Challah is one of the most important Jewish foods. A yeast bread enriched with eggs and oil, it is similar to French brioche, and it is the special loaf for the Sabbath and for many other important meals and occasions.
For the Sabbath, Orthodox families usually prepare two loaves of challah, a reminder of the double portion of manna received each Friday during the forty years wandering in the desert. Each of these challah loaves are braided with six ropes of dough coming to tapered ends. These two loaves then represent twelve loaves, recalling a miracle that took place in both the sanctuary carried in the desert and in the ancient Temple in Jerusalem. (Don’t ask. It’s very complicated.)
At weddings and bar and bat mitzvah receptions, before anyone takes a bite of food, a ceremonious bread cutting and blessing is conducted with a giant challah, big enough for everyone at the reception to have a piece. On Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, challah is shaped in a round coil to symbolize eternal life, or the soul’s ascension, depending on whom you ask. There are actually many folkloric forms of challah, each with a spiritual story to back up its shape. For everyday meals, you can also buy challah baked into a rectangular loaf, like sandwich bread.
Challah has become so assimilated in New York City that it is carried in every supermarket. Restaurants make French toast with it. Diners, which are often owned by Greeks, acknowledge the New York Jewish tastes of their customers, even if they are not Jewish, by always putting challah in their bread baskets.
Challah is also one of the many ethnic foods that have gone through the immigrant experience. As if it weren’t already rich and special enough in its original egg, sugar, and oil-enriched form, commercial bakers now make it with so much sugar and fat that it might as well be cake. Typically very yellow commercial challah loaves are even artificially colored to give the impression that they are loaded with eggs. You know how many eggs it would take to make a loaf of bread that yellow? There are also honey-laced challahs and those studded with raisins, especially for Rosh Hashanah, when we eat sweet foods to ensure a sweet New Year. Chocolate-laced and chocolate-chip challah are new phenomena.
Traditionally, challah was baked only once a week, on Friday, for that evening’s Sabbath dinner and the next day’s lunch. (It is also baked for some other special holy days.) Many kosher bakeries still sell challah only on Thursdays and Fridays, and many observant Jewish homemakers still bake their own challah for the Sabbath, which can be quite a project, as Orthodox families are large and the customary two loaves need to be very large. (An interesting sidelight on this custom is that the largest dough-mixing machines made for home use are sold mostly, in this country, to Orthodox Jewish households.) With today’s health consciousness, challah is often made with whole-wheat flour, too.–Arthur Schwartz
LC On the Wisdom of Homemade Challah Note
Yes, of course you could buy this at a local bakery. But where’s the satisfaction in that?
- Quick Glance
- 30 M
- 3 H, 15 M
- Serves 6
IngredientsEmail Grocery List
- For the dough
- For the egg wash
Recipe Testers Reviews
This is a great recipe for Challah that’s extremely easy to make. Mixing the ingredients in a stand mixer works well. The dough turned out perfect, and I didn’t need to add any extra flour. In fact, it was a lot less sticky than some of the other bread doughs that I make. Make sure to stop the mixer once or twice as needed to scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl. When you restart the mixer, the dough will come together again almost immediately. I let it rise the first time for the full two hours, and that was just right. After making the six pieces for the braid, there is a second rise, and the 30-minute timing for that was also spot-on. My kitchen temperature was running about 70°F. If your kitchen is cooler, you may need to extend the rising period somewhat.
The end result is one of the most beautiful Challah I have seen. The exterior is a rich, dark golden brown and the crumb is light, moist, and flavorful. It would be very easy for a beginner to make this loaf. The part that gets a little tricky is the braiding. I think I missed one of the moves because I was in a hurry, but I didn’t take it apart to redo (which the recipe suggests), and it still looked fantastic. I took the liberty of adding sesame seeds after egg washing. Adding poppy seeds or leaving it plain is also acceptable. If you find the six-strand braid too complicated, then try using three strands, which is done like braiding someone’s hair. I was concerned about not having an additional rise after braiding, as other recipes for Challah instruct, but judging from the way my loaf turned out, it was not at all necessary.
You’re on your own to figure out how to bake the Challah after it’s braided. Do you use a pan, a sheet pan, a cookie sheet, or a baking stone? I used my baking stone brushed with a little oil, but a cookie sheet or sheet pan oiled or lined with a Silpat or parchment paper would also work fine.
Be sure to brush the egg wash into the crevices between the braids so your loaf will have an even shine after baking. If I’m making Challah for a special occasion, I’ll add a little more egg wash to the crevices midway thought baking, after the loaf has started to rise. You should be able to serve more than six with this recipe—it makes a fairly large loaf.
I love challah, and this recipe is so easy and really tasty. I wouldn’t change a thing. This isn’t your supermarket yellow “white bread” version. It’s dense and flavorful; just sweet enough, with a nice crust and crumb. A slice of this bread with some butter is heavenly. The braiding was a bit tricky, as the braids tended to shrink, but I was quite happy with the results. Next time, I may just make it in a loaf pan, as suggested. The only instruction missing was whether the baking sheet should be oiled or not. I did oil the baking sheet. I’m hoping there will be some stale bread leftover to make a bread pudding, but I may not be so lucky.
This challah is worth all the praise I can give it. It’s similar to brioche; light and moist, subtly rich and subtly sweet. Best of all, it’s easy to make. I made this bread by hand (not in a mixer), and used all-purpose flour instead of bread flour (therefore, using a total of 6 cups of flour). The dough mixed, proofed, and baked off without a hitch—but braiding six strands of dough together, on the other hand, proved to be a bit tricky. Don’t braid the strands too tightly or they will stretch while baking, which will cause the bread to loose some of its artistic definition. I baked the loaf on a parchment-lined baking sheet for 40 minutes. In this time, the bread developed a delicious golden-brown color, with deep yellow accents in each braided section. I suggest rotating the pan midway through baking to achieve uniform browning. If the bread browns too quickly, don’t hesitate to cover the loaf with a piece of tinfoil during the final 10 minutes of baking. The bread yields an exterior with a smooth, shiny appearance, thanks to the egg and sugar wash generously brushed on its surface. The soft texture of the bread made it easy to guide a bread knife through it. Each slice had a strong crumb, holding its shape in toast form and heartier tasks like French toast. Even after the slices soaked up the egg batter, they still retained their shape without breaking apart or falling limp. Make at least two loaves at a time. That’s what I did—and it’s a good thing because there isn’t a crumb left.
Here's a video that shows how to braid a loaf of challah.
Having never made challah before, I was a little nervous—mostly about the time and effort involved. But I was pleasantly surprised: The actual hands-on time was minimal. Mixing the ingredients (and letting the KitchenAid knead them) and forming the braid were the only real active portions of prep. The rest of the time involved was simply waiting for the dough to rise, and then to bake.
The most difficult part was making the braid. I unwound and re-braided the dough twice before giving up and putting it in the oven, even though I knew the pattern was wrong. (It was a day or two later when I realized exactly what I’d done wrong and how I could’ve fixed it.)
Despite my imperfect form, the challah came out beautifully, but it was a little darker than I would’ve liked. Next time, I’ll experiment with shorter baking times. I did manage to eke out challah French toast, however, and it was magnifique.
This recipe resulted in an excellent loaf of bread—good enough to earn a Testers’ Choice designation despite a few quibbles with the directions. The bread was simple to make; it was pretty, tasty, and had a lovely, light crumb that was sturdy enough to withstand a spread of cool butter. It was odd that there was no rise after braiding, but the bread suffered no ill effects. I was, however, not successful in using the dough hook for the initial mixing of ingredients in steps 1 through 3. In recipes like this, I normally use the paddle attachment or stir with a spoon before switching to the dough hook, and I would suggest doing the same here. Also, there is no mention of what to bake the bread on, though it’s easy enough to figure out that a cookie sheet will work.