For me, every holiday is a challah-day. Challah is a traditional Jewish braided bread enriched with eggs, oil, and sugar. I find it really tasty, so I end up making more challah than is probably good for me.
I wish I had some sort of clever ingredient modifications for challah, but there's not much to be done. Bread making is pretty finicky. Believe me, I've tried modifying recipes, and once, my cinnamon rolls turned out like hard, sour rocks (still edible when doused in sugar!). Any challah modifications not listed explicitly probably won't work, but I'd love to hear in the comments how it turned out.
First time baking bread? If you want the easiest bread recipe, you could start with no knead bread to get a sense of how yeast works and how bread dough rises. If you want to get a sense of how dough works, you can try some recipes with only flour and water.
Even if you're new to bread making, if you follow the recipe exactly, the challah will turn out perfectly, and you can look through the step by step photos to get a sense of what the challah bread looks like throughout the process.
How to Make Challah Bread
The recipe makes a pretty big loaf of bread with 3000 calories in total. Like any other bread, challah would be perfect for making sandwiches or French toast or for spreading with butter and honey. You could also eat it alongside stews, such as shakshuka.
I'm boring, so I eat challah plain. Between me and boyfriend, the whole loaf barely lasts two days! That being said, if you eat normal amounts of bread, you should have enough challah for the week.
- ¼ cup of sugar
- 2 teaspoons of salt
- 1 packet (2 and ¼ teaspoons) of yeast
- 4 - 4½ cups (20 to 22 ounces) of all-purpose flour
- 1 cup (8 ounces) of water
- 2 large eggs + 1 egg, separated
- ¼ cup of oil
- In a large bowl, mix together the sugar, salt, and yeast. Add the flour, and stir to combine.
- Add the water, oil, 2 eggs, and 1 egg yolk, and mix together the wet ingredients. Leave the egg white aside for later.
- Stir together the wet and dry ingredients until they form a dough.
- Knead the challah dough for about 10 minutes until smooth and elastic.
- Cover the bowl, and let rise for 30-45 minutes.
- For a normal loaf: Shape the challah into a loaf.
- For a 3 stranded braid Divide the challah dough into 3 equal pieces. Roll each of the pieces into a thin rope. Pinch together the ropes at one end, and braid as if you were braiding hair.
- For a 6 stranded braid: Divide the challah dough into 6 equal pieces. Roll each of the pieces into a thin rope. Pinch together the ropes at one end. Take the rightmost strand, slide it under 2 strands, over 1 strand, and under the next 2 strands, and repeat until you have a loaf.
- Transfer the loaf to a lightly greased baking sheet. Lightly cover, and let rise for about an hour.
- About 20 minutes before baking, preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
- Brush the challah loaf with the egg white, making sure to cover all of the crevices.
- Bake the challah for 30-35 minutes until deeply browned.
- Let cool for at least 10 minutes before slicing and serving.
- All-purpose flour: Primary ingredient in challah bread. Substituting whole wheat flour would work, but may yield a denser bread.
- Sugar: Makes the challah lightly sweet. Substituting 1/4 cup of honey would work.
- Salt: Adds flavor and helps strengthen the bread. For more details, see this guide on salt in bread making. Using fine grained salt will be saltier than using kosher salt.
- Yeast: Important ingredient that helps the challah rise. Technically, you can make your own yeast out of a sourdough starter, but this requires much more work.
- Water: Primary wet ingredient in challah which helps form a cohesive dough. Substituting some or all of the water for milk will yield a softer, richer bread.
- Eggs: Help enrich, leaven, and bind the crumb. If you really don't have eggs, you can use a egg replacer made of oil, water, and baking powder.
- Separated egg: The egg yolk goes into the challah bread, and the egg white contributes the shiny brown sheen. Alternatively, you could make the bread shiny by brushing with cream/milk. If you don't care about browning, you can just put the egg white into the dough. If you're running low on eggs, you can omit this egg.
- Oil: Adds richness to the crumb. Any sort of neutral flavored oil (vegetable, canola) would work. More strongly flavored oils, such as olive or coconut, will contribute their flavor to the bread. For non-traditional challah, you can substitute melted butter. If you double the quantity and use 1/2 cup (8 tablespoons) of butter, you basically have brioche.
Step by Step Photos
Normally, I'd tell you to preheat the oven before starting the recipe. However, challah bread takes a while to rise, so this step will come later.
Let's start by preparing the dry ingredients: yeast, salt, sugar, and flour. You can use 2 - 2 and 1/4 teaspoons of yeast depending on what's more convenient. You can add 1 packet of yeast (2 and 1/4 teaspoons), or if you're measuring from a container, you can just use 2 teaspoons of yeast.
In a very large bowl, mix together the sugar, salt, and yeast. You don't have to be very precise with the sugar measurement. The photo above shows 1 teaspoon of kosher salt, so the resulting bread was not very salty.
Add the flour, and stir to combine. You have to be very careful about adding correct amount of flour. If you have a scale, I would highly recommend using it to get 20-22 ounces of flour. My 4 cups of flour measured 5.4, 5.2, 5.4, and 5.6 ounces for a total of 21.6 ounces.
If you don't have a scale, you're going to have to wait until you add the wet ingredients before you can tell whether you have the right amount. I once under-measured the flour, and I spent an hour constantly adding flour and kneading. If you over-measure the flour, you may get a challah rock.
Now, you can prepare the wet ingredients. I use a 2 cup measuring cup to measure 1 cup of water and 1/4 cup of oil. You could also weigh out water and oil, but I find this unnecessary.
Challah uses 3 eggs in total. The dough uses 2 whole eggs and 1 egg yolk, and the remaining 1 egg white is used to make the loaf shiny.
To separate an egg, gently crack an egg into a small bowl. Gently scoop out the yolk with your hand, and transfer it to the measuring cup with the oil and water. Leave the egg white in the bowl for later use.
Unlike with muffins or pancakes, you can combine the wet and dry ingredients without any fear of overmixing. Add the water, oil, 2 eggs, and 1 egg yolk. Mix together the wet ingredients. At this point, you should use a spoon because the challah dough is still very wet and messy.
You should make sure that the wet ingredients are homogeneous before you proceed so that there aren't any weird egg chunks in the finished challah. Stir together the wet and dry ingredients until they form a dough.
This is the state of the dough after about 3 minutes of stirring. At this point, all of the dry flour is incorporated, and the dough is starting to come together.
Here is the dough after another 2 minutes of stirring. You should be able to pick up the challah dough without it leaving a lot of residue on your hands, and the dough should feel slightly tacky, but not sticky.
By this point, if you didn't use a scale to measure flour earlier, check to see if you added the right amount of flour. If the dough is soup, don't start kneading. Continue adding more flour bit by bit and keep stirring until you get a dough. If the dough looks much much harder, then you could try adding water and stirring.
Once you have a proper dough ball, knead the challah dough for about 10 minutes until smooth and elastic. Kneading by hand doesn't take long if the proportions are correct, so I find that it's easier than using a stand mixer or bread machine. The only reason it took me an hour one time was because I added too little flour.
Cover the bowl, and let rise for 30-45 minutes. The rest of the process takes about an hour. If you want to bake the challah later, you can put the challah dough in the fridge for one day.
After the first rise, it's time to shape the challah loaf. The step by step photos are for forming a 6 stranded braided challah loaf. You could also make a normal loaf of bread or a simpler 3 stranded braid.
Start by dividing the challah dough into 6 equal pieces. This is easiest if you eyeball the quantities and cut the dough with a knife.
Roll each of the pieces into a thin rope about 1 inch in diameter and 16 inches in length. I make the ropes the length of the cutting board.
Pinch together the ropes at one end so that all of the ropes are connected.
Now, here's the tricky part. Take the rightmost strand. Slide it under 2 strands, over 1 strand, and under the next 2 strands. Repeat this process until you reach the end of the loaf.
When you reach the end of the loaf, you'll notice that the strands are too short to go "under 2, over 1, under 2." At this point, I squeeze together the ends as neatly as I can and call it a day.
Transfer the challah loaf to a lightly greased baking sheet. I don't line the baking sheet with aluminum foil because it makes the bottom crust funny. Lining with parchment paper is okay.
If you don't have a baking sheet, you can use a glass baking dish. However, you will need to increase the bake time. For more details, TheKitchn has an article explaining the differences between baking with glass and metal.
Lightly cover the loaf, and let rise for about an hour. If you skip this step, the challah will still taste fine, but the top will crack, and your loaf won't be as pretty.
About 20 minutes before baking, you can preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Brush the challah loaf with egg white, making sure to cover all of the crevices. I use the entire egg white for the nicest sheen.
When you brush on the egg white, if you accidentally spill egg white around the challah, it will bake into a brown lacy layer. It's not dangerous, and you can tear this part off or eat it.
Bake the challah for 30-35 minutes until deeply browned. I'm terribly impatient, and I would love to dive into the challah immediately. However, it's important to let the challah cool for at least 10 minutes before slicing and serving so that the challah isn't doughy and hard to slice.
To store leftover (what? leftovers?) challah, wrap the challah well, and keep in the fridge for a few days. You can reheat the challah or eat it cold.
Possible Challah Problems
Now that we've gone over how to properly make challah bread, I'll share my first imperfect attempt at making challah bread.
This is the first loaf of challah I ever made. I've addressed the problems in the step by step instructions above, and I'll reiterate them. Don't be like me.
- I did not add enough flour, so I spent an hour constantly adding flour and kneading. To fix this, make sure that you have a dough before starting to knead.
- I did not let the shaped challah braid rise for long enough, so the sudden heat of the oven caused the top of the bread to tear.
- I baked the challah in a glass baking dish, so it wasn't quite cooked after 35 minutes. If your challah looks this pale, put it back into the oven immediately. It's not done.
Unfortunately, I didn't realize that the challah was underdone until it had finished cooling, and I had already sliced it, so the middle was doughy and unpleasant.
To make this problem slightly less bad, I baked the doughy parts longer in the oven, and I got crunchy challah toast instead of fluffy bread. I really like challah, so I devoured the loaf anyways.
I hope that this tutorial was understandable for novice bread makers. If you have any questions, feel free to comment below, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org, or find me on social media. So, tell me, what's your favorite type of bread?