This recipe makes two gorgeous, rich, braided loaves of the best Challah Bread (sometimes called Egg Bread) you will ever eat! Have one loaf warm out of the oven and save the other loaf for French toast a few days later!
Let’s talk challah: It’s this rich, wonderful braided beauty that is made with eggs, a little sugar, and some oil, along with your other bread components of water, flour, yeast and salt, then it is braided into a six-strand braid and brushed with an egg wash twice to create these stunning loaves that are perfect for eating with a meal. Or eat one of the loaves with dinner and save the other one for a day or two and then slice it up and dip the slices in an egg batter for the most amazing french toast ever. Challah is also the most perfect bread ever for making Monte Cristo sandwiches, just like the ones you can get at the Blue Bayou in Disneyland. Or use it in bread pudding! It is seriously amazing stuff.
This challah bread is THE BEST. It has similarities to brioche in that both are ever so slightly sweet and enriched with eggs and fat, although challah increases the number of eggs and decreases the fat while also using oil instead of butter. You can buy loaves of challah bread at the bakery but there is nothing like a fresh loaf baking in your own oven. It fills your house with the most incredible aromas and when it comes out all glistening and golden brown, its a thing of beauty. I’ve been making challah bread for years now and it still makes me giddy to pull these gorgeous loaves out of the oven.
The reason this is the best challah bread or egg bread (whatever you want to call it) ever is not only that it tastes incredible, but it is easier to make than it looks. I promise! I know it might sound intimidating but give it a go and you will be surprised at how simple this 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.
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 make challah bread).
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. 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.
Challah is a traditional Jewish bread and is served in Jewish households on the Sabbath or to celebrate holidays. I was surprised when my DNA results came back informing me that I have Eastern European Jewish ancestry, so even though I am not Jewish and make no claims to the authenticity of this recipe, I love the idea of exploring my genetic history through food and this challah bread reminds me of that ancestry each time I make it. I like thinking about the history and personality of the foods that we eat and braiding a loaf of challah makes me think of the millions of women who have braided loaves of this rich, eggy bread to serve in their homes for generation after generation. This is one of the recipes I hope to pass down to my girls.
Here are step-by-step photos of the braiding process for the best challah bread ever for a visual of the method described in the recipe below.
Now go on and give that six-strand braid a try! I guarantee it will be the best challah bread you have ever tried!
- 1 3/4 cups warm water
- 1 1/2 tablespoons active dry yeast
- 1/2 cup sugar, plus 1 tablespoon extra for proofing the yeast
- 1/2 cup vegetable oil
- 5 large eggs, lightly beaten
- 1 tablespoon salt
- 8 to 8 1/2 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!
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