Challah (pronounced haa-luh) has a long history, and, as you can imagine, has changed significantly over the years. What we know as challah today would be nearly unrecognizable to someone baking the bread thousands of years ago.
Originally a round flatbread, challah began to evolve into its current form in the late Middle Ages. It is thought that Jewish bakers in southern Germany adopted the braiding technique to help the loaves remain fresh longer. And like many recipes, the availability of ingredients also altered the bread, with eggs and sugar gradually being incorporated into the recipe.
Even today there are regional variations of the beloved bread, with some bakers adding raisins, while others prefer limited sugar for a more savory loaf. It’s not just the ingredients that personalize the challah bread; it is often baked into the shapes of menorahs, the six-pointed star of David, and hearts. Incidentally, the Jewish new year is traditionally celebrated with a round challah bread.
Some cooks like to stuff challah bread with halvah, pesto and goat cheese, cinnamon and walnuts, apples, or garlic and onions. One of the joys of challah is that you can stick to a more traditional recipe or expand on it with fillings. In either case, you get a delicious bread that works in so many different meals.
This recipe makes one large loaf and most of the time is hands off. You’ll need about 20 minutes of active time to make the bread, and it’s in the oven for 30 minutes, but otherwise most of the time is for two rises. One rise is after you make the dough, then there’s a second rise once you shape the bread.
Enjoy this with dinner or use it in the morning for the most delicious toast (or French toast!) you’ve ever had.Print
Challah bread is a mainstay during Jewish holidays and the Sabbath, and this traditional recipe is a fun alternative to buying a loaf from the bakery. If you wish, feel free to add raisins or sprinkle poppy seeds on top to customize the loaf to your taste!
- Prep Time: 20 minutes
- Rising Time: 2 hours 30 minutes
- Cook Time: 30 minutes
- Total Time: 3 hours 20 minutes
- Yield: Makes 1 very large loaf 1x
- Category: Sides & Sauces
- 2 tablespoons warm water (110 degrees F), plus 1 tablespoon cold water
- 1/4 cup sugar
- 2 teaspoons active dry yeast
- 3 large eggs
- 1/4 cup vegetable oil, plus extra for the bowl
- 4 cups all-purpose flour, plus extra as needed
- 2 teaspoons salt
- In a small bowl, combine 2 tablespoons warm water, 1 teaspoon sugar, and the yeast. Let stand until the mixture is foamy, about 5 minutes. Separate 1 egg and reserve the white. Whisk the yolk with the 2 remaining eggs in a separate bowl, then whisk in the oil.
- Using a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, mix the flour, salt, and remaining sugar on low speed for 20 seconds until combined. Increase the speed to medium, add the egg mixture, and beat for 2 minutes. Turn off the mixer and scrape down the bowl. Add the yeast mixture and beat until incorporated. Change to the dough hook, reduce the speed to low, and knead for 6 to 8 minutes, until the dough is smooth. Oil a large bowl and place the ball of dough into it. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place until doubled in size, about 1 1/2 hours.
- Transfer the dough to a lightly floured work surface and divide into 3 equal portions. Roll and pull each portion into a 14-inch rope. Lay the 3 ropes side by side on a large sheet of parchment paper with the ends facing you. Pinch the tops together and then gently braid the 3 ropes, pinching the ends together and tucking them under to seal. Tuck the sides in a bit to make a plump, tightly braided loaf. Use the parchment paper to slide the loaf onto a large baking sheet, cover the dough with a tea towel, and let rise for 1 hour.
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Use a fork to beat the reserved egg white with the cold water. With a pastry brush, spread the egg white mixture all over the loaf, including into the seams and down the sides. Bake for 30 minutes, or until the top is golden brown and the internal temperature is 190 degrees F.
- Let the loaf cool completely on a wire rack before slicing and serving.
Keywords: challah bread, Hanukkah