses. Thanks for the inspiration!

    Reply
  5. Farrell

    Cinnamon Twist is a favorite use for challah in my home. Roll out the dough, spread about 1/2 -2/3 cup of powdered sugar on dough and then sprinkle 2Tbsp cinnamon over the sugar. Spray or sprinkle water over top to dampen. Roll tightly. Cut in half and lay cut sides flat. Twist, place in loaf pan and bake.

    Reply
  6. Joy

    The most fun I have had with challah is baking it into special holiday shapes: a turkey for Thanksgiving and the two tablets of the Covenant (complete with 10 letters of the aleph-bet) for Shavuot. It’s my “play dough”!

    Reply
  7. Debbie

    I make challah for my friend Susan every year on the Jewish holidays. I try to find a different recipe evey year, I’ve made chocolate chip, lemon, and honey breads.

    Reply

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