This easy challah bread recipe and tutorial is all you need to make that perfectly fluffy, braided loaf enriched with eggs and topped with sesame seeds. And the leftovers make the best French toast. Be sure to read through for tips
What is Challah Bread?
Challah bread (pronounced ḥallāh) has its roots in the Jewish religion, typically appearing on the Shabbat table and served at major Jewish holidays (except during Passover when leavened bread is not served). Challah is yeast dough that has been enriched with egg. Similar to Italian Easter Bread, it’s rich, tender, and slightly sweet.
What is in challah dough?
This yeast dough takes a few simple ingredients that you may already have on hand:
- Active dry yeast
- Warm water
- All-purpose flour
- Egg yolks + some egg whites
- Sugar (only ¼ cup)
- Extra virgin olive oil
- 2-3 tbsp toasted sesame seeds (optional)
How to make challah bread dough
Challah dough is quite straightforward to make. There are 2 hours of inactive time while the dough rests to rise, so budget for that time when you want to try this recipe! Here’s how to make the dough:
- In a small bowl, combine the yeast with the warm water. Add a large pinch of sugar. Stir to dissolve the yeast. Set aside for 10 minutes or so, until the yeast is activated forming a foamy layer.
In a small bowl, combine the yeast with the warm water. Add a large pinch of sugar. Stir to dissolve the yeast. Set aside for 10 minutes or so, until the yeast is activated forming a foamy layer.
In a large mixing bowl, combine the flour, egg yolks, sugar, salt, and oil. Mix with a wooden spoon.
- Add the yeast mixture, and mix with the wooden spoon until the dough is too hard to mix.
- Transfer the dough to a lightly floured work surface, and knead by hand for 10 minutes. If the dough is too sticky as you knead, add a very little bit of flour and continue kneading until the dough is soft and smooth. Shape the dough into a ball.
- Now place the dough in a large, lightly oiled mixing bowl. Cover with a kitchen cloth and keep it in a warm spot for 1 ½ to 2 hours until the dough rises. The dough is ready when it has doubled.
- How to braid challah bread
- Once the dough is ready, the next step is creating a beautiful braided loaf of challah bread. Here’s how you do it:
Punch the dough down and turn it back onto a lightly floured work surface. Divide the dough into three equal pieces, then roll each piece into a rope that’s about 16-18 inches long.
Braid the three ropes together like you would hair; squeeze both ends together to complete the braid. Place the braided loaf on a large baking sheet lined with parchment paper.
Cover and return to a warm spot for another 30-45 minutes allowing it to rise again.
[Option: Here you can split the loaf into two smaller loaves, if you like. If you do, be sure to squeeze the ends on each of the loafs. I continued with one giant challah.]
Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Brush the loaf generously with about 2-3 tablespoons of the egg whites you reserved earlier. Sprinkle the sesame seeds on top.
Bake in the 350 degrees F heated-oven for 20-25 minutes, or until golden brown. Let the challah bread cool before slicing.
Serve it with
I love challah hot out of the oven with a drizzle of honey or a few spoonfuls of berry compote. It’s even better with a little labneh or dipped in olive oil and dukkah!
How to divide dough in half for 2 challah loaves:
- Divide the dough after its first rise.
- To halve the dough, eyeball it and cut straight down the halfway point. Don’t saw at the dough or pull it — that will damage the strands of gluten you developed while kneading the dough.
- If you want identical loaves, weigh each piece of dough. If one is bigger than the other, cut a piece out of the bigger half and place it onto the smaller half. No need to knead it.
- Follow the recipe as written, and divide each half into 3 long tubes, braid them, etc.
To make challah buns or rolls:
- Divide the dough after its first rise.
- Shape the dough into a log and, using a bench scraper, cut it into 10 equal pieces and shape them into balls. Allow them to rest for about 6 to 10 minutes.
- Divide each ball into 3 and create 3 cylinders, each about 6 inches long.
- Braid the cylinders for each roll together just as you would for the bread.
- Twist the ends under itself to form a circular shape and pinch the seam.
To make a round challah
- Follow the recipe as written, but when it comes time to make the individual strands for braiding, make 4 stands instead of 3.
- Create a hashtag or pound sign symbol from the strands, creating an over and under weave similar to making lattice crust for pie.
- Once you have the hashtag or pound sign symbol with its overlapping pieces, start crossing.
- Take a strand that is underneath and cross it over the top of the strand closest to it. Work in a clockwise pattern round the whole loaf.
- Once you can’t cross the strands anymore, twist and tuck the edges underneath the loaf.
- Follow the rest of the recipe as written.
Ways to adapt this recipe
There are a few ways to change up this classic challah bread recipe:
- Skip the sesame seeds. I like the nutty flavor the sesame seeds give the bread, but you can leave them out.
- Sprinkle with poppy seeds instead.
- When making the dough add a ½ cup of raisins.
- Make your challah bread more savory by adding sliced garlic and rosemary into the braid after the egg wash.
- Sprinkle the dough generously with zartar or dukkah after the egg wash.