Classic Challah

This deep-gold, light-textured bread is traditionally served on the Jewish Sabbath and other holidays. The dough for this loaf is wonderfully smooth and supple, making it an ideal candidate for braiding. The simplest way to go is a three-strand braid; but feel free to try the slightly more complex four-strand braid, or even a six-strand braid, which makes a striking presentation.

Prep
20 mins
Bake
30 mins
Total
3 hrs 50 mins
Yield
One 16" loaf, 16 servings.
Classic Challah

Instructions

  1. To make the dough: Weigh your flour; or measure it by gently spooning it into a cup, then sweeping off any excess. 

  2. Combine all of the dough ingredients and mix and knead them, by hand, mixer, or bread machine, until you have a soft, smooth dough.

  3. Allow the dough to rise in a plastic wrap-covered bowl for about 2 hours, or until it's puffy; it won't necessarily double in bulk.

  4. Gently deflate the dough, and transfer it to a lightly greased work surface.

  5. Next step: divide the dough into pieces, the number depending on what kind of braid you want to make. You may braid the challah the traditional way, into a three-strand braid; for helpful tips watch our video, How to braid a three-strand loaf. For a fancier presentation, make a six-strand braid; watch our video, How to braid a six-strand loaf, to see how it's done. To make a four-strand braid see "tips," below.

  6. Once you've decided which braid you're doing, divide the dough into the appropriate number of pieces. Roll each piece into a rope about 20" long. If the dough starts to shrink back as you roll, cover it and let it rest for about 10 minutes, then resume rolling. The short rest gives the gluten a chance to relax.

  7. Braid the loaf. Remember, for three- or six-strand braids, watch the videos linked above. For a four-strand braid, see "tips," below.

  8. Gently pick up the braided loaf, and place it on a lightly greased or parchment-lined baking sheet.

  9. Cover the loaf with lightly greased plastic wrap, and let it rise until it's very puffy, 90 minutes to 2 hours at cool room temperature. Towards the end of the rising time, preheat the oven to 375°F.

  10. To make the glaze: Whisk together the egg and water. Brush the glaze over the risen loaf.

  11. Place the baking sheet atop another baking sheet; this will insulate the bread's bottom crust, and keep it from browning too much. Put the challah in the lower third of the oven, and bake it for 20 minutes. If it's a deep golden brown, tent it loosely with aluminum foil. If it's not as brown as you like, check it again at 30 minutes.

  12. Once you've tented the challah, bake it for an additional 10 to 15 minutes, until the loaf looks and feels set and its interior registers at least 190°F.

  13. Remove the bread from the oven, and place it on a rack to cool.

  14. Store any leftover bread, well wrapped in plastic, at room temperature for several days; freeze for longer storage. While challah does tend to dry out after a day or so, it's always good toasted, or made into grilled sandwiches or French toast.

Tips from our Bakers

  • During Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, this bread's traditional braided shape is supplanted by a spiral, which symbolizes the cyclical nature of the year. For a spiralled challah, roll the dough into a 36" rope, and coil it into a lightly greased 9" cake pan. Allow it to rise until puffy, then bake as directed in the original recipe.
  • For poppy seed or sesame seed challah, sprinkle the loaf heavily with seeds after applying the glaze.
  • The inspiration for this recipe comes from Lora Brody, cookbook author, photographer, and long-time King Arthur friend. Thanks, Lora!
  • Hesitant about making a six-strand braid? Try this four-strand braid:
    •Divide the dough into four pieces, and shape each piece into a rough 6" log. Cover the logs with lightly greased plastic wrap, and let rest for 10 minutes.
    •Roll each log into a 15" rope. Cover, and let rest for 10 minutes.
    •Continue rolling the ropes until they're about 20" long; they'll shrink back to about 18" as they sit.
    •Lay the strands parallel to one another, and pinch the ends on your left together.
    •Take the rope nearest you, and move it up over the next two adjoining ropes.
    •Next, move the rope back under the rope next to it. Fan the ends of the ropes out again.
    •Repeat the process, but start with the rope farthest away from you. Bring it down and across the next two adjoining ropes, and then back under the rope nearest it.
    •Continue in this fashion, alternating which side you begin with until you've braided the whole loaf.
    •Pinch the loose ends together, and tuck them underneath the loaf.
  • Make it whole wheat: While challah made with 100% whole wheat flour will be heavier than that made with all-purpose flour, it will still be soft and delicious. For best flavor, we recommend substituting white whole wheat flour for the all-purpose flour. Increase the amount of water to 3/4 cup, adding up to an additional 2 tablespoons water if necessary to make a soft, smooth dough. Allow the just-mixed dough to rest for 20 minutes before kneading; this gives the flour a chance to absorb the liquid, making it easier to knead.
  • Make it sugar-free: Substitute 6 tablespoons water for the honey called for in the recipe; be aware the dough will rise more quickly. The finished bread will taste quite bland, not at all like classic challah; its crust will be hard and blistered, and it won't brown as nicely. Using at least 2 tablespoons honey (instead of eliminating it entirely) will help the bread taste and look more like classic challah.
  • Make it ahead: Prepare the loaf up to the point where it's braided and on the pan. Tent it with greased plastic wrap, and place it in the refrigerator overnight. Next morning, remove the dough from the refrigerator (keep it covered). Let it warm and rise at room temperature for 60 minutes before baking as directed.