Challah Part 1: How to Make Challah Dough

Is there any food that reflects the beauty of Judaism more than a freshly baked challah? Jews and non-Jews alike love the flavor and shape of this delicious eggy bread. But challah is so much more than just bread. The tradition of challah is a very spiritual one; for observant Jews, it is a way to directly connect with the spiritual energy of God. In fact, baking challah is considered an important blessing in the Jewish home.

Today, the word challah is used to describe the beautiful loaf of braided bread that appears on Shabbat tables all over the world. In ancient times, challah referred to a small bit of dough that was set aside for the Temple priests as an offering to God:

Of the first of your dough you shall present a loaf as a contribution; like a contribution from the threshing floor, so shall you present it.

Numbers 15:20

Burning a small portion of dough as an offering is part of the challah blessing.

Traditionally, challah is served on Shabbat and holidays. I like to think of challah as a “special occasion” bread because of the time and effort that goes into making it. You can certainly make challah any day of the year, but in my home the process is reserved for Shabbat and the major Jewish holidays (except for Passover, of course, when leavened bread is not allowed). The smell of freshly baked challah ushers in our weekly Shabbat celebration and puts everybody in a mood of gratitude. As blog reader Rabbi Gershon Steinberg-Caudill put it—“I love it when I finish making my Shabbat Challah. It smells like Shabbat!”

The ritual associated with separating and blessing the challah is somewhat complex process, dependent on the size of challah you are baking and your level of observance. Customs vary according to Halachic opinion; Ashkenazi and Sephardi traditions approach the blessing differently. If you are interested in learning more about the process of separating challah, there are many guides available online… or ask a trusted rabbi!

For me, baking challah is like a meditation. Kneading and rising, kneading again, shaping, braiding and baking—it all takes a lot more time than, say, baking brownies from an instant mix. But smelling the bread baking, then seeing your gloriously braided challah on the dinner table, really makes it all worthwhile. I hope this blog inspires you to try it yourself!

The following recipe is my favorite way to make challah, developed after many attempts to create a “foolproof” challah recipe. It’s a rich, moist, eggy challah sweetened with honey. The multiple risings create a beautiful texture, and the egg wash results in a gorgeous golden crust. Feel free to sprinkle your challah with any of the toppings suggested in the recipe. You also can add raisins or chocolate chips to the dough (adding real chocolate will make it a dairy dish). No matter which way you choose to make it, challah is a delicious way to celebrate Shabbat, or any other holiday.

If you’ve never made challah before, remember to be patient. Baking challah is a simple process, but it does take time and effort. You may need to try it a few times to get a “feel” for the dough. If you follow my instructions exactly, you should be fine—I’ve tried to describe each step specifically. Comment me if you have any questions. For instructions on how to braid your challah, click the following link:

Challah Part 2: How to Braid Challah.

Good luck!  :)

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Dough Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 cups lukewarm water, divided
  • 1 packet active dry yeast
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 3 egg yolks
  • 1/3 cup honey
  • 2 tbsp canola oil
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 4 1/2 to 6 cups flour

Egg Wash Ingredients

  • 1 egg
  • 1 tbsp cold water
  • 1/2 tsp salt

Optional Ingredients

  • Raisins, chocolate chips (1 ½ cups of either)

Optional Toppings

  • Sesame seeds, poppy seeds, kosher salt

You will also need

  • Large mixing bowl, whisk, kitchen towel, cookie sheet, parchment paper, plastic wrap, pastry brush, timer
Servings: 1 very large challah, 2 regular challahs, or 24 mini challah rolls
Kosher Key: Pareve
  • Pour ¼ cup of the lukewarm water (about 110 degrees) into a large mixing bowl. Add 1 packet of Active Dry Yeast and 1 tsp of sugar to the bowl, stir to dissolve. Wait 10 minutes. The yeast should have activated, meaning it will look expanded and foamy. If it doesn’t, your yeast may have expired, which means your bread won’t rise—go buy some fresh yeast!
  • Once your yeast has activated, add remaining 1 ¼ cup lukewarm water to the bowl along with the egg, egg yolks, honey, canola oil and salt. Use a whisk to thoroughly blend the ingredients together.
  • Begin adding the flour to the bowl by half-cupfuls, stirring with a large spoon each time flour is added. When mixture becomes too thick to stir, use your hands to knead.
  • Continue to add flour and knead the dough until it’s smooth, elastic, and not sticky. The amount of flour you will need to achieve this texture varies—only add flour until the dough feels pliable and “right.” If you plan to add raisins or chocolate chips to the challah, incorporate into the dough as you knead.
  • Place a saucepan full of water on the stove to boil.
  • Meanwhile, remove the dough from your mixing bowl and wash out the bowl. Grease the bowl with canola oil. Push the dough back into the bottom of the bowl, then flip it over so that both sides are slightly moistened by the oil.
  • Cover the bowl with a clean, damp kitchen towel. Place the bowl of dough on the middle rack of your oven. Take the saucepan full of boiling water and place it below the rack where your dough sits. Close the oven, but do not turn it on. The pan of hot water will create a warm, moist environment for your dough to rise. Let the dough rise for 1 hour.
  • Take the dough bowl out and punch it down several times to remove air pockets. Place it back inside the oven and let it rise for 1 hour longer.
  • Take the dough out of the oven. Flour a smooth surface like a cutting board. Punch the dough down into the bowl a few times, then turn the dough out onto the floured surface. Knead for a few minutes, adding flour as needed to keep the dough from feeling sticky.
  • Now your dough is ready to braid. If you plan to separate and bless the challah, do it prior to braiding. Click here to learn how to braid challah.
  • After you’ve braided your challah, place it on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper (this will catch any spills from your egg wash and keep your challah from sticking to the cookie sheet).
  • Note: I usually only put a single challah braid on a cookie sheet, since they tend to expand a lot when baking.
  • Prepare your egg wash by beating the egg, salt and water till smooth. Use a pastry brush to brush a thin layer of the mixture onto the visible surface of your challah. Reserve the leftover egg wash.
  • Let the braid rise 30 to 45 minutes longer. You’ll know the dough is ready to bake when you press your finger into the dough and the indentation stays, rather than bouncing back.
  • Heat oven to 350 degrees F. The challah needs to bake for about 40 minutes total, but to get the best result the baking should be done in stages. First, set your timer to 20 minutes and put your challah in the oven.
  • After 20 minutes, take the challah out of the oven and coat the center of the braid with another thin layer of egg wash. This area tends to expand during baking, exposing areas that will turn white unless they are coated with egg wash.
  • Turn the tray around, so the opposite side is facing front, and put the tray back into the oven. Turning the tray helps your challah brown evenly—the back of the oven is usually hotter than the front.
  • The challah will need to bake for about 20 minutes longer. For this last part of the baking process, keep an eye on your challah—it may be browning faster than it’s baking. Once the challah is browned to your liking, take the tray out and tent it with foil, then place it back in the oven. Remove the foil for the last 2 minutes of baking time.
  • Take the challah out of the oven. At this point your house should smell delicious. You can test the bread for doneness by turning it over and tapping on the bottom of the loaf—if it makes a hollow sound, it’s done. Let challah cool on the baking sheet or a wire cooling rack before serving.
  • This recipe will make 1 very large challah, 2 regular challahs, or 24 mini challah rolls. I usually divide the dough in half to make 2 medium challahs, which are more manageable and easier to braid than a large one. Choose what works best for you!

Comments (186)Post a Comment

  1. OMG this is sooooo pretty!! I’ve been kind of afraid to try the challah braiding thing because I don’t really have a “baker’s touch” but you make it look so easy, I might just have to try this!

    1. It looks absolutely beautiful. Just came out of the oven. I don’t think my oven was heated right, but it is cooked almost perfectly. I don’t think it is eggy enough for my taste. Can I add more yolks or what should I do?

  2. Dear Shiksa I’m so glad y ou posted a tip for getting rid of that white part in the center of the braid, it’s the only part of making challah that I haevn’t been able to figure out.I will try it your way next time.

  3. Very good - 4 starsVery good - 4 starsVery good - 4 starsVery good - 4 starsVery good - 4 stars
    I have found putting a meat thermometer into the braid after the first 25 minutes or so and setting it to alert when the internal temp reaches 190 F is very helpful…I discovered this after one very cold day the bread wasn’t quite done and it was pretty icky.

    Thanks for the tip about brushing the challah a second time! Now if I could just figure out how to keep them from splitting sometimes mine would be as pretty as they are tasty!

  4. Your recipe for challah is only slightly different from a recipe a friend gave me @ 28 years ago. She got the recipe from a kibutz when she was staying in Isreal. I shall make it this year maybe next yeat in Isreal.

  5. Tori,
    I have been looking for a challah bread recipe for a while. Even though I was not Jewish, I participated in the Jewish Community for years and I love alot of the traditions. I love challah, had to explain what it was when I worked down south(lol) and, now, I want to bake it for my family. Thank you. I will look for the braid. Anne

  6. Nancy, I know how you feel, that white part bugged me for months till I finally tried the second egg wash halfway through baking. Leigh, that’s a great tip, thanks! :) For those of you who are trying the recipe, please write back and let me know how it worked for you!

  7. Tori- Thank you for the detailed recipe. I have been inspired to go and try to make this myself for Shabbat this week. My son is looking forward to it! I have never made Challah before, and this should be interesting!

  8. Very good - 4 starsVery good - 4 starsVery good - 4 starsVery good - 4 starsVery good - 4 stars
    Yum yum – I use a recipe that my aunt framed for me when I graduated from college, the one she always uses (but I half it). I’ll try yours as a variation just to test something new. The part of the challah you see as it bakes and expands is another way to see that it’s done! I also turn them over and tap them :)

  9. Just wanted to let you all know that I made a slight adjustment to the recipe today based on one blog reader’s experience. I’m now recommending that you put the egg wash on the challah braid BEFORE the final rise, rather than after (I changed the instructions in the blog). In some elevations and weather conditions the braid can become quite fragile after that final rise, and even something as soft as a pastry brush could lead the dough to become collapsed/misshapen. It’s never happened to me before, but it did happen to my blog reader– so better to be safe than sorry! 😉

    Please post pictures of your beautiful challahs on the Facebook page!

  10. I used this recipe Friday. It was amazing. My entire family loved it and claim it’s the best I have ever made. This will now be my weekly recipe for Challah! Thank you so much for sharing it. The dough was very easy to work with and it looked gorgeous when it came out of the oven!

  11. Leigh I’m so glad you like the recipe! It took so many “trial and error” processes to figure out what works and what doesn’t in a challah dough. Nothing makes me happier than knowing that people have tried my dishes in their own kitchen. Yay! :)

    1. It tastes wonderful…but only use 1/2 whole wheat and 1/2 white (AP) flour. I found this out by accident as I began making Challah and realized I didn’t have enough AP flour. So I used whole wheat to finish the bread and it was fantastic! As long as you like wheat bread, you’ll like the Wheat challah as well. Like I said, just remember to only replace 1/2 with whole wheat…if you use the entire amount with whole wheat it will be too dense and heavy.

  12. Wow! Just, wow! I love how your Challah looks! I have been following your blog for sometime on FaceBook and when I saw this I knew I had to make it! I am Jewish by birth and you can do this better than my relatives! Anyway, I thought that I would make my first loaf for Rosh Hashanah and so far so good!

  13. Very good - 4 starsVery good - 4 starsVery good - 4 starsVery good - 4 starsVery good - 4 stars
    I made your challah recipe and I found it was lacking sweetness, egginess, and some salt. So I added 2 Tablespoons of salt, 1 cup of honey, and 2 eggs + 5 egg yolks. The turned out to be a perfect combination. It was sweet, doughy, eggy, and everything a challah should be. I appreciate the recipe greatly. My family was very happy on Hanukkah this year!

    1. Hi Ben, so happy you enjoyed the recipe! Everybody likes their challah slightly different, so I’m happy you were able to find the modifications that made this into a great challah for you. :)

  14. Very good - 4 starsVery good - 4 starsVery good - 4 starsVery good - 4 starsVery good - 4 stars
    After a two-year hiatus, I made your challah and it turned out beautifully. Fluffy, tasty, golden top, perfect texture. Indeed, a challah to be proud of! Your detailed method for preparation worked well.
    Two things: the challed burned slightly on the bottom; is there a way to avoid this? Corn meal? I do prefer it a bit sweeter so I will add 1/2-3/4 cup honey next time.

    1. Hi Naomi! So happy you enjoyed the challah. Increasing the honey will get you the sweetness you need. There are a few ways to troubleshoot the bottom of the bread burning. Is your baking sheet made of dark metal? If so, you may want to try a lighter metal pan, since dark metal tends to cause burning/uneven heating issues. Make sure your rack is in the middle of the oven (not too close to the heat source). When the bread is done and you take it out of the oven, immediately put it on the wire cooling rack, otherwise it will continue cooking on the bottom against the hot baking sheet. You can also try cornmeal, as you suggested. Sprinkle about 1/3 cup onto the bottom of each baking sheet, coating the pan/parchment paper with a thin layer of meal. Make sure you do this before you transfer the braided dough onto the baking sheet– you don’t want to move the braid once it’s risen, since it tends to be quite delicate. If all else fails, reduce the cooking temperature to 325 degrees F so it cooks a bit more slowly. The cooking time will extend slightly if you do this, so make sure you test for doneness by tapping and listening for that hollow sound.

  15. Very good - 4 starsVery good - 4 starsVery good - 4 starsVery good - 4 starsVery good - 4 stars
    Absolutely gorgeous. I’ve tried several different challah recipes, and most of them aren’t quite rich or sweet enough (I like my challah to be on the slightly sweet side.) Yours looks like a recipe I used to love but then lost. Can’t wait to try it!

  16. Quick question about challah. My father loves poppy seeds. I’ve always seen them as a topping, as you mention. Is there any reason they can’t be mixed into the dough and baked right in?

  17. Excellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 stars
    I’ve NEVER been able to make bread rise… EVER… Till I tried this recipe. Thanks so much for your thorough, detailed instructions. I made 6 very, very delicious Challas for Rosh Hashana (and incredible french toast!) this year and was over the moon at how they turned out.

  18. Excellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 stars
    Just made this for the family—-was going to just experiment with it because it looked so easy. It was! It’s wonderful. Next time I will increase the honey a bit in the recipe. But we drizzled it with honey and ate it—incredible.

  19. Excellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 stars
    I just make two medium challahs! They’re absolutely delicious. Hopefully next time I’ll make them a little more aesthetically pleasing, hahaha. Thank you!

    1. Kacie, that’s awesome!! Congrats! I got your email, sorry I haven’t had a chance to respond yet– crazy week. So happy you were able to figure things out! The braiding will become easier with time, soon you’ll be a challah pro… promise!

  20. Very good - 4 starsVery good - 4 starsVery good - 4 starsVery good - 4 starsVery good - 4 stars
    Hi Tori, This is a wonderful recipe and I just made it for the second time last night. I tried putting chocolate chips in at the time you direct, but they melted during the rising stages. After baking, the challah is more of a marble challah than a chocolate chip one. Should I put them in when I’m kneading right before braiding instead? Thanks for all you do, wonderful blog!

  21. Excellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 stars
    Do you place a pan of hot water in the oven for the second rising ?

    Your recipes are great! I have tried both the pumpkin and the pretzel. (It is very hard to find pumpkin puree in Israel so I replaced it with sweet potato.) I would love to see some more recipes for flavored challah!

  22. Excellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 stars
    I DID IT! I wish I could attach a picture – I am a fellow shiksa beginning the conversion process, and I literally started crying when I looked at the beautiful braid I had created (thanks to your amazing instructions!!). I’m surprising my boyfriend tomorrow with this challah for shabbat…here’s hoping it tastes as delicious as it looks! Thank you so much for the awesome instructions.

  23. Thank you so much for posting this! I am converting right now & immersing myself in as much Jewish culture as possible. I was intimidated by challah at first, but I followed your directions to a T and it looks beautiful & smells even better!

  24. I was literally just dancing around my apartment… If I could do back handsprings I would have done those too. I was so discouraged last year when I made a challah and it came out like a rock. This year I made your challah bread, and with a little love and lots of patience, it came out PERFECTLY! I am so excited to present this to my family tomorrow night for the holiday. There will be genuine smiles across the table rather than pity grins :-) L’Shana Tova!

  25. If I’m not eating challah until the next day how do you rec. storing overnight so it’s as fresh as possible. Thanks for the step by step, I’m going to give it a try tomorrow. Going to try the 4 braid, very cool.

  26. Very good - 4 starsVery good - 4 starsVery good - 4 starsVery good - 4 starsVery good - 4 stars
    Hi, Tori. We offered to host our synagogue’s youth group and I needed to make a lot of challah dough. I am known as a good cook and baker but I was rather intimidated to have 12 kids making challah in my kitchen. Your recipe worked PERFECTLY. I made 5 recipes, cut the dough into 10 balls (2 kids were late for the challah braiding) and we baked them while the kids ate dinner. It was so successful! We sent the challah home with the kids and several of the moms emailed and said how yummy it was. I sent a little prayer of thanks for you that Shabbat. Now that I am getting over my fear of yeast, I am going to try the pretzel challah next.

    1. Nancy, your comment has officially made my weekend! I’m so, so happy you were able to share this challah with your synagogue’s youth group. It makes me happy. Thank you for letting me know!

  27. I’m not Jewish but love doing yeast breads and challah sounds so good I must try it. I do nissua, a braided eggy Finnish yeast coffee bread with a coffee/sugar glaze so hope I can do the challah justice. Your directions look fairly easy to follow. Thanks so much.

  28. Very good - 4 starsVery good - 4 starsVery good - 4 starsVery good - 4 starsVery good - 4 stars
    The challah came out great for me. I opted to make two regular sized challahs. The first one did not braid so well, but by the second one I was a pro. Thanks for the great recipe.

  29. Very good - 4 starsVery good - 4 starsVery good - 4 starsVery good - 4 starsVery good - 4 stars
    Wow i followed your recipe including the braiding instructions carefully and as always, the results were fantastic. Don’t know what i would have done withouth your braiding guide. Thank you so much again, for helping me keep Yuval’s Kibbutz memories alive in Australia – Jodie
    p.s do you have a recipe for pita (pocket) bread that you could recommend?

  30. Excellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 stars
    Incredible recipe! Turned out perfectly! And the four-braid instructions (over, under,over) were easy to follow and remember…Anyway, my first try resulted in two beautiful and tasty challahs! Thanks, thanks, thanks!

    Best Regards,

  31. I forgot to ask my question…following your recipe, the challah bread looked beautiful and tasted fantastic. However, it spread more than I liked during the final rising. Instead of rising up, it spread out. Is there a secret to coaxing the bread to not spread out and produce a higher challah?

    Thanks again

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