How to Make Challah Bread

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You picked ’em, now I’m cooking ’em. First, it was Pad Thai. Next up is homemade Challah.

This is the second recipe in our Reader’s Choice series, put on in partnership with my fabulous friends over at Cookstr.com.

This recipe is originally by Nick Malgieri, former executive pastry chef at New York’s Windows on the World and current director of the baking program at the Institute of Culinary Education. The recipe is featured on Cookstr.com, as well as in Malgieri’s book, How to Bake.

I’m pleased as can be about the timing of this post. It’s just in time for the Jewish New Year this weekend. And the cooler weather we’ve been having this week has left me just itching to bake.
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So what is Challah bread, anyway?

Challah is a traditional yeast bread—with a glossy crust frequently dappled with sesame seeds—that gets its trademark golden yellow color from the addition of eggs.

Older recipes include several eggs. Most modern versions, like this one, usually call for fewer. (In this case, just two whole eggs plus one additional yolk.)

Braided Challah Bread at The Hungry Mouse

While it’s eaten in many parts of Europe, it’s probably most well known in the U.S. as a Jewish celebration bread served on the Sabbath and holidays.

You can form the airy bread into several different shapes. A braid is one of the most traditional.

Freshly baked Challah keeps for a day or two on the counter, and freezes well for about a month. It also makes a-ma-zing French toast. (More on that soon.)

While I’ve baked dozens of loaves in my day, I’m by no means an expert on the history and lore of Challah, so if you have other fun facts, please pipe up and leave a comment!

How to make braided bread (it’s easier than you might think!)

In my book, braided breads are some of the most satisfying—and forgiving—loaves to bake.

You can be fairly imprecise with your braid. It can be a little uneven. It can be lumpy. But, it always amazes me how a little time in the oven can transform a few tightly twisted ropes of dough into a poofy, gloriously impressive work of art.

I mean, this:

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Turns into this (yes, please!):

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Challah isn’t the only bread that takes well to braiding. I’ve also made braided French loaves…

french braid

And chocolate loaves

Bitter Triple Chocolate Bread at The Hungry Mouse

It’s also really easy to turn a braid into a wreath. Just connect the two ends so the braid forms a circle. Then pinch it together so that it’s secure.

Here’s a large loaf of Challah-like bread I made for New Years a year or two ago. I doubled my dough recipe.

The finished bread was about as big as a large pizza pan—and a huge hit at the party we brought it to.

Braided Bread Wreath at The Hungry Mouse

Braided breads are great to bring to holiday gatherings. They look impressive, but are really pretty simple to make—even if you consider yourself a really novice baker.

(Read on for step-by-step instructions on forming the loaf. Trust me. If you can braid your pigtails, you can make a braided bread.)

Tips on equipment & ingredients for making challah

Malgieri makes this bread in a food processor. I used my 11-cup Cuisinart to mix the dough, per his recipe, but my bowl was pretty close to full—which meant I had a hard time getting the dough to come together.

The next time I make this, I’ll definitely opt for my stand mixer. (You could also make this the old fashioned way: With a wooden spoon and a lot of elbow grease.)

Oh, and about the yeast. No matter what brand of yeast you’re using, always measure it with a measuring spoon—even if it comes out of one of those little envelopes.

Packets of yeast are notorious for not always containing the same amount of yeast.

Take two seconds to measure it out and be sure you’re not tossing in too much—or too little. If your house is hot (or you don’t bake a lot), store your yeast in the freezer to help it keep longer.

Braided Challah Bread at The Hungry Mouse

Yeast

Alrighty. To the ovens!

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Braided Challah Bread

By Nick Malgieri

5 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 cup sugar
2 teaspoons salt
1 cup warm tap water (about 110 degrees)
2 1/2 teaspoons (1 envelope) active dry yeast
1/4 cup vegetable oil + a little more for the bowl during the first rise
2 large eggs, plus 1 egg yolk

Egg wash: 1 egg well beaten with a pinch of salt

Yields 1 large, braided loaf

Make the challah dough

Put the flour, sugar, and salt in the bowl of your food processor. Pulse the dry ingredients together quickly to combine them.

Braided Challah Bread at The Hungry Mouse

Put the water in a separate bowl and toss in the yeast.

Braided Challah Bread at The Hungry Mouse

Whisk the yeast and water together to combine well.

Braided Challah Bread at The Hungry Mouse

Pour in the oil. (I used olive oil, but use a milder flavor oil, like canola, if you like.)

Braided Challah Bread at The Hungry Mouse

Add the eggs to the mixture.

Braided Challah Bread at The Hungry Mouse

Whisk to combine well. You want to completely incorporate the eggs. Your mixture will be about the color of cafe-au-lait.

Braided Challah Bread at The Hungry Mouse

Pour the liquids into the dry ingredients in your food processor, pulsing about 8-10 times as you go.

When all the liquid is in the bowl of your food processor, run the machine continuously for about 30 seconds, until the dough comes together and balls up. (This is where I ran into a little trouble.)

Braided Challah Bread at The Hungry Mouse

I wound up taking the cap off my Cuisinart twice, scraping down the sides and loosening up the dough, then processing it again quickly. This is where I decided to use my stand mixer next time. You want your dough to look about like this:

Braided Challah Bread at The Hungry Mouse

Challah dough: The first rise

When your dough has come together, transfer it to a lightly floured board.

Braided Challah Bread at The Hungry Mouse

Round it up into a neat ball with your hands and knead it a few times.

Braided Challah Bread at The Hungry Mouse

Drizzle a little oil (again, I used olive oil) into a large mixing bowl. I used maybe a tablespoon, give or take.

Braided Challah Bread at The Hungry Mouse

Toss your dough ball into the bowl with the oil. Roll it around to coat it completely. (This will keep it from sticking to the bowl later on.)

Braided Challah Bread at The Hungry Mouse

Cover the bowl with plastic wrap or a few warm, damp paper towels (I like to do this, because that little bit of heat and moisture give the yeast a little boost). Set the bowl aside on the counter and let it rise for about an hour, until it’s about doubled in size.

Braided Challah Bread at The Hungry Mouse

Braid the dough and let it rise a second time

Once your dough has about doubled in size, you’re ready to braid it. Line a sheet pan with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat. Set it aside while you deal with the dough.

Braided Challah Bread at The Hungry Mouse

Transfer your dough to a lightly floured board. Smoosh the air out of it with your hands.

Braided Challah Bread at The Hungry Mouse

Round it up gently into a tidy little ball.

Braided Challah Bread at The Hungry Mouse

Whack it in three even pieces with a bencher or butcher’s knife. Make the pieces as even as you can, but don’t make yourself nuts. (If you want to make them perfectly even, weigh each piece of dough.)

Braided Challah Bread at The Hungry Mouse

Take one piece of dough and roll it out into a rope that’s about 12-15 inches long.

Braided Challah Bread at The Hungry Mouse

Braided Challah Bread at The Hungry Mouse

Repeat with the other two blobs of dough. When you’re done, set the ropes on your prepared sheet pan.

Braided Challah Bread at The Hungry Mouse

Now, for the braiding. Turn the pan so that the dough is pointed at you like this:

Braided Challah Bread at The Hungry Mouse

Start braiding in the middle of the dough. (Yep, you heard me: In the middle, not at one end. Malgieri said that doing it this way helps create a more even braid. And he’s totally right.) Braid away!

Braided Challah Bread at The Hungry Mouse

Braided Challah Bread at The Hungry Mouse

Braided Challah Bread at The Hungry Mouse

Leave the ends a little loose for now.

Braided Challah Bread at The Hungry Mouse

Your braid should be half done, and look about like this:

Braided Challah Bread at The Hungry Mouse

Repeat with the other side.

Braided Challah Bread at The Hungry Mouse

When the braid is complete, grab the ends of one side. Pinch them together and tuck them neatly under the loaf.

Braided Challah Bread at The Hungry Mouse

Like this:Braided Challah Bread at The Hungry Mouse

Repeat with the other end. And your bread is ready for its second rise!

Braided Challah Bread at The Hungry Mouse

Cover the dough braid with a piece of lightly oiled plastic wrap. Set it on the counter for another hour, or until it’s just about doubled in size.

Braided Challah Bread at The Hungry Mouse

Bake the challah!

About 15 minutes before your second rise is done, preheat your oven to 400 degrees. When your dough braid has doubled in size, it should look about like this:

Braided Challah Bread at The Hungry Mouse

Braided Challah Bread at The Hungry Mouse

Beat up the egg wash really quickly. (Crack an egg in a bowl, toss in a pinch of salt, and whip furiously for a minute or two until frothy.)

Braided Challah Bread at The Hungry Mouse

Using a brush (or even your fingers) gently brush the surface of the dough braid with the beaten egg. Be careful not to press too hard on the dough, because you can deflate it.

Braided Challah Bread at The Hungry Mouse

Pop your pan into your preheated 400-degree oven. Bake for 20-25 minutes, until the top is nice and brown.

Braided Challah Bread at The Hungry Mouse

When it’s done, it should register about 210 degrees on the inside (use a meat thermometer), and should produce a hollow sound when you thump the crust with your fingers.� Braided Challah Bread at The Hungry Mouse

Let it cool on the pan for about 5 minutes, then transfer it to a wire rack to finish cooling. (Resist the urge to tear into it when it’s piping hot. It can leave your loaf a little gummy when it cools.)

Braided Challah Bread at The Hungry Mouse

Enjoy!

Reader’s Choice Recipes: Braided Challah Bread

Yields 1 large, braided loaf

Challah is a traditional yeast bread—with a glossy crust frequently dappled with sesame seeds—that gets its trademark golden yellow color from the addition of eggs. You can form the airy bread into several different shapes. A braid is one of the most traditional. Freshly baked Challah keeps for a day or two on the counter, and freezes well for about a month. It also makes a-ma-zing French toast.

Save Recipe

Ingredients

5 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 cup sugar
2 teaspoons salt
1 cup warm tap water (about 110 degrees)
2 1/2 teaspoons (1 envelope) active dry yeast
1/4 cup vegetable oil + a little more for the bowl during the first rise
2 large eggs, plus 1 egg yolk
Egg wash
1 egg well beaten with a pinch of salt

Instructions

  1. Put the flour, sugar, and salt in the bowl of your food processor. Pulse the dry ingredients together quickly to combine them.
  2. Put the water in a separate bowl and toss in the yeast. Whisk together to combine well.
  3. Pour in the oil. (I used olive oil, but use a milder flavor oil, like canola, if you like.) Add the eggs to the mixture. Whisk to combine well. You want to completely incorporate the eggs.
  4. Pour the liquids into the dry ingredients in your food processor, pulsing about 8-10 times as you go.
  5. When all the liquid is in the bowl of your food processor, run the machine continuously for about 30 seconds, until the dough comes together and balls up.
  6. When your dough has come together, transfer it to a lightly floured board.
  7. Round it up into a neat ball with your hands and knead it a few times.
  8. Drizzle a little oil (again, I used olive oil) into a large mixing bowl. I used maybe a tablespoon, give or take.
  9. Toss your dough ball into the bowl with the oil. Roll it around to coat it completely. (This will keep it from sticking to the bowl later on.)
  10. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap or a few warm, damp paper towels (I like to do this, because that little bit of heat and moisture give the yeast a little boost). Set the bowl aside on the counter and let it rise for about an hour, until it's about doubled in size.
  11. Once your dough has about doubled in size, you're ready to braid it. Line a sheet pan with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat. Set it aside while you deal with the dough.
  12. Transfer your dough to a lightly floured board. Smoosh the air out of it with your hands.
  13. Round it up gently into a tidy little ball.
  14. Whack it in three even pieces with a bencher or butcher's knife. Make the pieces as even as you can, but don't make yourself nuts. (If you want to make them perfectly even, weigh each piece of dough.)
  15. Take one piece of dough and roll it out into a rope that's about 12-15 inches long.
  16. Repeat with the other two blobs of dough. When you're done, set the ropes on your prepared sheet pan.
  17. Braid the dough, starting in the middle and working out to the ends. Leave the ends a little loose for now.
  18. When the braid is complete, grab the ends of one side. Pinch them together and tuck them neatly under the loaf.
  19. Cover the dough braid with a piece of lightly oiled plastic wrap. Set it on the counter for another hour, or until it's just about doubled in size.
  20. About 15 minutes before your second rise is done, preheat your oven to 400 degrees.
  21. Beat up the egg wash really quickly. (Crack an egg in a bowl, toss in a pinch of salt, and whip furiously for a minute or two until frothy.)
  22. Using a brush (or even your fingers) gently brush the surface of the dough braid with the beaten egg. Be careful not to press too hard on the dough, because you can deflate it.
  23. Pop your pan into your preheated 400-degree oven. Bake for 20-25 minutes, until the top is nice and brown.
  24. When it's done, it should register about 210 degrees on the inside (use a meat thermometer), and should produce a hollow sound when you thump the crust with your fingers.
  25. Let it cool on the pan for about 5 minutes, then transfer it to a wire rack to finish cooling. Enjoy!
http://www.thehungrymouse.com/2009/09/17/readers-choice-recipes-braided-challah-bread/


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Jessie Cross is a cookbook author and creator of The Hungry Mouse, a monster online food blog w/500+ recipes. When she's not shopping for cheese or baking pies, Jessie serves as an Associate Creative Director at PARTNERS+simons, a boutique ad agency in Boston. She lives in Salem, Massachusetts with her husband and two small, fluffy wolves.

39 COMMENTS

  1. I have a couple of questions here. I have been told to always use wooden utensils when making bread because of the yeast. Could be an old wives tale.

    Now could I use fresh herbs, cheeses and jalapeno’ s in this recipe. I have been looking for an easy recipe to start making our own bread and I think I have found it here.

    Thanks Jessie 🙂

    • First, definitely toss in herbs, cheese, and jalapenos! Let me know what you come up with!

      About the wooden spoons. Here’s what I know. I’ll do a little digging around on my bookcase (specifically my Harold McGee) tonight to see if I can find anything else. If anyone else knows anything about this topic, by all means, pipe up!

      From what I gather, there are three things at play when you’re talking about metal inhibiting the growth of yeast:
      1. The type of metal you’re using–Non-reactive metals, like stainless steel, should be just fine in most cases. I’d steer clear of bowls that are made of reactive metals (like aluminum and copper) on the inside.
      2. The type of bread you’re making–Sourdoughs will be much more sensitive than doughs made with regular yeast.
      3. The length of exposure of the dough to the metal–I’ve read that prolonged exposure to metal (even stainless steel) can keep your dough from poofing up. If that’s true, I’d avoid letting dough sit for hours on end in any kind of metal bowl.

      All that said, I definitely do use stainless steel bowls to proof dough. (And KitchenAid stand mixers do come with a stainless dough hook and bowl…) I’ve done it for years, and have never had any issue. Is my dough poofier when I use a glass or ceramic bowl? To tell you the truth, I’ve never paid that much attention. I’ll see if I can do a little experiment the next time I bake.

      Cheers

  2. Nicely done, and you are so thorough in your photography to really document all the steps. That will be so helpful to folks who maybe haven’t baked a lot and need a bit of confidence boosting to get started. Go for it folks! It really isn’t hard and the results are so satisfying.

    • Thanks, Michael!

      Ya know, that’s just why I do the step-by-step recipes. I’ve had so many folks tell me that they need to see something to really understand how it works. (I think that’s why we all watch so many cooking shows.)

      Cheers!
      +Jessie

  3. I plan to test this recipe out tomorrow! Do you have any suggestions for using a kitchen aid mixer instead of the food processor. My food processor is only 7 cups.. and will not work at all for this, but my mixer would work rather nicely.

    This brings me on to another question – generally speaking is there a rule of thumb to convert a bread recipe that’s written out to be made by hand to be made with a mixer? If so – what is it? I would love your input.

    Thanks!

    • Hey Tony,

      Thanks for stopping by! Ya know, the only thing I would change about Malgieri’s recipe is that I would make it in a stand mixer–not a food processor. (In fact, I’m not sure why he uses the food processor to begin with.) I had a harder time with the dough than I would have liked.

      For the stand mixer, I wouldn’t change a thing. Let me know how it goes?

      Cheers!
      +Jessie

      • HELP!!!! I made this recipe and it did not rise. It looked so beautiful in your pictures and I was craving challah bread so I decided to give it a try but I have failed, twice! Please, if you could offer any help I would appreciate it. I mixed the yeast..let it sit for 10 minutes then mixed again and added the ingredients. I asked another Challah maker and they told me to only use pure water and to add some gluten to the flour. Could I use self-rising flour? I left the bread alone to rise and it never did. 🙁 this recipe looks so delcious, my mouth is watering just looking at the pictures..i really would love to make it right but i must be doing something wrong. HELP!!!

        -Michelle

        • Oh gosh! OK, let’s see if we can figure this out. Using pure water and adding gluten to the flour will affect the texture/taste of the bread…but won’t affect whether it rises. Egg doughs can be slower to rise, especially if your house is cold, but they’ll still puff up.

          Most likely, your yeast is bad. Let’s find out if that’s the case.

          Try this: In a medium-sized bowl, put a cup of lukewarm water, a tablespoon of sugar, and a tablespoon of yeast. Whisk them together. Let them sit on the counter for 10 minutes. You should see a creamy looking layer rise to the surface, which means your yeast is alive and kicking. (Like the pictures in my post here: http://www.thehungrymouse.com/2010/03/25/homemade-sandwich-bread/) If you don’t see this after about 10 minutes, it means that your yeast is dead…which is why your bread isn’t rising.

          Give that a shot and let me know. If your yeast is OK, we’ll go from there.

          Good luck!
          +Jessie

          • I just made the bread today – and it turned out wonderfully. In response to Michelle… well – I had the same fear for the first rise. It didn’t really seem to double in size at all. I didn’t know what else to do, so I just went along with it. I divided it, rolled it, braided it and crossed my fingers it would rise more the 2nd time, and it did.. perfectly.

            So, for you I don’t know if it just didn’t rise the first time, or did it not rise either time?

            Just a few weeks ago I made the rye bread recipe you have posted – and it was fantastic. I’m new to baking bread – and this recipe was so easy. I’ll compare it to the Challah bread here – in that the rye bread rose much much more the first rise. Is it common that different breads rise differently?

          • Hey, sorry it took so long to respond. I used rapid rise yeast, highly active. I tested it first and it was active (so i do not think it was old). It says on there to mix it with all the dry ingredients then to add the liquid ingredients and to only let it rise the first time for 10 minutes (which is to replace the first hour in 2 rise recipes). It rose a little bit but the bread was still small and hard and yeastey. It did not look like yours (I sadly was not excited to tear into it). Im wondering if perhaps I am mixing it too much in my stand mixer? I cannot just do a quick pulse..and I was using my dough hook so I was adding a little liquid..mixing quickly..and adding a little more liquid. etc. I am not giving up on this recipe. I looove challah bread and I will still be excited to try it every time 🙂 I just hope one of those times it will rise and I can tear into it and be very very very happy :D. Thank you for all your help

            • The dough was also very dry for me…it didnt form into a ball very well…should I be adding more of some kind of liquid?

              • You might need to. Bread dough is a finicky creature, and your environment (humidity, etc.) will definitely affect how it behaves. Definitely try adding a little more liquid next time.

                +Jessie

            • Aha!

              Now that we know your yeast is nice and frisky, I think I know what the issue is. I think you’re having problems because of HOW you’re incorporating the yeast. It also sounds like you’re not letting it rise enough for the first rise. Try following the recipe exactly (like, exactly) as I posted it, regardless of what the instructions on your yeast package recommend. I think you’ll have much better results. 😀

              You should be fine making it in your stand mixer. In terms of bread dough, you really can’t mix it too much. Mixing/kneading is what helps the gluten in the flour develop, which is what helps give bread its texture and structure.

              Keep at it! You can totally do this. Let me know how it turns out.

              Good luck!
              +Jessie

  4. I have now made this recipe twice, both times with about 3 cups of cheddar and 1/2 Cup chopped pickled jalapenos added to the flour before mixing it in, then a little sprinkled on top during the last 10 min or so. My husband absolutely loves it and is starting to use it for sandwhiches.

    Love your blog…I’ve just recently started both blogging and cooking, so this is wonderful. Can’t wait to try some of your other recipes!

  5. So I just finished making this, and I’m not sure what I did wrong. It tasted very heavy, not airy as it’s supposed to be. I followed the directions, or so I thought, perfectly. What do you think might have gone wrong?

  6. Uh… I bake challah, and I have for a while now, and I can testify that your method will on produce a dense, heavy bread that will not rise sufficiently. Your supposed to let the dough rise much longer than you specified. I make challah for my synagogue and I get started on Thursday, I let it rise over night and I bake it the next day. Also, you’re baking it at too high a temperature. I bake mine at 325 for 35-45 minutes. If that seems too low, you can bake it at 350,but I don’t recommend anything higher. Higher temperatures will result in hard bread.

  7. Oh, something I forgot. You’re also not using enough sugar. Challah is supposed to be a sweet bread. Half a cup won’t cut it. You need to use at least one full cup. If not a cup and a half. I use two, but that’s because I also add dried cranberries and the tartness of the berries requires extra sugar. People at my synagogue say it gives it a wine flavor.

  8. I forgot something!

    Slice challah thick…makes really good french toast…but wait till the bread is at least a day old. 😉

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