Starfish Challah

I set out to make a braided Hanukkah Challah, a show stopping holiday bread to post today, giving you enough time to practice the braid before the Festival of Lights officially begins.  And while this is a challah I love to make and fairly often, it wasn't until I posted a picture of "challah in progress" on Instagram that I came to see what everyone else was seeing.  Here's a perfect example from Leigh Anne Touhy:  "Girl, I need that for my Starfish story."

Challah in progress.  I was lamenting that this wasn't my best work.  Others saw starfish.

What's it about me and my inability to look beyond the actual pastry and see that I'm the professional baker equivalent of a balloon animal clown?  My banana layer cake is a prime example.  I see a cake with bruléed banana and caramel, everyone else sees an angry muppet.  Sigh.

The starfish is growing on me though.  Sad thing is, when you cut off a leg of starfish challah, another doesn't grow back in its place.  I'm working on that.


This bread doesn't contain a ton of yeast, making it a bit easier to handle for braiding.  It does get a lovely rise and is very delicious, though.


2 pounds King Arthur Flour all purpose flour (don't have that?  Use bread flour and not a bleached AP flour)
4 tablespoons honey
4 egg yolks
2 large whole eggs
3 ounces canola oil
1 1/2 cups cool water
1 tablespoon salt
1 package instant yeast (I use Red Star Platinum Yeast)
non-stick cooking spray


•In the bowl of a stand mixer fit with the paddle attachment, combine the yolks, eggs, water, honey and oil and whisk until combined.

•Add half the flour to the bowl.  Sprinkle with the salt.  Add the remaining flour and sprinkle that with the yeast.

•Mix on low for 3 minutes.

***NOTE:  I don't recommend doing the full knead in your mixer.  This is a large amount of dough and quite heavy and likely to burn out your motor.  It's great to get your initial mix in the bowl since it's quite messy but after it just starts to come together, knead by hand.***

•Transfer the dough to a lightly floured work surface and knead by hand for 10 minutes or until a very shiny, pliable dough forms and passes the window test (you should be able to take a small piece of dough and stretch it so that you can almost see through it without the dough looking shaggy or breaking).

•Transfer the dough to a large mixing bowl sprayed with non-stick cooking spray.  Coat the entire dough ball with spray and cover the bowl with plastic wrap.  Allow to bulk ferment at room temperature until doubled, about 1 1/2 to 2 hours.

(at this point, you can get some yarn and practice braiding to get used to the pattern)

Get some yarn or twine.  You can number the strands so you can keep track of where everything is going.

•Divide the dough as follows (you'll need a scale):  Eighteen 2 ounces pieces and two 1 ounce pieces.  As you cut the pieces, try your very best to eyeball what 2 ounces looks like so you can get close to cutting off the pieces accurately.  Dough balls are more unstable the more independent pieces are added to make weight.  Form the pieces into rough small "batards" or oval shapes.  You aren't forming the pieces, just giving them an initial shape.  Allow to rest for 20 minutes covered with plastic wrap.  You'll have dough left over.  You can use this to practice braiding.

For the braid:

•Take six 2 ounce balls (keep the remaining pieces covered with plastic wrap) and using your open palms on your work surface, roll reach piece into a 18 inch strand with the ends slightly tapering.

•Pinch the strands together at the top and space out the strands:

This is my practice dough so I didn't take much care in rolling out the strands.  This way you can work quickly just to get the pattern.  Speed is key.  I always time myself and limit myself to 5 minutes for rolling out each strand and braiding.

•Take the far right strand and move it over across all the strands to the left:

Gently moving the far left strand over the remaining strands.
Take what was once the farthest left strand and pull it over the strands on the right.
The two strands, pulled out to either side.  The strand to the far left was the first strand we pulled over.  The far right strand was the second strand we pulled over.  Keep the middle four strands nicely spaced at all times.

Take the farthest left strand and bring it to the middle of the four middle strands.
Placing the farthest left strand in the middle of the 4 center strands.
Now take the second farthest strand to the RIGHT and cross it over the center four strands to the left.  Take the farthest right strand and place it in the middle of the center 4 strands. Follow this pattern from side to side to make a 6 strand loaf.
Practice strand done.

•When making a starfish, you will be only braid to the middle of the loaf and carefully transfer your half braided challah to a sheet pan, one facing 12 o'clock, 4 o'clock and 8 o'clock.  I have a very large wall oven that fits a whole sheet pan (it's not a commercial oven).  Your oven may not accommodate such a big challah, so make the strands shorter.  

•Take the two remaining 1 ounce strands and cross at the middle.  Twist them together.  Pinch at one end.  Roll the twist into a little bun, starting at the pinched end tuck the ends neatly under. Gently nestle the bun in the open space at the middle of the starfish.

My original half braided strands are at 12 o'clock, 4 o'clock and 8 o'clock.  The unbraided strands are positioned as above and then braided in the same pattern (the difference is that the pieces aren't pinched on top).

•At the end of the braid, gently pinch the ends and tuck under.

•Cover the challah with plastic wrap and allow to proof for 1 1/2 hours.  Preheat the oven to 375º.

•Whisk together 1 whole egg and 2 tablespoons water.  Brush the challah with the egg wash just before putting in the oven.  Bake for a 1/2 hour or until deeply golden brown.

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