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Easter Challah Bread

Easter Bread – Challah Bread
This is traditional Jewish bread that is used when Jewish families celebrate Shabbat, or the Sabbath.  Each week at the evening meal on Friday night, Jews recall the six days of creation with God marking the seventh for rest, and they recall how God lead them out of Egypt in the Exodus.  Almost every year, the Christian feast of Easter occurs near the Jewish feast of Passover and in our house, I have included this bread in our Easter dinner to remind us that Christianity is built on Judaism and the Hebrew Scriptures are an integral part of who we are as Christians.  Their Passover story is also our Passover story and part of our salvation history, only at Easter Christ becomes the Risen Lamb of God!  This bread is a rich white bread that compliments just about any Easter menu, and its festive braid adds to the artistry of our table.  There are many versions of this recipe, but the one I use the most is from James Beard’s Bread Book.  Enjoy!
3 packages active dry yeast
1 ½ cups warm water
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon course sea salt
3 tablespoons butter
3 eggs
5 to 5 and ½ cups all purpose flour
1 egg yolk mixed with 1 teaspoon cold water
Poppy seeds
bread rising
Proof the yeast in the lukewarm water in a large bowl.  Add the sugar, salt, butter, eggs and 5 cups of the flour, adding one cup of flour at a time.  Beat thoroughly with a wooden spoon or with your hands.  Gradually add more flour until the dough is very stiff.  Turn the dough out on a floured board and knead until dough is smooth and elastic, about 10 minutes.  Place the dough in a very large buttered bowl. And turn to coat surface with butter.  Cover and let rise in a warm, draft-free place until doubled in bulk, about 1½  to 2 hours.  Punch the dough down and divide into six equal parts.  Roll each portion into a rope about 1 inch in diameter on a lightly floured board.  Braid three ropes together to make two loaves.  You can make a straight braid loaf or braid the dough and then form it into a circle, tucking in the ends.  Place the breads about 6 inches apart on a buttered baking sheet.  Cover and let rise in a warm place until almost double in bulk.  Brush the tops of the loaves with the egg wash and sprinkle with poppy seeds.  Bake in a preheated 400 degree oven for 35 to 45 minutes, or until the loaves sound hollow when tapped with knuckles.  Cool on racks.

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