My time-tested recipe for the best homemade challah is a family favorite. Shape it as you'd like & use it for holidays or yummy french toast!
A time-tested, family-loved Challah recipe
I’ve made challah bread for many years, for many occasions, in a variety of shapes.
I’ve added chocolate chips or raisins to the dough, and have varied the toppings from the traditional sesame or poppy seeds to cinnamon sugar (kids generally like that one!).
What follows is my time- (and kid-) tested recipe for making homemade challah. It's been called the Best Homemade Challah Ever. I won't argue with that!
Challah can come in different shapes
Most types of bread aren’t associated with a specific shape, but challah, a Jewish egg bread similar to brioche, definitely isn’t one of those.
Braided, either oblong or round, that’s the shape of challah. It’s instantly recognizable.
Braiding challah takes a little practice, but your reward is a beautiful shiny bread suitable for celebrations.
[Side note: it’s hard to write how to pronounce the word challah…the beginning sound doesn’t exist in English. The “ch” is the anglicized version for the Hebrew letter “chet” which represents the sound you make when you’re trying to clear your throat, not the sound starting “cheese.” That’s why you’ll see the Jewish December holiday of Hanukkah sometimes spelled “Chanukkah.” Ok, our linguistic lesson is over…let’s get back to food.]
Why is challah braided?
Used for Shabbat (the Jewish Sabbath), Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish New Year), or for special occasions, challah’s special shape holds traditional meanings.
The internet abounds with websites explaining the many different reasons why challah is braided. Those reasons vary based on how observant the individual is.
Some sites go deep into Jewish law (having to do with the rituals of the ancient temple). Others look to a more biblical meaning (representing manna from heaven). Still others go for a more secular meaning (creating a shaped bread that can be distinguished from ordinary bread, thus making it safe to eat for the Shabbat meal).
In addition, the round challah used on Rosh Hashanah symbolizes the circular nature of time itself (one year ends, another starts), but even that simple explanation has deeper meanings for people.
Far be it for me to highlight one reason over another, and this space is for baking the bread, not debating faith traditions, so let’s just move on, shall we?
I have a separate post on how to shape challah. There you'll find detailed instructions for three-, four-, and six-strand oblong braids and a four-strand round challah.
It's not hard...have at it!
What you need to bake challah
As with most bread recipes, you don't need a lot of ingredients.
The main difference is that challah dough is enriched with eggs, like with a brioche recipe. I use canola oil instead of softened or melted butter to keep the bread dairy-free.
That's especially important if you're keeping Kosher and want to serve the challah with a meal featuring meat. Jewish dietary laws forbid the mixing of milk and meat products at the same time.
Breadmaking made easy
I only use instant yeast (aka rapid rise), which doesn't need to be proofed before mixing the dough.
If you use Active Dry yeast, then you might want to sprinkle yeast on to the warmed water with a teaspoon of sugar and allow it to sit for a few minutes before proceeding with the recipe. Letting it foam "proves" the yeast is active and ready to go to work.
Otherwise, you'll end up with a challah doorstop, and no one wants that.
With instant yeast, you just mix all the dough ingredients together and knead it for a few minutes.
The first rise is to let the yeast do its thing and expand the dough. This takes about two to three hours in a warm place. I use my KitchenAid Precise Heat Mixing Bowl, but an oven with just the light bulb on works also.
Next it's time to portion and shape the dough. I usually make two smaller challah loaves out of one batch of dough, but a full-sized batch makes one good-sized challah.
The second rise allows the dough to relax and get puffy again. Right before putting it in the oven, brush the dough with an egg wash to get that shiny crust.
Baking bread, science, and math
When it comes to baking, especially baking with kids, making bread is an ideal platform from which to ask questions. There is so much to see and do, so many ways to teach and learn!
When I would help my preschool students make challah every Friday, we would talk about “waking up and feeding the yeasties” while preparing the dough. I’d talk about how yeast is actually a living organism that makes the bread rise.
I’d ask them questions like “how many ¼ cups of water would go into 1 cup of water?” instilling in them the thought that math is something we use every day.
Learning to be careful when measuring out the ingredients taught them patience and control, as did stirring the ingredients carefully and watching how the dough takes shape in the bowl.
Yes, baking challah bread is a fun, educational experience.
Celebrating with challah
You can use this recipe for challah for your own holiday celebrations.
And of course, challah makes fantastic french toast.
So give yourself a real treat and make this recipe for the best homemade Challah...ever!
Nom, nom, nom...
Slainté! L’chaim! Cheers!
Recipes for shaped bread
I love to bake shaped bread, especially using sourdough starter discard. Here are some shaped bread recipes to try...
The Best Homemade Challah
For the dough
- 3½ cups bread flour, plus more as needed, see Recipe Notes
- ¼ cup granulated sugar
- 2 tsp yeast, instant or rapid rise, see Recipe Notes
- 1½ tsp kosher salt
- 2 large eggs, at room temperature
- ⅓ cup canola oil, see Recipe notes
- ½ to ⅔ cup water, warmed between 100°F to 110°F, see Recipe Notes
For the topping
- 1 large egg, plus 1 Tbsp water, for egg wash
- cinnamon sugar, sesame seeds, poppy seeds, as desired
- Mix all the ingredients into the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook or in a bread machine set to the manual cycle. Knead the dough for about 5 minutes (see Recipe Notes for manual kneading).
- Place the dough in a covered, oiled bowl and let it rise 2 to 3 hours in a warm place (such as in the oven, turned off but with the light on) until it doubles in bulk. You can also let it rise in the refrigerator overnight. Let the dough come to room temperature if refrigerated (about an hour) before proceeding with the shaping.
- Let the shaped dough rise for 45 minutes in a warm place (like that light-warmed oven). Towards the end of the rising time, preheat the oven to 350ºF. If you’re letting your dough rise in the oven, remove it while the oven is heating.
- For the egg wash, whisk together the beaten egg with the water.
- Brush the dough all over the exposed surface with the egg wash, then sprinkle on any desired toppings, such as cinnamon sugar, sesame seeds, or poppy seeds.
- Bake the dough for 25 to 35 minutes, rotating the pan front to back halfway through the baking time. When the loaf is golden brown and it sounds hollow when tapped on the bottom, remove it from the oven.
- Remove the finished loaf from the baking sheet and cool on a wire rack. Slice (or tear), serve, and enjoy!