Rummaging through my baking cupboard the other day I found some sachets of yeast getting near to their use by date. Not wanting to waste the poor little yeasties it was time to come up with some bready treats, and pronto!

As good timing would have it, the very next day one of my colleagues was telling me about how she had made some challah, a type of Jewish bread. It sounded delicious so I begged the recipe off her and set to making it this morning.

Now, I am not an expert in bread-braiding but I think it turned out pretty well! Just the thing for a sunny Sunday too, when you can mix up the dough after breakfast, leave to rise in a sunny porch when you go out for a Sunday stroll with your beloved, and come back to the smell of bread, before it’s even gone near the oven. The only way to improve this scenario would be if we had had a kite to fly, but you know, that’s not really the bread’s fault.

Makes 2 loaves (you can happily freeze one)
Step 1:
2 cups strong white bread flour
1 sachet dried yeast
3 tablespoons honey
1.5 cups lukewarm water

Step 2:
1.5 teaspoons salt
2 tablespoons vegetable / corn oil
1 egg
Optional: raisins

Step 3:
1 egg
Oil for greasing
Optional: poppy seeds, sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds

1. Put the water, honey and yeast in a large bowl, stir lightly and leave for about 10 minutes, by which point it should be a little frothy. Add about 2 cups flour to make a liquidy paste. Leave for another 10 minutes

2. Add all the ingredients for step 2 and stir well. Add flour to take up all the liquid and make a dough that is not too sticky (I don’t know exactly how much flour I used, but it was between 1-2 cups and I erred on the side of more rather than less). Knead to make a smooth dough (or use a mixer with dough hooks). Add the raisins (if using) then cover with a teatowel and leave in a warm place for a couple of hours

3. Preheat the oven to 180C (160 fan) Grease a baking tray, or two if you don’t have a really large one. Split the dough in half then split each half into three. Stretch each portion out into a long strip, lay three strips side by side and plait the dough (hint: start from the middle and plait towards one end, then turn it around and do the same on the other side. Tuck the ends under the loaf)

4. Brush the loaves with beaten egg. If using, sprinkle with seeds. Bake for 30-40 minutes until golden, and the bottom sounds hollow when tapped (mine sounded hollow-ish, not as much as when I  have made bread before. I poked in between the plaiting on the bottom with a knife to check it wasn’t still doughy inside)

Recipe notes
Oh my. This was delicious. I had some with butter, fresh from the oven, with a cup of tea. I made some into pudding. The pudding made me want more, so I had a slice of toast (as did Henry). The toast was so good I had another piece. Now, out of the loaf… there is just enough for toast tomorrow morning (and I NEVER have toast on a weekday morning, but as I was chomping down my second post-pudding slice I was already plotting the banana toast sandwich I will have for breakfast tomorrow).

I even found it fairly easy to make. Any bread will take time but this just came together nicely and with minimal fuss. I would make this again in a flash, but I don’t even need to because the great thing is that it made two loaves, so one is happily hibernating in the freezer until I next decide I want some truly excellent toast. The best accolade came from Henry, who when I make something really good will polish his helping off in no time, then turn to me and say with intentional irreverence, “You can make this again”. Any time, my dearest, but I can’t guarantee I’ll share.


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