Golden brown outside, soft and slightly sweet inside, challah bread is always a treat! And there’s nothing like baking a fresh loaf of warm challah at home.
In this recipe for challah bread, I’ll show you step-by-step how to create a beautiful loaf that you’ll be proud of.
When I set out to create this recipe for challah bread, I couldn’t believe that our family didn’t already have one. We’ve got generations-old recipes for almost everything else needed for Jewish holiday celebrations, but no challah!
I also tapped into two other generations for their input – more on that later.
WHAT IS CHALLAH BREAD?
Challah is an eggy loaf of bread that has a slight sweetness to it. Soft and fluffy on the inside, it’s closest in flavor and texture to brioche bread. The dough is typically braided and, sometimes, formed into a round shape after braiding (especially around Rosh Hashanah).
Not just for major Jewish holidays, challah is enjoyed year round. For many Jews, even as frequently as weekly.
Challah plays a role in many Jewish traditions. Like most foods in Jewish culture, challah is symbolic.
For very religious Jews, challah represents the daily portion of bread from heaven that God provided during their escape from slavery in Egypt.
WHAT YOU NEED TO MAKE THIS HOMEMADE CHALLAH BREAD
The ingredient list for this challah recipe is super simple:
HOW TO MAKE CHALLAH
Make the dough
First, you’ll dissolve the yeast in warm water. The water should be almost hot, about 110-115F degrees. The water needs to be warm enough to activate the yeast, or your bread won’t rise. If you have a kitchen thermometer, now is the time to use it.
When yeast is activated, it should bubble on the surface of the water.
Whisk the eggs into the dry ingredients in a large bowl to form the dough. Then, add your activated yeast mixture.
The dough will be very shaggy and dry, but don’t worry! Once you knead it, it will be super smooth and supple.
If you have a stand mixer with a dough hook attachment, you may want to use it. You’ll want to knead the dough for 8-10 minutes which, for many of us, is just too long to do by hand.
I actually love kneading by hand. I find it so therapeutic.
Do the first rise
There will be a first rise before braiding and a second rise after braiding.
Placing the dough into a warm oven is the best option for the first rise. If you put the dough into a warm oven, it will rise much faster than if you left it on the countertop. I’ll explain this further in the recipe card below.
Braid the challah
After the first rise, it’s time to braid. Don’t be intimidated! If you can braid hair, you can braid challah.
Divide the dough into three equal parts and roll each part into a long rope. Line them up next to each other and gather them together at the top.
Now, cross the center rope (which should be tucked under the right side rope) over the rope to the right.
Then, take the center rope and cross it over the rope to the left.
Take the center rope and cross it over the rope to the right.
And again, take the center rope and cross it over the rope to the left.
Continue to repeat, crossing the center over right, then center over left, until your dough is completely braided. Tuck the ends under.
Do the second rise
The rising time for the second rise is only 1 hour, and can be done on the counter top instead of in the oven. Just cover the braided dough with a dish towel so it won’t dry out, and let it sit. Then, you’re ready to bake!
Prepare the challah for baking
Before you bake your challah, give it a good slather of egg wash. Be sure to get the egg wash in all the crevices.
The dough will want to pull apart during baking, so be sure there is beaten egg everywhere.
Ways to Enjoy Challah
You’ll never run out of ways to enjoy your homemade loaf of challah bread! It is just as good toasted as it is fresh, and can be enjoyed alone or incorporated into a variety of sweet and savory recipes.
Here are some ideas to get your started:
- French Toast: Challah’s density and absorbent quality make it a perfect choice for the best French toast, soaking up flavors and creating a decadent breakfast treat.
- Sandwiches: From classic deli-style sandwiches to grilled creations, challah’s sturdy texture holds up well to a variety of fillings.
- Bread Pudding: Its ability to retain moisture makes challah an ideal base for luscious bread pudding, absorbing custard and other flavors to create a comforting dessert.
- Breadcrumbs: Leftover challah can be transformed into breadcrumbs for coating meats, fish, or vegetables, adding a unique twist to traditional recipes.
Once you become a pro at making this recipe for challah bread, feel free to get creative! There are sweet and savory variations that you’ll love. Here are a few of my favorites:
- Raisin Challah: You’ll see this version a lot. Using plump raisins or even golden raisins adds a burst of flavor to the bread, making it a favorite for special occasions.
- Classic Challah: Sprinkle the top of your unbaked challah with sesame seeds or poppy seeds for an old-school twist that your grandparents would love.
- Whole Wheat Challah: If you’re seeking a heartier option, whole wheat flour can be substituted for part or all of the white flour, offering a nuttier flavor and a denser texture.
- Savory Herb Challah: By incorporating herbs like rosemary, thyme, or even garlic into the dough, you can create a savory twist that pairs well with various dishes.
- Chocolate Chip Challah: Not just for kids, chocolate chips lend a touch of indulgence to the bread, making it the perfect base for desserts.
DOES CHALLAH HAVE TO BE BRAIDED?
Challah does not have to be braided, but it is traditional to do so. The braiding of the bread has various symbolic meanings to Jews, and a braided loaf is also very pretty.
If you choose not to braid challah dough, you can form it into rolls or buns or simply bake it in a loaf pan.
HOW TO Store CHALLAH
I absolutely love being able to pop some leftover challah bread out of the freezer on weekends to make French toast or to just enjoy it with a warm pat of butter.
Try to squeeze as much air as possible out of the freezer bag. If you have a vacuum sealer, this is a great time to use it.
When freezing anything, excess air is the enemy. Air means freezer burn, so it’s a good idea to protect your frozen foods from as much air as possible.
When you’re ready to enjoy your challah again, let it come to room temperature in a warm place and dig in!
I could not have created or executed this recipe without the help of my mother, virtually via FaceTime from Florida, or Mini Me, who taste tested it for authenticity.
So, in the end, we had three generations collaborating on this homemade challah bread recipe, which makes it a family recipe after all!
When you make this recipe for challah bread, I’d love to hear about it! Drop a rating or leave a comment below. Enjoy!
For more bread recipes, try these:
- Parker House Dinner Rolls
- The Best Honey Cornbread Recipe (with gluten free option!)
- Homemade Cherry Bread Recipe
For more Jewish recipes, try these:
- Sweet Noodle Kugel Recipe (Jewish Noodle Pudding)
- Latkes Recipe (Jewish Potato Pancakes)
- Best Raspberry Rugelach Cookies
How to Make the Best Challah (Homemade Bread Recipe)
- 4 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 envelope active dry yeast
- 3/4 cup warm water 110-115F
- 1/3 cup sugar
- 4 eggs divided
- 1 Tbsp. kosher salt
- 1/4 cup vegetable oil
- Dissolve the yeast in warm water for 5-10 minutes.
- Whisk together the flour, sugar and salt in a large mixing bowl. Make a well in the center and add 3 eggs and oil. Whisk the eggs, pulling a little bit of flour into the center to make a paste.
- Pour the yeast mixture into the well. Stir with a wooden spoon until combined. The bread dough will be shaggy.
- Preheat oven to 200 degrees.
- Dump the dough onto a floured surface and knead for 8-10 minutes. (Alternatively, put the dough into the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook and knead on low speed, 8-10 minutes). The dough will be soft and smooth.
- Turn off the oven. Place dough in an oiled bowl and cover with a kitchen towel for the first rise. Place into the warm oven for 1-2 hours, until doubled in size.
- Punch the dough down and divide into 3 equal pieces. Roll each piece into a rope 16-18 inches long. Line the ropes up next to each other on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Pinch the ends together on one side.
- Braid the dough: Cross the center rope over the rope on the right. Then, cross the center rope over the rope on the left. Continue crossing center over right, center over left, until the dough is braided. Tuck the ends under.
- Dust with flour, cover with a kitchen towel and let rise for 1 hour.
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Beat the remaining egg with 1 Tbsp. of water in a small bowl. Brush the entire loaf with the egg wash.
- Bake 15 minutes. Rotate the baking sheet and bake another 20 minutes. Allow challah to cool to room temperature on the sheet pan before slicing.