It’s truly magical: flour, water, yeast, eggs (sometimes), sugar and salt mix together to create the most delicious, yet basic, challah bread. It’s also a bit mysterious… how do you get the perfect challah dough every time? Follow along with this step by step guide to making challah and practice, practice, practice!
In the past few months I’ve been baking challah almost every Friday. The summer days are longer, leaving me more time before Shabbat and the taste of freshly baked bread after Kiddush and Hamotzi is just amazing.
One of the most frequent questions in my DMs on Instagram is “what’s your challah recipe?” and I wish it were that simple. In this guide I will be sharing the challah recipe I use which my friend Shifra gave me over 10 years ago. She got the recipe from her Mom who said it is originally from Joy of Kosher Cooking, I have linked Jamie Gellar’s famous challah recipe here – I believe this is where it began. Shifra had made some changes, and then I also altered it just a bit to suit my needs, so the recipe you’ll find here may be a bit different from the OG. But, for all intents and purposes, credit to this recipe goes to Jamie Gellar, and you can find her original recipe here.
Will this recipe work?
The caveat here is that while I am sharing a recipe that has had a high success rate, the recipe is NOT the most important factor in Challah making.
You need to have many factors in your favor to get perfect challah, some which are actually not in your control at all, such as:
- Outside temperature
- Kitchen temperature
- Quality of ingredients (such as yeast and flour)
In addition to the recipe, in this guide you will find my exact method as well as tips and tricks I’ve picked up along the way, plus the 4-braid braiding technique I learned in Pastry School.
Ok, so are you ready? Let’s get baking!
Why make homemade challah?
This is going to be a personal decision for each individual person. There are so many reasons to bake challah at home. I don’t like to look at it as a requirement because when I do I often feel stressed and you can often taste that in the final product.
Making Challah is a time consuming process that requires patience and practice. There were many seasons in my life when baking challah was just not an option, and thankfully the bakery is just 5 minutes away with perfectly good challah to be bought!
I truly believe no one should feel pressured into making their own challah. On the other hand, when you do get into it, there is almost no going back. The actual process can be soothing and therapeutic (if you have time and space) and the results are unbelievable!
What equipment do you need to make challah bread?
I believe you can make challah with just your hands and a large bowl, as I did for many many years before I got my beloved Bosch Mixer. But, the process is definitely made easier and the results will be better if you use the appropriate equipment.
Here I list all the tools that I use when making challah. Next to each one I also note if there are alternative tools or tricks that you can use instead.
- Bosch Mixer fitted with the dough hook. Alternatively you can use a kitchen aid mixer fitted with the dough hook, or your hands!
- Bench scraper is used to portion out the dough. You can use a knife instead, but don’t tear the dough as it pulls and breaks the gluten chains.
- Kitchen scale. Weighing each strand of dough ensures that the challah comes out consistently shaped and bakes evenly. If you don’t have a kitchen scale (you should get one!) you can portion out the dough as evenly as possible.
- Rolling pin to roll out each strand of dough in order to form the strands. This helps create an airy center in the challah. You can use any smooth bottle (wine!) if you don’t have a rolling pin.
- Pastry brush for brushing on egg wash before baking. You can use your fingers if you don’t have a brush.
What ingredients do you need for Challah?
- Flour, preferably high in gluten, such as bread flour. All purpose flour works with this recipe too.
- Yeast, I use dry instant yeast.
- Sugar, this recipe calls for white sugar, but you can play around with other sweeteners to see what you like best.
- Canola oil
- Warm water, make sure the water isn’t too hot – will kill the yeast, or too cold – won’t activate the yeast.
- Pink Himalayan Sea Salt – I learned this from @naomi_tgis, this salt works the best with yeast, but you can use regular sea salt instead.
How to make Challah, step by step:
This process is time consuming, but pretty simple. Follow along in the recipe card for more detailed instructions.
- Make the dough: mix all the dough ingredients in the mixer and knead for 5-10 minutes.
- Let the dough rise for the first time.
- Punch down the dough.
- Let the dough rise for the second time.
- Braid the dough.
- Let the dough rise for the third time.
- Brush the challahs with egg wash.
- Bake and cool.
How to braid a 4-strand Challah: Step by step photo guide
Doubling the recipe
This recipe can be doubled, just double the serving size on the recipe card and it will update the amounts automatically. By Jewish tradition, if you use 2 kilo of flour (doubled this recipe gets to that amount) you must make a bracha (blessing) and take off a small piece from the dough. You can read more about that here.
Can you freeze challah?
Yes! This challah recipe freezes beautifully. Store the cooled challahs in ziplock freezer bags and freeze for up to 3 months. Remove from the freezer a few hours before serving and defrost at room temperature on the counter.
I love when you make recipes from my blog! If you have any questions or comments feel free to put them in the comments section below.
How to make Challah: A step by step guide
- Bosch Mixer (preferred) or Kitchen Aid – optional
- Rolling Pin
- Bench Scraper
- Kitchen Scale
- Pastry brush
- 4½ teaspoon instant yeast
- 1 Tablespoon white sugar
- 2 cups warm water
- ¾ cup white sugar
- ½ cup canola oil
- 1 L egg
- 1 Tablespoon pink Himalayan salt or sea salt
- 7-8 cups bread flour or all purpose (1 kilo)
- 1 egg yolk
- 1 Tablespoon water
- sesame seeds optional
- In the bowl of your Bosch mixer fitted with the dough hook mix yeast, 1 Tablespoon of sugar and water.
- Let sit for 5 minutes.
- And in the rest of the challah ingredients, except for the flour.
- Add 7 cups of flour (in Israel a 1 kilo bag) and turn your mixer on. Start on low and gradually increase to full speed.
- If dough is very sticky add flour by the ½ cup.
- If dough is ok, or even a little sticky, keep mixing for about 5 minutes.
- Turn off mixer and let dough rest for 3 minutes.
- After 3 minutes of rest, touch the dough with your fingers. If it is sticky, add flour by the Tablespoon.
- If dough is not sticky, turn on mixer once more for another 3-4 minutes. The dough should "clean" the sides of the bowl.
- If the dough is still sticking to the sides of the bowl, add flour by the Tablespoon and continue the mixing, resting until the bowl is clean. This may take some time, be patient.
- When the dough is the right consistency after letting it rest 2-3 minutes remove it from the mixing bowl on to the counter and form a large ball.
- Cover the bottom of a large bowl with a little bit of canola oil (no more than 1/2 teaspoon).
- Place the dough ball into the bowl and coat all sides with the oil from the bottom of the bowl.
- Cover the bowl loosely with plastic saran wrap and cover that with a large kitchen towel.
- Leave the dough to rise for 1 hour in a warm space, near the oven or near a window with sun if possible.
- After 1 hour the dough should have doubled in size. Punch it down gently to deflate some of the air.
- Cover and let rise another hour.
Braiding: 4 strand
- Take the dough out of the bowl and set directly on the counter.
- Using a bench scraper split the dough evenly into 3 balls. Use a kitchen scale to get even sizes. Set 2 balls of dough aside and cover with a towel.
- Divide 1 ball of dough into 4 even balls (use your kitchen scale for accuracy).
- Roll each ball out flat with a rolling pin, and roll them back up (see photos).
- Lay out the 4 strands in the shape of an X. Lightly pinch them together in the middle.
- Take the top left strand and pull it down diagonally over the center so that it is to the left of the bottom right strand.
- Next, take the bottom right strand and pull it up diagonally over the center so that it completes the X shape.
- Now take the top right strand and bring it over the center diagonally next to the bottom left.
- And then take the bottom left strand diagonally up and over the center to complete the X shape.
- Repeat these steps until you get to the end of each strand.
- Pinch the ends together and tuck them under. Place challah on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and cover with a towel.
- Repeat this process with the other 2 balls of dough.
- Pre-heat oven to 350° and allow braided challahs to rise for 20 minutes.
- In a small bowl whisk together egg yolk and water.
- Gently brush egg wash onto each challah and top with sesame seeds if using.
- Place tray with 3 challahs in the pre-heated oven and bake for 25-35 mintues. Tops and bottoms should be golden brown and if you tap the bottom of the challah it should sound hollow.
- Turn the challah over and let cool upside down in order to prevent the bottoms from getting soggy. You can also let them cool on a wire cooling rack.