A Knead to Bake and Lonni’s Heartfelt Challah Recipe

“I am going to learn to make bread to-morrow. So you may imagine me with my sleeves rolled up, mixing flour, milk, salaratus, etc., with a great deal of grace. I advise you if you don’t know how to make the staff of life to learn with dispatch.” 

– Emily Dickinson to Abiah Root, September 25, 1845 (L8) **

challah recipe
I watched Lonni vigorously knead the dough in her cheerful, homey family kitchen. As I observed her adept handiwork, I remembered as a young girl how I loved to watch my grandmother bake and I especially loved her workmanlike hands.

Unlike my grandmother Annie’s thick, short fingers, Lonni’s hands are nimble and athletic, just like the rest of her tiny but powerful body. And unlike Lonni’s spacious modern kitchen, Annie kneaded and shaped her challah dough in her postage-stamp Brooklyn kitchen.

challah recipe

My grandmother Annie with her first great grandchild, holding her with her wonderfully pudgy beautiful hands.

challah recipe

Lonni’s athletic, nimble, agile hands

challah recipeIn a perfect world, one of Annie’s six children would have carried on the baking tradition and then passed it on to me, in all of its floury detail. Instead, they learned to make jello molds and all the “yummy” creations of the 1950s and 60s. So as a very young girl, I tried to watch and write down my grandmother’s recipe without the aid of digital cameras or any proper recording device. I ended up with nearly useless notes and pencil sketches of her measurements.

And that is how I ended up in Lonni’s kitchen watching her knead dough. As a confident savory cook and occasional quick bread and rugelach baker, you’d expect my fear of yeast to have dissipated. Instead, like bad bacteria, it has festered and grown larger than it deserves to be. Lonni offered to help me rid myself of this lingering fear with a hands-on lesson.

I came armed with all the right recording devices this time – an iPhone and a fancy point and shoot. But really, cooking and especially baking is not a spectator sport. You have to get in on the action. Feel the dough’s elasticity, moisture, texture and see its color, size, and shape. Because breadmaking is both a science and an art. If it’s a hot day, the dough might rise faster. If it’s a moist day, perhaps you’ll need more flour or less water. The recipe is the starting point; your senses are the tools that make the recipe become bread.

challah recipe

Lonni chooses to knead the dough by hand. It’s a form of therapy and some really good exercise. She explains it in her recipe: “It takes me about 20 minutes to knead the dough by hand. I used to do it in the mixer, but I really like to feel the dough and put my heart (and muscle) into the process by kneading it myself!” Out of necessity, Annie also kneaded by hand. She had no stand mixer or food processor – kneading by hand was all she ever knew. And she did it that way into her 90’s, until her strength was just not there anymore.

challah recipe

1950s Friday night challah and its baker, Annie

So it is with great appreciation to Lonni and her bread-baking prowess, that I share Lonni’s challah recipe (and three videos of her handiwork below the recipe) It may not be identical in content to my grandmother’s (though it is quite close!), but if you believe that love is what really makes food taste wonderful, then it is every bit as perfect as Annie’s.

Sweet round challah is the traditional food for ushering in the Jewish New Year. May 5775 bring us all, whether you celebrate or not, many happy hours at the dining room table and in the kitchen, where the best memories are always cooked up.


** (quote originally found on languagehat.com while searching for the origin of the term “staff of life”; for the page about Emily Dickinson and cooking click here)


Lonni's Challah
Recipe type: bread
Serves: 2 braided challahs or 4 round challahs
Similar to my grandmother's in both content and style, this is my dear friend, Lonni's tried and true recipe for challah. You can make it plain, with sesame or poppy seeds, or filled with cinnamon sugar. Braided for any shabbat or round for a sweet Rosh Hashanah.
  • 6 cups flour (she uses regular flour, not bread flour)
  • ½ cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 eggs (she usually adds 4 eggs, because she likes it eggier)
  • ⅓ cup oil (vegetable or canola)
  • 1½ cups warm water
  • 1 tablespoon dry yeast
  • 1 additional tablespoon sugar to proof the yeast
  • 1 additional egg to brush on before baking
  1. Add 1 Tblsp sugar to the warm water then add the yeast (do not stir). The yeast will bubble up in a minute or so, (if it doesn't then the yeast is no good)
  2. In a large bowl, add all the other ingredients, then add the water/yeast mixture
  3. Knead until smooth and shiny and springy. It takes me about 20 minutes to knead the dough by hand. I used to do it in the mixer, but I really like to feel the dough and put my heart (and muscle) into the process by kneading it myself!
  4. Cover and let rise until double in size. The time varies by the weather. You can also do this the night before and let rise in the fridge overnight.
  5. Turn the dough out onto the counter and divide in half. Braid, or shape as you wish. I like to add cinnamon and sugar.
  6. Place prepared loaves on a lightly oiled baking sheet (I use silpat mat). Let rise 1 hour in a warm place. It is important not to let the second rise go much longer than an hour. After that the yeast begins to die and your challah will be flat and taste "yeasty"
  7. Heat oven to 350.
  8. Brush the loaves with egg.
  9. Bake for 20-30 minutes until golden and the loaf sounds hollow when thumped.
  10. Remove immediately to a wire rack so the loaves don't get soggy on the bottom.






























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20 Responses to A Knead to Bake and Lonni’s Heartfelt Challah Recipe

  1. sandycorman September 25, 2014 at 3:11 pm #

    How wonderful to see all this. Where did you get those pictures of grandma. Boy does all this
    bring back memories. Great writing and great story.

    • Beth Lee September 29, 2014 at 6:09 am #

      Found the photo in the old slides! Lots of more good ones to come! Glad you liked the post.

  2. Carol Sacks September 25, 2014 at 3:30 pm #

    Sweet story, Beth. Such a heartfelt post!

    • Beth Lee September 29, 2014 at 6:11 am #

      Thanks Carol! I made babka this weekend, which is almost like challah with chocolate — I think the yeast demons are slowly fading away!

  3. Sarene (FringeFood) September 25, 2014 at 4:17 pm #

    Beautiful story. Every time you make challah from here on out you’ll have your two challah muses guiding your hands. How wonderful is that!

    • Beth Lee September 29, 2014 at 6:12 am #

      Thanks Sarene – and I’m sure they’ll be “amused” at my kneading but eventually impressed.

  4. Deb|EastofEdenCooking September 25, 2014 at 5:12 pm #

    Such a marvelous post! I adore family stories that are food centered. The Challah is so luxurious, bursting with fresh homemade bread flavor and history. I only knew my paternal grandmother and really didn’t spend much time with her. I relished reading your family history rich in tradition and wonderful food!

    • Beth Lee September 29, 2014 at 6:14 am #

      Yes – bread and certainly challah is rich with stories and tradition. And isn’t it amazing how much history you can get from just one old slide – the food and dishes on the table with my grandmother’s challah is just so time-stamped!

  5. Cheryl September 29, 2014 at 5:25 pm #

    I love this whole story and did from the very first line. And then I got to the two videos. As soon as I heard the voice in the 2nd video, I recognized it immediately. It’s Lonni Goldman! What a pleasure to discover this after enjoying the story. I then went back and realized why Lonni’s hands are described as athletic and nimble. (Since I know her, I know she’s a triathlete!)

    p.s. I now see that you do use her last name in the shaded recipe box, but I didn’t see it on my first read-through:)

    • Beth Lee September 29, 2014 at 9:21 pm #

      thanks for the kind words – it truly means the world to me that you enjoyed the story and I am happy that I did your opener proud 🙂 Though I included many photos – loved them too much no to – I felt like this piece could have stood on its own with just one photo – that made me happy too 🙂

      Lonni is a force of nature and her challahs are simply stunning. She brought 4 of her beauties to Rosh Hashanah dinner – we are still devouring the final crumbs.

      Looked like your weekend was fantastic – I hope you didn’t give all my inside stories away in one sitting!

  6. Couscous & Consciousness October 1, 2014 at 11:30 pm #

    What a wonderful post, Beth. So thrilling to see you overcoming your yeast demons, and what a wonderful couple of mentors to guide you. That bread looks absolutely stunning, and has me really want to give it a try.

  7. Hannah October 13, 2014 at 8:30 pm #

    Just beautiful, Beth – I loved every word and your lovely photos and videos. Family memories and food together are so heartwarming. And something about challah is particularly special – making it and sharing it around the table. Your challahs are just gorgeous! L’shana tova to you and your family! Wishing you a sweet, delicious year ahead. xx

    • Beth Lee October 16, 2014 at 8:39 am #

      And you Hannah! And may it bring an opportunity for you and I to finally meet and cook in person!!!

      • Hannah October 16, 2014 at 9:25 am #

        On my wish list for 5775, Beth! xx

  8. susan @ the wimpy vegetarian October 15, 2014 at 6:19 pm #

    I like my challah a little less eggy too, and this looks perfect, Beth. What a gorgeous photo of the bread, and I loved seeing the photos of your family!

    • Beth Lee October 16, 2014 at 8:40 am #

      Thanks Susan! I’m excited to go read your post over on Eating Rules for October Unprocessed!

      • susan @ the wimpy vegetarian October 16, 2014 at 8:50 am #

        I’m so glad you mentioned this, Beth! I thought Andrew was posting it at 1PM, not 1AM, and scheduled my corresponding blog post for THAT time. I just changed it. Thank you!!

  9. Laura @MotherWouldKnow January 21, 2016 at 1:29 pm #

    Love the story, love the recipe and most of all, love the photos. This is the way recipes have been passed down for generations. Adding a video and a few pics for us is nice, but not quite the same as being in the kitchen with you and Lonni – wish I had been:)

    • Beth Lee January 21, 2016 at 2:13 pm #

      I wish we could cook together too Laura. It’s something that rolls around in my mind all the time – how to have a blogger gathering based around cooking. I’m glad you enjoyed the post. Cooking with Lonni was really a treat – she is so emotionally and physically involved in her cooking.

  10. Karen @ Karen's Kitchen Stories January 21, 2016 at 7:23 pm #

    What a lovely post! I consider kneading bread, and the whole process therapeutic too =)

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