Braided Challah #CooktheBooks

Braided Challah #CooktheBooks

This month - and last - the Cook the Books group has been reading Midnight Chicken by Ella Risbridger. Debra of Eliot's Eats is hosting. Read her invitation here. I am getting this in just under the wire. Phew.

On the Page

This is a poignant memoir that attests to the healing power of cooking and was not at all what I expected. It’s a cookbook filled with life events, milestones, and highlights the importance of stability and comfort. This is Risbridger's life full of recipes to sooth a troubled soul. When we meet Ella, she is depressed and suicidal. The recipes give her something to live for and were so inspiring. Before she even starts, she offers three things to remember: salt your pasta water; if in doubt, butter; and keep going!

I tried several of her recipes including Tipsy Amaretto Squash Soup, Trashy Ginger Beer Chicken, and Needs Using Up Minestrone. But the recipe I am sharing for this post is something I've never attempted: challah. I bake sourdough multiple times per week, but this is new to me.

Braided Challah

Challah helped Risbridger grieve for her grandfather. "Me, I grieved with bread. ...The rules of grief were written somewhere I couldn't see, but the rules of bread-making were clear. I don't know how to grieve, but I knew how to make bread. A six-strand challah bread: knead in anger, rise in grief, plait to find a pattern in it all" (pp. 85-86).

A note: braiding the dough was not as easy as she made it sound. I did manage to figure it out. And my family happily ate the less than photogenic loaves! You can't beat this rich, slightly sweet bread with a pillowy inside and burnished crust. I used some salt from Iceland that a friend hand-carried back for me.


  • 4-1/4 cups flour
  • 1 Tablespoon dry active yeast
  • 2 teaspoons salt plus a nice finishing salt for sprinkling
  • 3/4 cup warm water
  • 6 Tablespoons olive oil (pick a mild flavored one)
  • 6 Tablespoons raw honey (I have also tried this with maple syrup)
  • 3 eggs, room temperature
  • 1 egg yolk,  room temperature


Combine flour and salt in a medium mixing bowl. In a large mixing bowl, pour in the warm water and sprinkle the yeast over the top. Let bloom for 10 to 15 minutes. Pour in the honey and oil. Add in two of the eggs and one egg yolk. Add in the flour-salt mixture. Use a wooden spoon to create a shaggy dough. 

Dust your hands with flour and turn the dough out onto a floured work surface. Knead until a soft, smooth ball. Lightly oil a bowl and turn the dough until it is completely coated in oil. Cover with a kitchen towel and let rise until it's doubled in size, approximately 2 to 3 hours.

Turn the dough out onto a work space after it has doubled. It will deflate; don't worry. Cut the dough into six even pieces and roll into balls.

Stretch and roll each ball into a rope that's about 14-inches long. Lay the ropes parallel to one another perpendicular to you. Pinch the ropes together at the top, and then fan them out. To braid them, take the one on the farthest right. Place it over two, under one, and over two until it is now the farthest left. Repeat until you are at the bottom of the loaf. Tuck the ends under to give the loaf a finished look.

Place the loaf on a baking sheet and cover loosely with a kitchen towel. let it rise for 90 minutes to two hours. Near the end of the rise time, preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

In a small bowl, beat the final egg and use a pastry brush to coat the loaf. Sprinkle the loaf with a finishing salt. You could also use poppy seeds or sesame seeds instead.

Place the baking sheet  in the oven and bake for 25 to 35 minutes. The crust will be a beautiful mahogany color. Remove the bread from the oven and place it on a wire rack to cool. Challah is best enjoyed fresh, but leftovers will keep for a few days in a sealed plastic bag

That's a wrap. The next Cook the Books selection is Red Sparrow. Stay tuned.

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