I make a lot of sourdough bread, and I am constantly feeding my starter. It's an ongoing process that takes planning and schedule coordination - which can be tricky while working and dealing with soccer practices and school projects in the evenings. Time can easily get away from you and then it is too late to get a loaf going. And so it goes... SO sometimes I really just want to make a loaf of bread that is super yummy and doesn't take more than 24 hours. For me, that is now My Favorite Challah Bread recipe from Joan Nathan at New York Times Cooking. Pointers that she gives with her recipe are: Several risings make a better loaf, and if you want an especially brioche-like texture, let the dough rise slowly in the refrigerator for one of the three risings. The secret to a glossy loaf is to brush it with an egg wash twice, once just after braiding and then again just before baking.
My Favorite Challah Bread
Yield: 2 challahs
In a large bowl, dissolve yeast and 1 Tablespoon sugar in 1 3/4 cups lukewarm water.
Whisk oil into yeast, then beat in 4 eggs, one at a time, with remaining sugar and salt. Gradually add flour. When dough holds together, it is ready for kneading. (You can also use a mixer with a dough hook for both mixing and kneading.)
Turn dough onto a floured surface and knead until smooth. Clean out bowl and grease it, then return dough to bowl. Cover with plastic wrap, and let rise in a warm place for 1 hour, until almost doubled in size. Dough may also rise in an oven that has been warmed to 150 degrees then turned off. Punch down dough, cover and let rise again in a warm place for another half-hour.
To make a 6-braid challah, either straight or circular, take half the dough and form it into 6 balls. With your hands, roll each ball into a strand about 12 inches long and 1½ inches wide. Place the 6 in a row, parallel to one another. Pinch the tops of the strands together. Move the outside right strand over 2 strands. Then take the second strand from the left and move it to the far right. Take the outside left strand and move it over 2. Move second strand from the right over to the far left. Start over with the outside right strand. Continue this until all strands are braided. For a straight loaf, tuck ends underneath. For a circular loaf, twist into a circle, pinching ends together. Make a second loaf the same way. Place braided loaves on a greased cookie sheet with at least 2 inches in between.
Beat remaining egg and brush it on loaves. Either freeze breads or let rise another hour.
If baking immediately, preheat oven to 375 degrees and brush loaves again. If freezing, remove from freezer 5 hours before baking. Then dip your index finger in the egg wash, then into poppy or sesame seeds and then onto a mound of bread. Continue until bread is decorated with seeds.
Bake in middle of oven for 35 to 40 minutes, or until golden. Cool loaves on a rack.
Kris Delaney is a marketing executive, foodie, travel enthusiast, and book nerd based in Atlanta, GA.