Boppa’s (Not So) Secret Challah Recipe

When choosing bread for Shabbat dinner, chances are you’ve done one of three things: make challah, buy challah, or pull out a few hot dog buns, maybe a slice of Wonder Bread and say voila!

My family’s traditions have run the gamut – let’s just say that hot dog bun disguised as Challah isn’t just a random example. Over the last year, we’ve been picking up challah from the Breadsmith, Crossroad’s Deli or Lunds and Byerly’s. Our Shabbat menu rarely sparks conversation; however, the quality of our store-bought challah is a weekly tribunal. We wax prolifically about the moisture, mouthfeel, dough consistency, sweetness, color, and tear-ability. Ultimately, our conclusion is the same: we should have made the Boppa’s Bagels recipe.

Boppa is my Dad. He got the name from my oldest son, then 1-years old, now 19. The realization was adorable. Babbling gibberish over a mac and cheese lunch, he stopped to look at my Dad and declare, Boppa! My Dad looked up and said that’s me! The name stuck.

For 15 years, Boppa’s Bagels was my Dad and Mom’s bagel cafe in Fargo, N.D. The store was sold in 2016, and continues to thrive under new ownership. This fast-casual restaurant makes more than 30 varieties of bagels and an assortment of artisan breads, including challah.

Having soured on the idea we’d find a superior loaf, my Dad and I set out to recreate the Boppa’s Bagels challah. The recipe from the store produced eight loaves, yet we were only making two. First, we had to “right size” the ingredients, by translating the measurements from ounces and pounds to cups, tablespoons and teaspoons.

Here are the ingredients collected on my counter that make up this Shabbat staple:

8 cups flour

12 eggs

4 tbsp. Honey

2/3 cup Sugar

1 tbsp. Salt

2 tbsp. Yeast

1 3/4 cup Water

After collecting the ingredients and translating the measurements, I dusted off my small Cuisinart mixer, circa 1995. All the ingredients went into the bowl and mixing time was set for 15 minutes. Five minutes in, the mixer’s engine began to cough and sputter before coming to a grinding halt. A faint smell of burning rubber surrounded the machine, which was when we declared the official time of demise: 1:36 p.m. Did I mention? Dinner was called for 6:30 p.m.

We had two choices: A) abandon the effort or, B) run to Kohl’s to buy a new mixer. We went with option two. With the clock ticking, we threw a kitchen towel over the dough and sped off to Kohl’s.

1:50 p.m.: The parking lot was gratefully abandoned as we secured rock star parking near the entrance. Like two contestants on the Amazing Race, we fast walked to the appliance section, selected the mixer and awkwardly shuffled the oversize box to the cashier. Upon making our purchase we collected a generous amount of Kohl’s cash. Bonus!

2:30 p.m.: Once home, assembly was swift. We transferred the dough to the new mixer’s bowl (which we washed first!) and picked up where we left off. The dough needed 10 more minutes of kneading – remember, we were only five minutes in before the breakdown.

2:40 p.m.: After the kneading was complete, we again covered the dough with a kitchen towel and let the dough rise for 45 minutes.

3:25 p.m.: Around the time my Dad was rolling out the strands for braiding, my 16-year-old son, who is our resident steak man and baker, returned home from school. My Dad and the boy had a literal tug-a-war over the braiding process. Those two were straight out of central casting for a reality TV cooking show.

Dad: Watch the YouTube video and follow their instructions.

Kid starts braiding before the video starts, Dad grabs dough strands.

Dad: Stop! Watch the video.

Kid keeps braiding, incessantly giggling.

Between fits of laughter they got it done. They gently lifted and placed the braided dough on pans covered by parchment paper. Then lightly egg washed the humps, and put the trays in the oven at 325 degrees for 40 minutes.

5:15 p.m.: Like a bugle calling campers to raise the flag, the oven timer signaled that the bread was done. The three of us made a semi-circle around the oven and slowly opened the door. At that moment, the sweet aroma of freshly baked bread rose into the air. It was all we could do to not split, bite and savor those loaves right there. Gratefully, impulse control prevailed.

6:30 p.m.: Finally it was time to light the candles and bless the wine and bread. I’ve never witnessed Challah ripped and passed so quickly. Before the salad was delivered to the table the second loaf was already making its way around.

How did this loaf compare to the store-bought varieties? It was crunchy on the outside, soft and warm on the inside. The color was golden and tear-ability was perfect. The flavor was sweet. We all agreed it was a success.

Serving homemade Challah made our Shabbat meal special. Preparing it together made for an incredible afternoon. The memory of making this recipe together for the first time is now our (not so) secret ingredient. Be sure to include your own memory when you try out this recipe. Enjoy!