Chollah bread

Where I grew up, in Bayswater London W2, there used to be a bakery called Grodzinski and we would buy our bread there. I’d be fascinated – what child wouldn’t be – by the slicer, that they fed your whole loaves into if you asked for it to be sliced.

Sometimes, we would buy chollah bread. I loved its eggy sweetness and my favourite filling for it would be mortadella. Some years later, when I was telling my partner, he pointed out that perhaps using pork in a traditional Jewish bread wasn’t the BEST thing I could have done. (Sorry.)

Anyway. A few years ago, I attempted to recreate this wonder bread at home and I was amazed at how well it worked. This is an amalgamation of recipes that I found and it works for me, I’m not sure how authentic it is (be interested to know). It makes one good loaf. I don’t attempt to knot it or shape it into anything fancy. A Jewish friend of mine who regularly bakes says that, in her opinion, the dough is either dry enough to shape, but that results in a dry bread, or too wet to shape, but this results in a tastier bread. This was also my experience. So I always go for a higher hydration loaf in a simple boule shape. Be warned: it’s the sort of bread you can’t stop eating. Any that you miraculously have left over and goes stale (you won’t have any) you can make into French toast.

420g white flour – plain gives a better texture but you can also use strong white

7g of dried yeast

60g caster sugar

240ml of water, warm

a teaspoon of salt

1 egg

60ml of olive oil or oil of choice (you could also use melted butter)

You need an extra egg to glaze with, or milk. And poppy/sesame seeds if you like to sprinkle atop.

Mix a heaped teaspoon of the measured out sugar, with the yeast, into the warm water. Mix it up well and leave it to froth up. This takes about 15 or so minutes in my kitchen.

Mix the remaining sugar with the flour and salt into a large bowl and mix with a fork. When the yeast/water/sugar mixture has become nice and bubbled up, add this to the flour mixture and mix together using a fork until you get a sticky dough. Now add the egg and oil and mix it all together. Leave it for ten minutes.

Now tip it out onto an oiled surface and knead it very gently. Cover with a bowl and leave it for ten minutes. Repeat this twice more. The dough should be fairly smooth by now. When you have kneaded it gently for the third and final time, put it into an oiled bowl and cover with a cloth in for two or so hours.

Heat the oven to 200C, take your dough out knead gently and shape into the form you want it to be (as I said, a boule is really the only thing I can do with it) and place it on the baking tray you’ll want to bake it on. Leave for a final 20-30 minutes to rest.

Before it goes into the oven, brush it gently with beaten egg/milk and sprinkle with seeds if you so wish. Bake it for 20-30 minutes and leave to rest until completely cold before cutting it. (Yeah right.)

6 thoughts on “Chollah bread

  1. Frances Morris

    You left out the amount of sugar needed… Looking forward to trying this out.



  2. Website Admin Post author

    Oh no! Sorry. Thanks for pointing it out. Funny but I re-read it thinking “I’m sure something is missing”, but I couldn’t see what. Rectified now, let me know how you get on.

  3. mabelwashington

    I still live near one – it’s Grodzinski & Daughters now 🙂 – but lots of branches I remember from my childhood have closed.
    Bulka is easier – use challah dough but shape into rolls and pop them in a long tin for second proof, they will merge into a sort of cobbled tin loaf. If I want to plait I have to coat strands with flour and it’s all too much fiddle.
    Yours looks very nice but betrays sourdough as your true love – a bit denser and more even might be more echt?

  4. Website Admin Post author

    Very probably! Good to know they still exist and thanks for the tip about flouring the strands to make the plaits.

  5. Lavender Bakery

    I love making challah, have spent more than a year making it every Friday – I have a feeling the challah sold by my local North London bakeries are full of additives and dough conditioners or similar and I wanted to make it better at home. I’m now trying to write it up into one definitive post but can’t stop making adjustments! I’m getting the best results using a combination of fresh yeast and 80 – 100g mild sourdough starter (liquid or stiff works) and doing an overnight second rise. I’ve found challah needs different treatment to other breads that I make so I would do a bit more kneading at the start – this kind of bread really needs the structure to hold the braid, though over development of the dough at an early stage is a problem with many recipes too as it gets so much handling through the whole process that the challah ends up dry. Also use less water but more egg – about 100ml less water and use 2 eggs or 1 egg and 3 yolks. Challah gets its softness from the oil/eggs/sugar and gentle handling rather than from water like other bread. It also generally gets 3 rises. My other discovery was that you have to allow it a long final proof once it is plaited – until it is very well risen and wobbly like jelly! And bake at a lower temperature – 160/170ºC. Yesterday I made yeast and yeast/sourdough challah side by side and the sourdough gives it a much more complex flavour, it is really worth trying. By definition challah is a slow bread – the added ingredients inhibit the rise and the need to have it ready for Shabbat lends itself to an overnight process so it can be baked early on the Friday. So recipe would go something like this (there are no absolutes – lots of room for tweaking it to suit your preferences and schedule!) Thurs. evening make dough – about 7 minutes (in a mixer at a fairly slow speed or by hand) kneading time but not to the point of full gluten development. Let rise for approx. 2 hours until doubled in size. Do a full stretch and fold, put in fridge and allow to rise again overnight. In the morning, take it out and leave it for a little while to warm up slightly. Divide into as many pieces as you need strands for your plaits. Allow these pieces to rest covered for 20 minutes then roll into tapered strands and plait using as little flour as possible (the dough still being cold actually makes this easier – dough is not as sticky. And you need some traction with the counter to roll out the strands) Let the plaited loaves rise, covered for 1 1/2 hours or so until more than doubled – even nearly tripled in size (but not overproofed, it loses definition! Timing this is down to experience!) and then bake for 30 – 35 minutes. The full rise and lower oven temp. stop the braid bursting apart in the oven so it keeps its shape. Sorry for the essay! Soft and beautifully formed challah is a wonderful thing though so I hope some of the above is useful!

    1. Annalisa Barbieri Post author

      What an incredibly fulsome, generous reply. Thank you so much for it. I will definitely give your way a try next time I make it.


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