Challah is a rich and slightly sweet pillow-y bread that is traditionally served every week for the Sabbath and major Jewish holidays. Anyone can make it, though…and should! Despite its incredibly impressive look, preparing it is quite easy. And absolutely delicious. It’s truly a showstopper on any dinner table.
What is Challah Bread?
Simply put, Challah (pronounced “ha-luh” – the c is silent) is a yeast dough enriched with eggs and butter (or oil if keeping Kosher), with a little added sugar for sweetness. What sets it apart is how it’s prepared and the stunning presentation once baked. The dough is separated into strands and braided, brushed with an egg wash, then baked until tender and golden.
On a deeper level, it’s a special bread of Jewish origin, loaded with tradition and symbolism, typically served for Shabbat (or Sabbath, in English) Friday dinner and major Jewish holidays like Rosh Hashanah and Hanukkah.
Challah’s Symbolic Braid
Challah’s most magnificent characteristic is its gorgeous golden sheen and of course the braid. While it can be made in different shapes and sizes, the most traditional braid is a three-strand loaf, representing love, peace, and justice. Making two loaves of challah (and thus, six strands), is also known to symbolize the six work days of the week aside from Shabbat.
Round loaves are served for Rosh Hashanah, which is the Jewish New Year. It’s meant to represent the continuity of a year, since a round loaf has no beginning or end.
How to Make Challah Bread
This challah bread recipe is made with just a handful of kitchen staples. Here’s what you’ll need:
(To make this recipe, scroll down to the easy printable recipe card for all the measurements and details.)
- Flour: All-purpose flour that is spooned and leveled.
- Dry yeast: Active dry yeast is needed so the bread can rise.
- Water: Lukewarm water is used to activate the yeast before adding other ingredients. The water needs to be around 110°F. If you don’t have a thermometer, feel it with your fingertip. It should be warm, but not hot to the touch.
- Granulated sugar: For subtle sweetness.
- Eggs: This provides richness and helps bind the dough.
- Unsalted butter: Adds richness and helps create a softer texture. (If keeping kosher, substitute with a neutral-flavored oil such as vegetable or canola.)
- Kosher salt: For flavor.
- Egg wash: Eggs and water are beaten together to create an egg wash that’s basted on the dough before baking.
- Vegetable oil: Just a little for greasing the bowls.
- Optional toppings: Sesame seeds or poppy seeds can be added on top of the dough before baking for another element of flavor and visual appeal, if desired.
What Does Challah Bread Taste Like?
Many people compare challah and brioche because they are very similar. Both are enriched yeast dough made with eggs, with a similar sweetness, golden shell, and pillow-like texture. For added flavor and texture, sprinkle on some sesame seeds or poppy seeds before baking.
The most significant difference is that Challah is part of the Jewish culture and typically made with oil (instead of butter) to keep it kosher. To keep Kosher, dairy and meats are not to be eaten together. (NOTE: the recipe we’re sharing today does include butter. If keeping kosher, substitute with a neutral-flavored oil such as vegetable or canola.)
What to Do with Leftover Challah
If you’re lucky enough to have any Challah leftover, leave some out on the counter overnight, uncovered, and put it to great use the next morning for the best french toast or use in a french toast casserole. Leftovers are also wonderful in bread pudding or for roast beef sandwiches.
How to Store Challah Bread
- Storing leftovers: You can store cooled challah on the counter for up to 4 days. Secure it tightly in plastic wrap, in a ziploc bag, or another airtight container to maintain freshness.
- Can I freeze challah bread? Yep! This recipe makes two loaves which is perfect to have an extra one to pop in the freezer. You can freeze an entire loaf or individual slices. Wrap it in both plastic wrap and aluminum foil to prevent freezer burn. It will keep in the freezer for 2-3 months. Thaw on the counter before enjoying.
More Jewish Food:
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- 2 cups lukewarm water (around 110°F)
- 2 tablespoons active dry yeast
- 1/2 cup + 1 tablespoon granulated sugar , divided
- 7 cups all-purpose flour , spooned and leveled (plus more if needed)
- 1 tablespoon kosher salt
- 4 large eggs , beaten
- 1/2 cup unsalted butter , melted (see note below for kosher alternative)
- vegetable oil
- egg wash (2 eggs beaten with 2 tablespoons water – you may not need it all)
- poppy seeds and/or sesame seeds , for topping
- In a small bowl, sprinkle the yeast over the water and add the 1 tablespoon sugar. Let bloom and a frothy layer develops on top; about 5 minutes. (If the yeast doesn’t foam, it isn’t good anymore. Toss it and start over.)
- In a large bowl, whisk together the 7 cups of flour, 1/2 cup sugar, and salt. Make a well in the center and add the eggs and melted butter. Mix together with a wooden spoon, pulling in a little flour at a time from the sides of the bowl. Stir in the yeast mixture. Mix to combine until a shaggy dough is formed.
- Turn out onto a lightly floured surface and knead well for about 6-8 minutes. If the dough is very sticky, work in a teaspoon of flour at a time until the dough is smooth, pliable, not wet, and holds a ball-shape.
- Divide dough evenly in half.
- Lightly oil the inside of two large bowls. Place dough inside each one; cover with plastic wrap in a warm, draft-free place. Let rise until doubled in size, 60-90 minutes.
- Working with one mound of dough at a time, punch down dough and separate into 3 equal parts. Roll each piece of dough into long ropes about 16 inches long and 1-inch thick. (If the ropes shrink as you try to roll them, let them rest for 5 minutes to relax the gluten and then try again.) Gather the 3 strands and squeeze them together at the top. Then snugly braid together as if you were braiding hair and squeeze the bottom ends together when done to secure. (For visual help, see pictures included in the article.)
- Repeat with the other mound of dough.
- Gently transfer each braid to parchment-lined baking sheets. Cover with a clean dish towel and allow to rise until double in size and pillowy, about 1 hour.
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees F with the rack in the center position.
- Brush both loaves all over with the egg wash, making sure to get in the cracks and along the sides of the loaf. Sprinkle one loaf with some poppy seeds and the other with some sesame seeds, if desired.
- Bake for about 30-35 minutes, rotating the baking sheets halfway through, until deep golden brown and registers 190°F in the very middle with an instant-read thermometer.
- Remove from the oven and allow to cool until just slightly warm. Slice and enjoy on its own or with a slab of butter!
Reader Questions and Reviews
how many of the fleischmanns 1/4
oz pkg does this require ?
Hi Gary – I buy my yeast in a jar, since I bake bread a lot. Each 1/4 ounce packet has 2 & 1/4 teaspoons, so you would need 3 packets, BUT you won’t use it all since 3 packets will equal more than 2 tablespoons. Measure carefully so you use 2 tablespoons.
This recipe was easy to follow and with an excellent end result! This was my first time ever making challah bread, was kinda nervous but this recipe lead me to success! I would definitely recommend. Very tasty and beautiful presentation. Made it for Rosh Hashanah.
Can you double or triple this recipe?
Just made this today… The recipe was easy to follow. It turned out great. Pretty & really taste. Love this recipe…
First time making Callah – I’m not Jewish but I love Jewish foods! I made it in my stand mixer and it was perfect! I would just like to say as a first-timer these are things I would have liked to known before starting:
1) Dough might be very wet initially – keep adding flour until it’s soft but still very lightly sticks to your hands, as the recipe says, you want it “not wet” but not dry either.
2) If you want to use a stand mixer, you can mix all the ingredients together with the flex-edge beater for a few min to get that “scraggly” dough, and then use the dough hook on medium-low speed for 6-10 min, adding flour until the dough starts to pull away from the bowl.
3) When working with the dough, cover your hands in flour and that will help combat some of the stickiness.
4) The dough strands can take anywhere between 30 seconds to several minutes to roll out, depending on how “stubborn” it is.
The recipe was perfect as written, hopefully for any beginners these notes are helpful.
Followed the recipe exactly and it came fantastic.
First time making challah and I was a little nervous, but it came out beautiful just like the pictures!
I make a lot of bread, and this one is the best sweet bread I’ve ever made. It is a lovely dough and is light and fluffiy and handles so well! It made two beautiful braids. The directions were perfect. I followed them to a tee and they were right on. You can’t go wrong with this one, folks. It’s the real deal and I’ve already shared it with neighbors and family. A total keeper for me! Thank you so much for sharing this fabulous recipe with us!
This challah recipe turned out absolutely gorgeous with the perfect texture. Thank you for the easy to follow instructions.
I was amazed at how wonderful the challah came out! Thank you for this recipe
It is perfect, the challah recipe is amazing! My husband loved it, thank you!
This was the best challah bread I ever made thank you so much for such a quick and delicious recipe
Excellent my dear. Thank you
This is one of my favorite bread recipes! Thanks for sharing!
This was perfect! I wouldn’t change a thing.
Maybe more salt but really nice challah
Wonderful tender delicious bread. I left one loaf plain and one with sesame seeds.
This is the most amazing and versatile dough. The challah is so good and I’ve used the dough to make cinnamon rolls and dinner rolls. Super easy and delish!
This recipe itself is very straight forward which I really appreciated. I should have done the egg wash but opted for melted butter so it didn’t have that beautiful golden brown color, lesson learned for next time! However my braiding skills definitely need lots of work! Even though I had some speed bumps the bread does taste really good, especially right out of the oven!
Just simply wonderful. This is my go-to challah recipe and it never disappoints. I love the oohs and ahhs from everyone when I serve it!
Right? It’s just so pretty! Thanks, Susan!
Beautiful and delicious, perfect for any holiday. Thank you so much for the visual aid for braiding – it really helped. Mine came out beautiful just like the pictures!
This bread has been on my bucket list for quite some time. I went with your recipe due to the reviews and pictures. It came out perfectly – thank you!
So happy to hear it, Nari!
Made this recipe. It’s so soft and fluffy. Didn’t want to stop eating it.
I just made this challah bread and it is amazing! Very easy to put together, smooth and tender. I will definitely be making this again! Thank you Amy!
I’m so glad you loved it, Maggie!
Most beautiful bread ever! I left both loaves plain, but next time will definitely do the poppyseeds and sesame. Can’t go wrong either way. Thank you for this wonderful recipe!