Pretzel Challah

Pretzel Challah

A few months ago, my family and I ate at a restaurant where they served fresh, warm pretzel rolls as an appetizer. Needless to say, we inhaled them. My stepdaughter wanted me to sneak a few home in my purse. I told her I would figure out how to make them at home, so we wouldn’t need to sneak anything. My husband nudged me– “why don’t you make pretzel challah?” The idea was inspired! I wrote it down in my little idea notebook, then promptly forgot about it.

This past weekend, I was thumbing through my notebook when I noticed the words “pretzel challah” scribbled on a page. The weather is a little cooler this month, and I felt ready to start a new baking project, so I went for it!

Before exploring a new recipe, I like to check out the history behind it. I reached for my trusty “Oxford Companion to American Food and Drink” and looked up “pretzels.” I learned some pretty interesting things! Modern pretzels are likely descendants of Italian Lenten bread from the Middle Ages. While not certain, it is thought that the shape of a pretzel represents the Medieval custom of folding arms in prayer. The breads were called “bracallae” (little arms) or “pretiola” (little reward); over time the German language turned it into “bretzel.” This led to what we call it today– pretzel! Soft pretzels likely came to America from Holland with the Pilgrims. Over time, they became popular on the East coast, sold on street carts throughout New York and Philadelphia. Hard pretzels are an American invention, developed in Pennsylvanian Dutch country as a way to prolong shelf life. Hard pretzels are tasty, but I particularly love those soft baked pushcart pretzels– they draw you in with their warm, carby goodness. Yum!

Pretzel Challah Rolls

On to baking! I started with my basic challah recipe and played around with the ingredients to get a more pretzel-flavored dough. Then I studied lots and lots of soft pretzel and pretzel bread recipes, till I felt confident enough with the process. Making pretzels involves boiling the dough in a solution of baking soda and water (once upon a time lye was used, but today it’s usually baking soda– though lye baths are still common in Europe). I tried the “dunk” once with plain soda and water, but felt the soda flavor was overpowering, so I added some brown sugar to the water for balance. It turned out to be the perfect “pretzel dip.” It took a few messy tries, but I finally hit upon a recipe I am proud to share with you today!

One thing I learned during the recipe development process– smaller is better. That boiling water dip can be tricky, especially with a large braided challah. Stick with two smaller challahs by dividing the dough in half, then braiding each separately. You’ll end up with two cute challah braids that will serve 4-6 each, and they’ll be much easier to manage than one large braid.

Now, at first glance this may seem like a complicated process. There are a lot of “steps” to making a pretzel challah. It’s really not as difficult as it seems, but it is a project you’ll need to set aside a few hours for (the challah needs to rise three times, twice in dough form and once in braided form, for the best texture results). It would be a fun weekend project, and a great challenge for somebody who is new to challah making. I’ve laid out the steps very clearly, leaving nothing to guess at. It’s my pet peeve when a recipe is not clear, which is why my recipes are annoyingly detailed– hence the step-by-step photos. If you’ve never braided challah before, click here for my instructional challah braiding blog. As always, if you have a question or run into a problem, leave me a comment. I’m here to help!

This challah goes great topped with salted butter, mustard, or cheese. If you want to keep the bread pareve, use a non-dairy condiment. Last night I served the challah rolls as mini grilled cheese sandwiches alongside a hot bowl of tomato soup. Amazing!

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Pretzel Challah

Pretzel Challah

Pretzel Challah Ingredients

  • 3/4 cup warm water
  • 2 1/4 tsp active dry yeast (one packet)
  • 1 tbsp white sugar
  • 1 tbsp vegetable oil (I use canola)
  • 1 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 egg
  • 2 to 3 cups flour
  • 4 quarts (16 cups) water
  • 1/2 cup baking soda
  • 1/2 cup dark brown sugar
  • Corn meal for dusting the baking sheet
  • Kosher or coarse salt for dusting
  • 2 tbsp melted butter or margarine (optional - if using butter, bread is no longer pareve)

Egg Wash Ingredients

  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1 tbsp cold water
  • 1/4 tsp white sugar
  • 1/4 tsp salt

You will also need

  • Mixing bowl, 2 smooth kitchen or tea towels, saucepan, large cookie sheet (or 1 large and 2 half sheets), 2 large spatulas, whisk, stovetop-safe roasting pan or oval pot with wide opening on top, parchment paper, pastry brush
Total Time: 4 Hours
Servings: 2 small pretzel challahs
Kosher Key: Pareve
  • Add 3/4 cup warm (not hot) water, 1 tbsp white sugar, and yeast into a large bowl, whisk till combined.
  • Let mixture rest for 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!
  • Whisk in canola oil, salt, and egg and beat till well combined.
  • 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.”
  • 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 vegetable 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. If it’s a cold day, you can also heat the oven for 2-3 minutes till it’s warm inside (not hot). 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 it's time to braid your challah. For challah braiding instructions, click here. I highly recommend you make two small braids with your dough, because later you will have to immerse the braids in boiling water. It is easiest to manage two small braids, rather than one large one.
  • For this blog, I made two 4-strand braids, which worked out great. Two 3-strand braids will work, as will round challah shapes. I do not recommend making 6-strand braids, it would be difficult with the small amount of dough you're working with. Mini challah rolls are fun, too!
  • To learn how to make the challah rolls and other braid shapes, click here.
  • Line a large cookie sheet with a clean, dry, smooth kitchen towel. Place the braids on top of the towel and let them rise for 30-45 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.
  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Bring 4 quarts of water to boil in a oval saucepan or roasting pan on your stovetop. The pan should be large, with an opening wide enough to immerse the entire challah. Dissolve the baking soda and 1/2 cup brown sugar into the boiling water, using a whisk to break up the baking soda and sugar that settles on the bottom of the pan. Careful, the baking soda will fizz up when you add it to the boiling water!
  • Bring the cookie sheet to the stove area. Gently immerse the two braids in the boiling water for 30 seconds. Turn them once with a spatula to make sure both sides of the braid are evenly moistened by the boiling water. Use the spatulas to carefully remove the braids from the water and place them on the kitchen towel lined cookie sheet. If you prefer, you can immerse the braids one at a time for easier handling.
  • Let the soaked braids rest on the kitchen towel for a few minutes while you prepare your egg wash. They will look slightly "water-logged" and pruney at this point, but don't worry, they'll puff up again when they bake. The kitchen towel will soak up any excess liquid so the bottom of each challah doesn't become soggy.
  • To prepare the egg wash, whisk together the yolk, water, sugar and salt till smooth.
  • Line another baking sheet, or two half sheets, with parchment paper (or, you can gently remove the challahs from the baking sheet and dry that one, then re-use it). Sprinkle the parchment paper with a light dusting of cornmeal. Pretzel bread is sticky business; doubling up with parchment paper and cornmeal is the safest bet to ensure that the challahs don't stick.
  • Place the braided challahs onto the parchment paper lined baking sheet(s).
  • Brush the challahs evenly with a light, thorough coating of the egg wash.
  • Dust the challahs with kosher or coarse salt to taste. Careful, they can get very salty very fast! A thin, even sprinkling will work best.
  • The challah needs to bake for about 30-40 minutes total, but to get the best result the baking should be done in stages. First, set your timer to 15 minutes and put your challah in the oven.
  • After 15 minutes, take the challah out of the oven and coat the center of the braid with another very 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. Don't lay it on too thick, or the egg will scramble-- just a thin layer will do it.
  • 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 15-25 minutes longer. Challah is finished when it's a dark golden brown color all the way across. 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.
  • To keep the outer part of the pretzel challah soft and supple, you can brush each challah with a tablespoon of melted butter or margarine as soon as it comes out of the oven (if you use butter, it becomes a dairy dish, not pareve). This step is optional.
  • Let challah cool slightly on the baking sheet or a wire cooling rack before serving. Pretzel challah is best served warm; reheat before serving. Store it wrapped tightly in plastic wrap or foil to keep it fresh.

Comments (127)Post a Comment

  1. I got my internet back and first thing I did was check your pretzel challah, and let me tell you Tori, you got me, two of my favorite things in one, challah and pretzel, I can’t way to make it. You’re great, Thank you!!! :-D

    1. Yay!! Happy you got your internet back. Mine went out today for a few minutes. As a food blogger, let me tell you that is NOT a good feeling! But I got it back, and just in time to post my pretzel challah. Hope you get a chance to try it! :)

    1. Hi Angela. For the dough you can use 1 cup of water (instead of 3/4 cup) and 2 additional tbsp of vegetable oil (in place of 1 egg). It won’t be quite as “rich” tasting as the egg dough, but it will bake up just fine. For the egg wash, I’ve read that soymilk is a workable sub, but I’ve never tried it myself so I hesitate to recommend it. It probably won’t bake up as shiny as an egg wash. You might also try light corn syrup thinned with very hot water and a touch of salt for the egg wash. If you try one of these methods, please let me know how it works for you.

    2. I just made this but when i dipped mine into the sugar/baking soda boiling water i went to putting it on a soft towel smooth at that and it stuck to the towel any suggestions or is it suppose to do that?

    3. It may stick a little, but it shouldn’t compromise the shape of the bread. You should be able to pull it away from the towel easily without damaging the braid.

  2. Oh Tori this is really amazing. I’ve always wanted to try making a challah. Now I know how, and not just any challah but a pretzel one. You rock my world girl!

  3. Your bread and pretzels are picture perfect. I am not good at braiding and my last soft pretzels were not even brown. I will need to try your method/recipe here. Thanks for all the testing on this one-the final product is awesome. Great post.

  4. Oh wow! I’m definitely trying this out. I love pretzel bread and rolls I can’t even imagine what pretzel challah tastes like but I really want to know. Awesome post!

  5. I LOVE your site and recipes! Thank you so much! I have tried the mushroom soup and the Persian lamb recipes and they were wonderful! I can’t wait to try the pretzel challah tomorrow for Shabbat dinner!

  6. This looks wonderful! Since I always make a bunch of challahs on Sunday and then freeze, can I do the same for the pretzel challah. Thanks!

    1. Hi Rose! I’ve never frozen pretzel challah, but I’m guessing it will freeze just fine. I would bake it all the way through and let it cool completely. Wrap it in plastic wrap tightly, then in foil, before freezing. Thaw at room temp, then reheat in the oven at 375 till heated through. Don’t partial bake it (the way you sometimes do with breads/casseroles), I have a feeling the texture will be off if you do that. Good luck! Let me know how you like it. :)

  7. Tori, I have my rolls rising right now, and they look great! One little thing…the sugar you add to the yeast at the beginning…are you using brown or white? The way it reads, someone might end up with 1/2cup of brown sugar in their yeast! I used white sugar by default for the yeast.

    1. Hi Sarah, yes you are correct – 1 tbsp white sugar for the yeast, and 1/2 cup brown sugar in the baking soda bath. I’ll clarify the recipe. Thanks!

  8. Love it! It’s like my two favourite kinds of bread just got together and made a delicious baby. :)
    I’ve been meaning to try my hand at a classic braided challah, but I think I just might have to revise my priorities and try your variation out instead… I need to experience this awesomeness for myself!

  9. Hi Tori,
    I only recently discovered your blog, and I LOVE it!! Not just the great recipes and the detailed instructions, but also the beautiful pictures and design! Delicious!

    I’ve been baking challah regularly for the past year, but there’s one thing that I haven’t been able to master: even and smooth strands. I tried using a rolling pin, tried without, from the center out, first rolling into balls, etc. But for some reason they never look smooth. I even use a scale to make sure all my pieces are of the same weight. Not sure what I’m doing wrong or missing. Any help will be much appreciated!!

    Thanks and Shabbat Shalom

    1. Hi Yael, thank you so much, I’m very happy you’re enjoying the blog! Have you checked out my tutorial on how to braid challah? There is a section on making smooth, even strands. Let me know if you’ve tried the techniques I suggest here: link to theshiksa.com

      One other thing that might help is to roll the strands on a smooth, unfloured board after you have added enough flour the make the dough pliable/supple. Extra flour on the board can make rolling an even strand difficult.

      If all else fails, it might be the dough recipe you are using. Consider trying my dough recipe here, it’s very easy to work with and shape: link to theshiksa.com

      Good luck! :)

  10. Thanks Tori for the quick reply!

    I did try your techniques… And I do roll on a smooth surface (butcher block or granite counter top). I don’t use any flour because I find that it’s very dry (and pretty cold) where I am. Instead I oil my hands or lightly oil the surface (if it’s the counter).
    I haven’t tried your recipe yet, but will give it a try next time, maybe it’s the recipe I’ve been using..
    Thanks again!

  11. Hi Tori,
    Love your blog. I can’t knead with my hands but I will try this challah with a kitchen aid. It will be like being on the streets of NY again.

  12. These challahs look stunning!
    I bake challahs every week (it’s my specially) so I’m very glad I found your blog – we definitely have something in common :)
    I’d love to give it a try, but we cannot bless on these challahs on friday-saturday’s meal (dipping them in hot water makes them “mezonot”)

    Wonderful looking challahs anyway, and I’m sure they taste great as well

    1. I do not believe dipping challot in hot water makes them mezonot at all. Do you not wash on bagels? They are boiled before they are baked, and I don’t know anyone who says bagels are “mezonot.”

      In fact, water in the dough is what people replace with juice to make ha’motzi bread into “mezonot” rolls. (In fact, many poskim feel that if you are eating the bread or rolls with a meal, it doesn’t matter if there is juice or water in the bread, you still must wash on it.) I’m no posek, but I do think you are mistaken on this, and should check with your Rav to see what he says about this issue.

  13. This was a great way to spend the day! Multitasking, but coming back to punch, knead, and brush–so grounding. And the results were perfect. I used whole wheat flour, and it was still perfectly pretzelly.

  14. Hi Lisa :)
    That’s exactly it – boiling makes it “mezonot”, and bagels are “mezonot” as well.
    We are very religious, so I know these rules by hard. although in this case you can find it in any Halachot-book.
    You are correct when it come to juice in the dough, but here the “problem” is boiling the dough, not what’s in it.

    1. I don’t know what halacha books you are reading, but as for English hilchot brochot books, both Rabbi Forst’s “The Laws of B’rachos” (page 359) and Rabbi Bodner’s (from Lakewood) “The Halachos of Brochos” (page 11 of the “handbook”) are very clear that the bracha on bagels is ha’motzi. In fact, Rabbi Forst says that even soft pretzels may require a hamotzi under certain circumstances (page 377), so again, I would strongly advise you to consult your Rav/Posek. It seems you may have been saying the wrong brocha for a long time (and missing out on many birchot ha’mazon as well, unfortunately).

      I think you misunderstood what “boiled bread” refers to. Rabbi Forst is very clear (page 260-262) that “a boiled dough becomes bread if it is subsequently baked.” The opposite is also true, by the way; ” a baked bread may lose its status as bread by being boiled afterwards.”) (page 262).

      Since this Pretzel Bread is absolutely baked after the boiling step, it is most definitely a hamotzi bread. In fact, it looks so good, I may make it for this coming shabbat. I’ll report back here, if I do.

  15. Lisa – I live in Israel and my family is very orthodox (Ashkenazim)
    Some members of my family are Rabbis themselves
    This is the halacha for us and it’s well known here – boiled bread (like bagels/pretzels etc) is “mezonot”, and it doesn’t matter that you bake it afterwards.
    So we cannot bless “hamotzi” on it
    I agree that this pretzel challah is beautiful and I’m sure it’s delicious, but it cannot be the challah on Saturday’s meals for us

  16. Re: Winnie & Lisa… So there you have it, you can argue with the Rav, but not when the Rav is in the family. So no need to argue. Just enjoy this amazing challah whenever your Rav of choice says you can :-)

  17. Michael is right, but I wasn’t arguing.
    I only said in my first comment that we (emphasis on the “we”) cannot bless on it on Fri-Sat.
    For some reason Lisa decided to dispute this comment, which I found very annoying!
    This is not the way I’m used to, when visiting and admiring something in a food-blog

  18. This will be my last comment on this issue, and perhaps my last visit to this blog. I don’t understand why the assumption is that because it’s a blog, someone with an opinion that might slightly disagree with someone else should hold back from saying anything.

    I was not trying to insult, and I do not believe I was rude in the least. The first comment I made was prefaced with “I do not believe that . . .” (in other words, I did not come out and categorically state that anything someone else was doing was absolutely wrong.) However, I had never heard of anyone that did not wash before eating bagels, so I looked the halacha up. The two very authoritative halacha books I quoted both agreed with that, and I mentioned it because if there is an obligation to wash before certain foods (like bagels) and say birchat ha’mazon afterwards, then perhaps this person has been missing out on a mitzvah d’oryaita for many years.

    I did not realize that commenting on this blog is only allowed if you have a compliment or agree with all the other comments. When I first discovered this blog, I thought there were many interesting recipes here that I might be interested in trying. However, if I have to shut my brain off in order to participate here, this is not something I am prepared to do. Our own tradition is full of give-and-take arguing . . . it’s what the gemara is all about; what would Hillel have been without Shammai? Is it perhaps because food blogs attract more women than men, and some women aren’t comfortable stating an opinion of their own, especially if it might disagree in some way with someone else’s opinion? I guess in many ways we women haven’t come as far as we should have. However, I am no shrinking violet, so if I have to hold my tongue when reading this blog, I might as well not bother. There are literally hundreds of other blogs where I assume I will be more welcome.

    Shabbat shalom to all.

    1. Lisa and Winnie,

      Everybody is free to express their opinion here, and you are both welcome to give your thoughts on any issue (as long as the conversation stays positive). It seems that you both might have taken something personally that was not intended to be personal. It appeared to me to be a healthy and interesting conversation, but apparently some feelings got hurt. Everybody is welcome on my site, no matter the background or religious belief, and all opinions are welcome. My site celebrates food, and I believe a yummy recipe is something we can all agree on! I hope that you both continue to enjoy the blog and the recipes, and that you each are able to enjoy the pretzel challah whenever you are comfortable making it.

      Shabbat Shalom, wishing you love and light!

    2. Your comments are very arrogant and you are all eager to argue, Yes you should hold you tongue and remember your place.

      I think you forgot to learn the most important “halacha”, and you should definitely stop preaching.

      If you planing to visit other food-blogs and start arguing like you did here – kindly let us know which blogs so we can stay away.

  19. ENOUGH! TOri, you should not have to apologize to anyone. This blog is meant for everyone. Jew (shomer shabbos and not) and non-Jew . You recipes are alway wonderful, you writing style entertaining. THe people who insist on battling about halachot and mezonot should get a life. THese are not topics appropriate for a food blog. If they feel that they cannot use this challah recipe for Shabbat then they should not use it for Shabbat. If they want to have a religious discussion they should email one another. For heaven’s sake, let them eat cake!!!!!!! YOu have some wonderful recipes on your blog.
    THank you Michael Doyle for your comment.

  20. Winnie,
    I agree. As I said, I do not believe a food blog is not the place for this kind of discussion.. Let’s get back to eating folks, and enjoying the creativity of others.

  21. I’m sorry, but Lisa’s comments to me was very insulting and very inappropriate
    I am the one who don’t understand why she had to start this argument in the first place.
    With all due respect writing here her opinion or whether she believes or do not believes to something I wrote is very rude.
    Also – her trying to insinuate that I do not understand the halachot is very(!) rude to say the least.
    This is a food blog, and this is the first time for me here, and I’m not used to this kind of behavior.
    I don’t even want to refer to the halachot again, because this is not the place(!), and this is certainly not to way we do it!
    In a food-blog, I appreciate the work of the blogger – as I did here, but I do not start to argue on other people lives and or comments. I find it very offensive, and I certainly do not allow it in my blog.

    This blog has a lot to offer! and I already recommended it to some of my friends. Hopefully I did not make a mistake by doing so – and publishing this comment (or not) will answer that.

    1. This conversation has eroded into something that is no longer positive or helpful to other readers. I will not be publishing any more comments on this matter. Comments on pretzel challah, however, are always welcome. :)

  22. I agree, let it go ! ;(
    I do have a question re: pretzel challah. Do you think it would still taste as well if I cut the salt back, or used a salt sub? My mom is on a very strict low sodium diet, but I would like to make this for her. Any ideas ?

  23. Goodness me, Winnie and Lisa! You two remind me of the old joke about arguing Jews: In the little village where there were 10 Jews, there were 11 synagogues.

  24. I didn’t follow your “make two loaves” recommendation because my loaf seemed so small… but I should’ve! lol It got all stretched and disfigured after soaking it. I thought I might have ruined it, but it came out looking like a loaf of bread at least (you can sort of see the flattened braid), and smells and tastes delicious! I’ll be making it again and using it for vegetarian stuffing at… Christmas! Great blog! :)

  25. Hey Tori!
    Isabella and I decided to make your yummy looking pretzel challa. She is extra excited because it is “Victoria’s” recipe Will let you know how it comes out. :D

  26. we did it!! I’m so proud of us!! We made the little rolls and if I must say it came out pretty good for our first try. We also tried to make the blueberry muffins while we waited for the dough to rise but were not successful at all. I may have forgotten to add the sugar, woops. The pictures of the cats made Isabella feel better. I am determined to try again now that the kids are asleep. Hopefully I’ll surprise them with muffins for breakfast.

    1. I’m sorry Daria and Betsy, but I don’t own a bread machine so I couldn’t say. I’ve heard that challah dough works well using the bread machine, but beyond that I would hesitate to give you any advice without trying it for myself.

  27. I kill yeast when I make bread any tips and suggestions also my house is always cold which is a large part of the problem… love the way this looks and I would love to make it…..

    1. Melissa:
      Something that has helped me immensely with yeast is using instant yeast. I use the SAF brand of it which can be found in nearly every grocery store in the US (don’t know if that is where you are from or not). The instant yeast seems to not be quite as sensitive as other yeast for me.

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