This Challah Bread recipe makes two of the best, most gorgeous braided loaves you will ever eat! Enjoy one loaf warm from the oven and save the other loaf for French toast a few days later!
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I was surprised when my DNA results came back informing me that I have a small amount of Eastern European Jewish ancestry that I previously did not know about. Even though I make no claims to the authenticity of this challah bread recipe, I love the idea of exploring ancestry through food and this challah bread reminds me of the millions of women who have braided loaves of this rich egg bread to serve in their homes. This is a recipe and tradition I hope to pass down to my girls.
Sure, you can buy loaves of challah bread at a decent bakery. But there is nothing like a fresh loaf baking in your own oven. It fills your home with the most wonderful aroma and when it comes out all glistening and golden brown, it is a thing of beauty. I've been making this challah bread recipe for years now and it still makes me giddy to pull these gorgeous loaves out of the oven. This challah bread recipe really is THE BEST.
What is Challah Bread?
Challah is a rich, traditional Jewish bread served on the Sabbath or to celebrate holidays. Challah (also sometimes known as "egg bread") is a made with eggs, a little sugar, and some oil, along with common bread ingredients of water, flour, yeast and salt. Because of the added eggs and fat, this challah recipe has a rich flavor and wonderful texture that makes it perfect for Monte Cristo Sandwiches, french toast, or bread pudding!
Challah bread is most often braided into long six-strand braids or round braided loaves. Then the loaves are brushed with an egg wash two times which gives wonderful color to these stunning loaves.
We like to eat one of the loaves with dinner when it's freshly made and save the other one to use for something else later. Like many bread recipes, this challah bread is best when fresh, within the first day or two, but it freezes beautifully as well. You can freeze challah bread for up to 1 month wrapped tightly in plastic wrap. Just let it thaw at room temperature for a few hours before slicing.
Challah is most easily pronounced "haa-luh" (as in "holla back" - I can't believe I just typed that).
The "ch" can also be pronounced the same as in the German word "buch" or the Scottish word "loch". But it's not actually pronounced with a hard "ch" sound like in the English word "cherry", even though it's tempting for most of us English speakers to read it that way.
Are Brioche Bread and Challah Bread the Same?
Challah and brioche bread are similar, but differ from each other in important ways. Both are ever so slightly sweet and enriched with eggs and fat, making them richer than other breads.
But challah uses more eggs and less fat than brioche bread. Also, the fat used in challah is oil, whereas brioche bread calls for butter.
How to Make Challah Bread
The reason this is the best challah bread is not only that it tastes delicious, but it is easier to make than it looks. I know it might sound intimidating, but you will be surprised at how simple challah is to make.
You make the dough just like any old bread dough: proof the yeast in a little water and sugar, then mix in the remaining ingredients and knead until smooth. Then let it rise, braid the dough, and brush with egg wash before baking.
Yes, it does take a little time - a few hours from start to finish - but hardly any longer than a simple loaf of Amish White Bread and definitely not as long as a babka (incidentally, another braided Jewish bread, though I don't make it on regular basis like I do challah).
The only tricky part is creating the six-strand braid, which I'll admit can be a little bit of a challenge the first time you try it. But I've included some step-by-step pictures below that will hopefully help with that!
Really though, it's not as difficult as it might seem and only takes a minute or two to braid a loaf once you have done it once or twice. And if you really struggle with it, you could always just do a three-strand braid and call it good. I won't judge.
How to Braid Challah
First, roll out six long strands of dough, line them up side-by-side, then pinch the tops together.
Move the outside RIGHT strand over two strands to the left.
Next, move the 2nd strand from the left to the far right.
Now move the outside LEFT strand over two strands to the right.
Then move the 2nd strand from the right to the far left.
Repeat until the braid is complete, then pinch the ends together and tuck them under the loaf.
Once you see the braid finished you will realize how quickly it really does come together.
Now go on and give that six-strand braid a try! Get the full recipe below and I guarantee it will be the best challah bread you have ever tried!
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Best Challah Bread Recipe
- 1 ¾ cups warm water
- 1 ½ Tablespoons active dry yeast
- ½ cup sugar, plus 1 tablespoon extra for proofing the yeast
- ½ cup vegetable oil
- 5 large eggs, lightly beaten
- 1 Tablespoon salt
- 8 to 8 ½ cups all-purpose flour, plus extra for kneading/dusting
- Sesame seeds, for dusting (optional)
- Proof the yeast by dissolving it the warm water with the tablespoon of sugar In a large bowl until foamy, about 5 minutes. Stir in the oil and 4 of the eggs (reserve 1 egg for an egg wash after braiding), with the remaining sugar and salt. Gradually add the flour, 1 cup at a time, to make a soft dough. My standard size KitchenAid mixer can't quite handle this much dough so I pretty much always finish kneading by hand by turning the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and kneading until smooth.
- Clean out and lightly oil the bowl before returning the dough to it.. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let the challah dough rise in a warm, draft-free spot for about an hour, until almost doubled in size. Punch the dough down (literally, just stick your fist right into the center of the dough and push it down), then cover it with plastic wrap and let it rise again for another half hour.
- To form the 6-strand challah braid, divide the dough in half for two loaves on a clean surface. Divide each half into 6 equally sized portions and roll the balls of dough into 6 equally sized strands, each about 16 inches long. Place the strands side by side and pinch the tops together.
- Starting with the outside right strand, move it over 2 strands to the left. Then take the second strand from the left and move it all the way across to the far right. Next, take the outside left strand and move it over 2 strands to the right. Then move the second strand from the right over to the far left. Repeat the pattern by starting again with the outside right strand being moved over 2 strands to the left, and so on until you have a long, braided loaf.
- Tuck the end of the braid underneath the loaf to secure it. Your braid is likely to be fairly long and skinny at this point, and that's completely normal. To finish shaping the loaf, you need to plump it a bit into more of a loaf shape by sort of lifting and smooshing the braid in on itself a bit and wiggling it a bit to make the loaf a bit shorter, wider, and even from top to bottom. The braid shouldn't come undone - you are just evening out the shape here to make your loaf look nice. This step can be done as you are transferring the braid from the surface where you formed it onto a parchment-lined baking sheet.
- Repeat steps 4 & 5 with the remaining half of the dough for the second loaf. Place the braided loaves on a parchment-lined baking sheet lined with at least 2 inches in between them so they don't touch as they rise. Beat the remaining egg and brush half of it on loaves using a pastry brush. Be sure to get in the crevices of the braid and down the sides of the loaves. Allow the loaves to rise another hour in a warm place, then brush again with the remainder of the egg wash. Sprinkle with sesame seeds, if using (I almost always skip them, but it would make the loaf even more traditional).
- Preheat the oven to 375 degrees then bake the challah for 30-35 minutes until golden brown (or when the internal temperature of the bread reaches 190 degrees on an instant-read thermometer). Eat one loaf warm with butter for dinner and save the other loaf for the most delicious french toast ever!
Recipe from Smitten Kitchen.
This post was originally published in February, 2017. The photos and content were updated in August, 2020.