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:
- 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!