The Only Challah Recipe You Will Ever Need, Amen.

Shabbat Challah

Shabbat Challah

I consider myself a connoisseur of all things challah, but for whatever reason, the thought of producing my own always eluded me. After trying many a challah in my hometown, I found the unequivocally most aromatic, decadent, light and airy strands of braided dough at my local Cuban bakery, Porto’s. I am well aware that a Cuban bakery is not naturally the first place to come to mind when in search of the best challah in town, but trust me when I tell you that these people know bread. Sadly, a few years back, I moved to another part of town, and have since been chasing the memory of that yellow-tinged, sweet-as-honey loaf. On the rare occasion when I found myself in that part of town, my insides would do a little happy dance, since it was a forgone conclusion that I’d stop at the bakery. However, no nearby purveyor of fine baked goods was able to replicate the craving-inducing, funny sounding bread I so longed for. Therefore, I set on the challenge of finding a recipe to replicate it myself.

Close up of the detail on my 6-strand braided challah.

Close up of the detail on my 6-strand braided challah.

Deb Perlman, of SmittenKitchen.com fame, adapted a challah recipe from Joan Nathan, and I am pretty sure she hit the jackpot. After a bit of trial and error with her recipe,  I have found that what works best for me is to make smaller, more controlled batches, which in turn, yield smaller, more uniform loaves. Rather than follow her recipe to a tee, I always halve it now, and produce picture-perfect challahs to adorn my table or to gift to my ever-gracious neighbors. Much to my delight, many a Shabbat guest has mistaken my handiwork for its store-bought cousin…and I don’t usually jump at correcting their mistake.

This past Sunday was the final class in a series I taught at my synagogue on Jewish Holiday Cooking. While the previous classes featured dish upon festive dish typical for a number of Jewish holidays, this crowning jewel of a class was entirely devoted to the 6-strand braided loaf of challah.

My students' beautifully braided dough rises, waiting to be baked to golden perfection.

My students’ beautifully braided dough rises, waiting to be baked to golden perfection.

It was the perfect way to end the series, as many friendships were fostered in the class, and there was plenty of down-time for visiting while the dough was rising. Given my experience braiding challah, I warned my students that since this was their first time attempting the 6-strand braid, it may not look exactly as they expected, and that it only gets better with practice. As it turns out, my warning was for not, because they produced some of the most delicious challahs I’ve seen.

Challah class

Poppy and Sesame Seed Challahs made by my students.

By far, the best part of the class was the taste test. We all gathered around the table, noshed on several different varieties of freshly baked challah, and reminisced about our experience in the series. We laughed remembering silly mistakes that happened in the kitchen, and we shared stories about friendships that started there.

Chocolate challah

Chocolate Chip Challah, sprinkled with coarse sugar, prepared by my students.

With my students’ encouragement, I think I will likely teach the series again. Though, it will definitely be hard to top this group of students. They came from all walks of life, but shared a common enthusiasm for cooking. They impressed me with their skills, and even taught me a thing or two about their personal family’s cooking cultures. As I shared with them on the very first class, every family has their own culinary traditions, and I am honored that I got to share mine with them.

Holiday loaf

A High Holiday rounded loaf of challah, prepared by my students.

5.0 from 17 reviews
Traditional Challah
 
Author:
Recipe type: Side Dish
Cuisine: Jewish
 
Neighbors will come knocking when your house smells like this fresh-baked challah. Be warned.
Ingredients
  • 2¼ tsp dry active yeast
  • 1½ tsp plus ¼ cup sugar
  • ¾-1 cup warm water
  • ¼ cup vegetable oil
  • 4 eggs, divided
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1½ tsp table salt
  • 4 cups flour (or less)
Instructions
  1. In the bowl of your stand mixer, add yeast, 1½ tsp sugar, and between ¾ to 1 cup of warm water, and mix until dissolved. Let sit for 10 minutes.
  2. Mix in vegetable oil, 2 eggs (1 at a time) and egg yolk, with remaining sugar and salt.
  3. Slowly add flour, ½ cup at a time.
  4. When the dough holds together, switch to the bread hook, and knead until smooth.
  5. Transfer dough to a greased bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and let rise in a warm place for at least 1 hour.
  6. Punch dough down, and leave it to rise again for 2 hours.
  7. You can now either make 1 large challah or 2 smaller challahs. To make one large challah, cut dough into 6 pieces, and roll into approximately 12 inch strands. Pinch the top of the strands together. Take the strand all the way to the right, and move it over to the left by 2 strands. Take the strand that is second to the left, and move it all the way over to the right. Take the strand that is all the way over to the left, and move it to the right by 2 strands. Take the strand that is second from the right, and move it all the way to the left. Repeat this process until the challah is completely braided. Pinch ends, and tuck them under the loaf. Place braided loaf on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper.
  8. Use one egg to brush an egg wash over the top of the loaf.
  9. Let sit for one hour.
  10. Use another egg to brush a second coat of egg wash. (At this point, you can sprinkle poppy seeds, sesame seeds, or any other seeded topping you want).
  11. Bake at 350 for 20-25 minutes, or until golden brown.

 

 

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85 thoughts on “The Only Challah Recipe You Will Ever Need, Amen.

  1. Pingback: A Rosh Hashanah recipe for a sweet new year: Apple Butter Swirl Challah | The Cuban Reuben

  2. I followed the order of the recipe exactly and found that it wouldn’t absorb all of the flour as it had started to become too elastic halfway through the process.

    I tried again following the method I use for Brioche, with the dry ingredients and yeast in the mixing bowl and then slowly adding warm water, then eggs and oil. Using two cups of water it came together.

    Currently it is rising so I’m watching some ‘how to braid challah’ videos on YouTube. Thanks for the recipe, I’ll follow up with my results.

    • I find that the amount of flour I use really depends on the moisture in the air, and on more humid days, it takes more flour than usual. I appreciate the feedback. Thanks for posting!

  3. Thanks for your reply Jenny. The recipe worked perfectly. It’s just the right texture for tearing off pieces, and then tearing off more!

  4. I just baked a loaf! Waiting for it to cool before I taste it!! Any suggestions on how to store it for a day or two without freezing it? Thank you!!

    • So glad you made it! I bet your kitchen smells divine. To answer your question, ordinarily I suggest baking the loaf on the day you want to serve it, or freezing it. In this instance, I suggest waiting until it has cooled completely, then wrapping in plastic (as close to airtight as possible) and refrigerating. Then, on the day you serve, take it out of the fridge with enough time for it to come back to room temperature. This only wotks for a couple of days. After that, I recommend freezing.

      Good luck!

  5. So it looks very good but how does it really taste? I had challah bread in Kansas city from some market area and it was wonderful, in fact my family ate the loaf before we got back to the car! So then I tried a recipe I found and it was pretty tasteless so that is why I’m wondering how this taste?

    • Great question, Sherry. The best way that I can describe the taste is slightly sweet with a light, fluffy texture. My husband claims that this recipe is better than any loaf he’s bought at a store or bakery. Test it out, and see for yourself. And don’t forget to let me know how it goes! Best of luck!

      • Thanks Jenny,
        My dough is on the rise as I type this out. I’m excited to finish it and then taste it! I will let you know how it turns out.
        Thanks again!

    • Jamie, I wouldn’t recommend it, as vegetable oil is flavorless, and the other oils you suggested have rich, distinct flavors.

      • Thank you! I went with vegetable. 🙂
        Now, what can I do once it’s done the second rise but I don’t want to bake it yet? Can I wrap it up in plastic, refrigerate, and bake tomorrow?

        • Typically, I recommend baking the bread on the day you make the dough. It keeps for a couple days if your let it cool completely, then keep in the refrigerator, wrapped airtight with plastic wrap. Let it come to room temp (or bake for 5 minutes) before you are ready to serve.

          If you must wait to bake the bread, you can try putting the dough in the refrigerator, letting it come to room temperature before you handle it again, but as I have never tried this, I can’t tell you for certain how it will turn out.

          Keep me posted, and best of luck!

          • I refrigerated it overnight after the second rise. I let it come up to room temp – about an hour. Then I just followed the rest of the recipe as usual.
            Turned out great.

          • I make the dough the night before then bake the next morning.
            Our pastor uses it for first Sunday.
            Yep this jewish gal makes challah for church.
            I always get four huge loaves this way.

  6. I have been baking challah for many years. I use olive oil in my challah and it gives
    a wonderful flavor as well as being more healthy. You can freeze baked challah. Just
    let it defrost in whatever bag you froze it. Unwrap from plastic bag and rewrap in aluminum foil. Heat in warming drawer or 250 degree oven for about 15 minutes. You will think you are eating fresh baked challah.

  7. If you want to add choc chips or raisins etc, at what stage do you add them. Would you put them into the mix at the beginning or after kneading and rising. Would think that if they are added at the beginning, chocolate would probably have melted into the dough once the kneading had been done. I would be making and kneading by hand. Can’t wait to try this recipe. Thank you.

  8. I certainly agree that Deb’s challah recipe is the best. I generally use one extra egg (yolk only) and always use a little more water and less flour. The result is a light and fluffy challah with beautiful texture. Oh, and for the full recipe I add one teaspoon if vanilla. I bake every week and the challot always receive rave reveiews.

  9. Do you use all purpose flour or bread flour?
    Also, is it possible to make the dough of this challah in the bread machine and then pull it out for the second rise, braid it, and let it rise again?

  10. Turned out magnificent. The single challah is enormous. I’m glad I had your braiding instructions in addition to Joan Nathan’s video.

  11. I am jumping on this today. My new mother in law is queen of the challah. I have been lamenting her first Erev Shabbat at our home for this one reason. Challah. This recipe looks simple and delicious!! Experiment on the brother in lae and hubby this erev shabbat so maybe next week I’ll be good to impress the MOMMA! Shalom!

  12. Hi- I’ve just made this recipe and it came out spectacular. I used a bit more flour – but as is mentioned above that can be the case in more humid climates. Is it possible to pre-make the dough and freeze it? Or pre make the bread and freeze it? Or does it compromise the quality? Thx!

    • Hi Liad,
      So glad it worked out for you. I often bake lots of loaves at a time, and freeze them individually. The trick is to make sure they are completely cooled, and then seal them in a combination of foil, plastic wrap, and freezer bags for protection. Then, on the day you want to use them, take them out to thaw. The quality is not quite the same as freshly baked, but few people can tell the difference.
      Hope this helps!

  13. The BEST challah recipe. I have been on a search making several different ones. This replicates my favorite bakery. Soft, eggy inside and with the right lacquer on top and crust on the bottom. Thank you!

  14. I too have been on a quest for the perfect Challah’ it’s in the oven right now and smells divine! Living in FL. with high humidity I used 1/2 cup of extra flour so that it wasn’t so sticky. The rising of the dough made me smile. So far so good but it smells wonderful!

  15. Pls help! I tried the recipe but after 4 cups of all purpose flour the dough was still way too wet. Is it ok that I added a lot more flour to get it to a better consistency of does this mean I’ve done something wrong? Pls help making for 15 people tmrw night… Eeeks

    • Hi Rachie,
      Don’t add much more flour, as it will turn out dense and bland. Depending on the moisture in the air, sometimes the dough is stickier than other times.

      Good luck!

  16. This comes closest to the Challah recipe I developed however mine has 4 yolks and 4 whole eggs and tons of vanilla and 1 c sugar for 4 loaves…a true Sweet Shabbat Challah…and a true egg bread!

  17. This is the closest recipe to the one I developed..however… I have 4 whole eggs, 4 yolks, 1 cup sugar, 1/3 c vanilla…to make a true sweet Shabbat Challah!..Now try it with dried apricots mixed in..and oh…my!

  18. How would you go about adding pumpkin into this recipe for the fall? Have you ever tried anything like that? I’m wondering what adjustments would need to be made…. This recipe sounds simple enough, but I’ve never had challah turn out right for me so I’m very hesitant… Wish me luck 🙂

  19. two questions: What if I don’t use a mixer and do it all by hand? Will it make a difference. Also if I am using instant yeast how much do I need?
    I am planning on using this recipe this coming fri. Hope it works.

    • First question: You absolutely can do it by hand… it just takes more time and energy. Second question: I don’t recommend instant yeast for this recipe. I prefer the dry active yeast, because as the dough rises, the flavors develop. Good luck!

  20. I did find that I didn’t have any sugar in the kitchen after I started the yeast, so I ended up replacing all the sugar with honey. I suspect that added moisture might have required me to add more flour, which I did. The dough is still kinda sticky, but it did rise just fine, so I’ll see what happens after it’s baked.

    I mean, challah + honey, how could that be bad?

  21. Excellent! But the dough is always really wet. More like a thick batter than dough. Adding flour while mixing to make it hold together ruins it. But if you add just enough extra flour AFTER rising to make it more workable, it still turns out perfectly fluffy.

      • Nope…and I’ve tried it in different seasons/weather. And I have tried weighing the flour instead of measuring. But it’s delish, and still remains the go to recipe and the recipe people ask me for.

    • You can double the recipe, but I find that it comes out better if I just make the recipe twice, back-to-back, rather than one big recipe. There’s something about the small batch that just works better for me.

  22. This is a great recipe. My family and I agree. Just startied baking my own Challah and so far this is a winner!!! Thank you. Shalom

  23. I’ve used this recipe twice and all I can say is amazing. I use this with the dough setting on my bread machine to mix everything and it works perfectly. The only thing I added to this was a bit of honey. The bread comes out amazing and the apartment smells oh so good. Definitely makes my Shabbos better. Thank you so much for sharing this.

    !תודה רבה

  24. Incredible recipe! Was very light and moist-just what I was hoping for!
    I made one of the my loaves more of a dessert challah by covering the strands with a mixture of melted butter, cinnamon and brown sugar before braiding.
    Thank you so much for the recipe!

  25. Hi! I am currently allowing my dough to rise for the 2nd time. Do I leave it covered for these 2 hours? Also, do I punch it down again before braiding? This is my first time making challah! Will let you know how it turns out.

  26. You’re challah is DELICIOUS. Made a double recipe and it disappeared, not even the crumbs were left. Thank you for the first successful challah in years.

  27. Just got my first batch of honey from my beehive, and I want to use honey instead of sugar. But I need to know if it is the same measurement of sugar for the honey. Thanks!

      • The honey challah came out great! This is what I did: I substituted the exact amounts of sugar for the honey, but added a pinch of baking soda, as honey is a bit acidic. I limited the water to 3/4cup. The dough was sticky, but I dumped it out of the mixer onto a floured board and used a bench scraper to keep folding it onto itself until it was less sticky. Finished kneading it with floured hands only. The rest of the recipe was used except I reduced the oven temp to 325, as honey tends to brown more quickly. Baked 2 loaves for 30 minutes until the bottom of the loaves were nicely golden brown. The crumb was beautiful, not to mention the taste. Family agrees as one loaf is finished already, and they are digging into the second. I guess I will double the recipe next time. And I can stop looking for challah recipes…this one is indeed the best!!!

  28. I love baking bread. And I’m usually pretty good at it (the usually refers to my inability to just stick to a recipe and sometimes the results are less than stellar LOL). But I’ve never had much luck with challah. It just never turns out all that great. Until now. This is the best challah recipe I’ve ever tasted…and I’ve lived in Israel for the past 20 years, so I’ve tried a lot of different challahs over the years :-). This recipe results in a challah that is simply delicious and pillowy soft. The only amendment that I made to the recipe was to add a few strands of saffron to the wet ingredients before adding the flour. Otherwise I followed the recipe to the letter (I used the middle ground on the water with somewhere between 3/4 – 1 cup). I also used precisely 4 cups of flour. I will be making this my weekly challah recipe from now on. Thank you SOOOO much!

  29. Really good recipe. This is the second challah recipe I tried after a semi-fail with the first one and it is definitely ten times better. I used a full cup of water, and just added flour without measuring until the dough was still sticky but manageable. The two loaves turned out very fluffy and the egg wash is beautiful. Let it rise for the many hours and be patient. Meditate on the metaphors and lessons that the making of the challah bread teach you – patience, awe, and thankfulness to Hashem for his every day miracles :).

  30. ABSOLUTELY AMAZING !! Was in need of a good recipe and instead stumbled upon this PERFECT one. So moist and delicious. Will be making again and again and again!!!

  31. I sent you a comment last week after baking your incredible challah for Rosh Hashanah, asking if you might be able to convert your recipe using gluten free flour so that my granddaughter who was just diagnosed with celiac could also enjoy. The challah was so amazing I want to make it again, which I will do with or without gluten free flour, but thought I would first see if you saw my comment and if you have had an opportunity to check out the gluten free issue. My understanding (right or wrong) is that I cannot just substitute gluten free flour for regular flour, at least not in the same proportions. Many thanks !! Sue

  32. Made this and it was delicious. Didn’t have time to do a true third rise so I skipped the punch down part, braided it, and let it rise for as long as I could. It turned into a blob haha. But I was a delicious blob!! Best challah recipe I’ve tried. Going to use it again tomorrow and do the third rise this time.

    For some reason it’s not letting me rate the recipe but 5 stars!

  33. i love this recipe.
    my challah memories go back to grandma in the kitchen and her enormous ceramaic bowls, the huge double oven range and those loaves of fresh challah, always one for the synagogue!
    after many challa attempts, this is the first that brings back grandma’s loaves and instantly transports me to the old bus station of tel aviv which, back in the day, was in tel aviv bakery central. the fragrances of fresh baked goods was enough to transport you to baked goods heaven.
    rising in the oven is my sixth batch from this recipe, each batch has been superior to the previous.
    i must admit, the time devoted to rising frightened me in the beginning…no more!
    thank you for this beautiful recipe!

  34. Love this recipe! I’ve been making it ever week for the last month trying to perfect my challah recipe and each week it gets better! I also add a little bit of honey to it and love the flavor that it gives.

    I am able to make 2 small 6 strand challah s from this recipe and it is perfect. The leftovers also makes for great French toast, and croutons!

    Thank you!

  35. I absolutely love this recipe and it’s been a saved favorite that I have been using weekly to perfect the recipe. I have found my family prefers it a bit sweeter so I use almost 1/2 c sugar instead of the 1/4 c. I have left for morning errands and had the dough “proof” (rise too much and begin to fall) making a delicious blob. As well as tried sticking it in the fridge for the 2 hour rise to slow it down while we run our morning errands. While the refrigerated dough was difficult to work it made the perfect challah (I didn’t have time to let it come back to room temperature) I use King Arthur’s Bread Flour – 4-ish cups – in Phoenix, AZ I sometimes use a little less or more depending on the humidity. This recipe makes one huge (if the yeast is working) 6-strand loaf or 2 lovely 4-strand rounds. Thank you for helping this goy make Challah for her Jewish family. It makes me so happy to know mine is better than the local baker.

  36. I am a novice challah baker. I made your recipe twice It was easy to follow and looked gorgeous! Even my son said that it looked like bakery-made challah. The only problem was that it was SOMEWHAT DRY. I added the full 4 cups of flour and wonder if using less would make the difference and/ adding more water( I used the full cup)? Additionally, can I add more sugar to sweeten it a bit more without ruining the recipe?

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