Jump To Section
What Is Challah?
Challah is a Kosher braided yeast bread that has long been a symbolic centerpiece for Jewish holidays such as Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year), Shabbat, and Purim. The simple dough is made with eggs, water, flour, yeast, and salt. The pale yellow color and rich flavor comes from the high amount of eggs used in the dough.
What Is the Religious Significance of Challah?
Jewish food traditions are linked to religious holidays. Every Friday evening, it's challah that heralds the Sabbath. On Shabbat, the two loaves of challah are placed on festive tables represent the double-portion of manna that fell on Friday, the heavenly bread that fed Jewish people during their 40 years in the desert. The braiding of the bread represents arms intertwined, symbolizing love, truth, peace, freedom, harmony, unity and justice.
How to Make Traditional Challah
Traditional challah recipes use eggs, white flour, water, sugar, yeast, and salt. After the first rising, the dough is rolled into rope-shaped pieces and braided into three, four, or six stranded braids. For special celebrations, such as the Jewish High Holy Days, the braided loaf can also be coiled into a circle and brushed with egg wash for a golden sheen. Challah sometimes also contains dried fruits, like raisins and cranberries.
10 Flavorful Challah Variations
There are a few variations on challah, like “water challah,” which is made without eggs and is similar to a French baguette. Present day Challah recipes may aim to be a bit healthier by replacing white flour with whole wheat or spelt flour and sweetening with honey or molasses.
- Classic Egg Challah: The traditional recipe with eggs, white flour, water, sugar, yeast, and salt. It is similar to brioche in that it is a slightly sweet bread enriched with both eggs and fat, except challah uses oil instead of butter, while using more eggs that result in a pale yellow appearance.
- Whole Wheat: A healthier version with a blend of all-purpose and whole wheat flour for a nuttier, earthier flavor.
- Seeded Challah: Seeds folded into and sprinkled over challah before baking to give a crunchy texture. Some popular toppings include: sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, and poppy seeds.
- Cinnamon: Slightly sweeter than the classic egg challah with a hint of cinnamon spice.
- Chocolate: Cocoa powder and chocolate chips are folded into challah dough for a rich chocolate dessert-like bread.
- Orange: Bright and tangy with a distinct orange aroma, these challahs are made with orange juice and grated orange zest, and pair well with raisins.
- Pumpkin spice: A fall- inspired challah with a mix of pumpkin puree, cinnamon, ground ginger, and nutmeg.
- Cranberry: A splash of cranberry juice and dried cranberries give challah bread a sweet and tart flavor.
- Peanut butter: Smooth and creamy peanut butter is added to challah for a nutty flavor that goes well with chocolate chips.
- Maple: A sweet challah has the aroma and subtle flavor of maple syrup and brown sugar.
Homemade Classic Challah Bread Recipe
Prep Time3 hr 40 min
Total Time4 hr 15 min
Cook Time35 min
This dark golden, light-textured homemade bread is traditionally served on the Jewish Sabbath and other holidays. The dough for this loaf is smooth and supple, making it perfect for braiding. If it’s your first time trying to make challah, try a simple three-strand braid; but feel free to try a four-strand braid, or a six-strand braid for a spectacular presentation. Any leftover bread makes a great french toast the morning after baking.
- 1 cup lukewarm water
- 2 teaspoons active dry yeast or instant yeast
- 4 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for work surface
- ¼ cup sugar, plus more for dough
- 1 ½ teaspoons kosher salt
- 2 large eggs
- 1 large egg, seperated
- ¼ cup vegetable oil (such as canola oil)
- Place the lukewarm water in a small bowl, sprinkle with yeast and a pinch of sugar, stirring to combine. Set aside at room temperature until a frothy layer forms on top, 5–10 minutes.
- Mix the flour, sugar, and salt into the large bowl of a stand mixer and whisk on low speed to combine.
- Make a well in the center of the flour and add 2 eggs, 1 egg yolk, and oil. Whisk on low to form a slurry. Pour the yeast mixture over and combine on medium speed until a shaggy dough forms.
- Use the dough hook attachment, kneading dough on low speed for 6–8 minutes. If the dough is still very sticky, add flour 1 tablespoon at a time until it is soft and smooth.
- Place the dough in a large oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap and place somewhere warm to let the dough rise until it has doubled in size, 1 ½ to 2 hours.
- On a lightly floured work surface, divide the dough into 3 to 6 equal pieces, depending on the type of braid you are making. Roll the pieces of dough into long ropes, about 16 inches long.
- Gather the ropes and pinch them together at the top. To make a simple 3-strand challah, braid the ropes together like braiding hair and squeeze the ends together when complete.
- Place the braided loaf on a parchment lined baking sheet and sprinkle with flour. Cover loosely with a kitchen towel and let rise in a warm place until puffed up, about 1 hour.
- Preheat oven to 350°F. Whisk the reserved egg white with 1 tablespoon of water and brush over all over the challah, inside the cracks and down the sides of the loaf.
- Bake until challah is golden brown, about 30–35 minutes, rotating pan halfway. Set braided bread aside on a cooling rack to cool.
Become a better chef with the MasterClass All-Access Pass. Gain access to exclusive video lessons taught by culinary masters, including Massimo Bottura, Gordon Ramsay, Alice Waters, and more.