A beautifully braided loaf of challah (pronounced “ha-luh” not “cha-la”) is a traditional yeasted bread, rich with eggs and butter, that has religious and cultural significance in the Jewish culture. It is historically eaten on the Friday Sabbath (when two challahs are served side by side) or during certain Jewish holidays like Rosh Hashanah. If you are making it for Rosh Hashanah, it is traditional to shape it into a round.
But this tender, eggy bread—which is similar to brioche—can be enjoyed anytime. It’s great alongside soups and salads, made into sandwiches with thinly sliced roast beef, or served as part of a bigger celebratory meal. Not only is challah terrific on its own, but once it’s a few days old, it makes superb French toast. Just use it in this scrumptious recipe or your favorite recipe and serve it with maple syrup or plenty of fresh, seasonal fruit.
This recipe makes one large loaf, but you can divide the dough in half and create two smaller loaves if you like, either for serving on a Friday Sabbath when two loaves are more traditional or to make one for yourself and one to share (or put a baked challah in the freezer for another time). You can even divide it into multiple smaller pieces and create lovely dinner rolls or sandwich buns.
Keep this plain or top it with sesame seeds, poppy seeds, or flaked salt like Maldon (or a combination of any of these). Just add the seeds right after you brush the challah with the egg wash right before popping in the oven.
Recipe: Rich, Eggy, Golden Challah
Makes 1 large loaf
- 1 envelope (2 1/4 teaspoons) active dry yeast
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons whole milk
- 1/4 cup water
- 1 tablespoon honey
- 2 large eggs, plus 1 egg for egg wash
- 3 1/4 cups bread flour
- 2 teaspoons kosher salt
- Sesame seeds, poppy seeds, or coarse salt (optional)
- In the bowl of a stand mixer, stir together the yeast and sugar. In a small saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter. Add the milk, water, and honey and heat until just warm (105°F to 115°F; use a thermometer to check the temperature). Pour the milk mixture into the stand mixer and stir to combine with the yeast. Let sit until the yeast has dissolved and starts to look creamy, about 5 minutes.
- Fit the stand mixer with the dough hook, then add the 2 eggs, the flour, and the salt. Beat on low speed for a minute or so, until the dough starts to come together. Increase the speed to medium and knead for 8 to 10 minutes, until the dough softens and looks smooth and soft.
- Remove the dough from the bowl, oil the bowl, then return the dough to the bowl. Turn the dough to coat with oil, cover the bowl loosely with plastic wrap, then drape with a kitchen towel. Let the dough rise at room temperature for about 1 hour or until doubled in size.
- Line a large (12 x 17 inches) rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface.
- Divide the dough into 3 equal pieces. (If you’d like, you can make 2 smaller loaves by dividing the dough in half, and then dividing each half into 3 pieces to braid.) Roll each piece into a rope that is about 15 inches long. When rolling the rope, keep it thick in the center and tapered at the ends. Line up the ropes side by side and braid half from the center down. When you reach the end, turn the loaf around so that the unbraided half is in front of you, then braid the other half upside down.
- Pinch the ends together, then tuck them under the loaf. Transfer the loaf to the baking sheet and gently plump it so that the center is slightly thicker than the ends. Loosely cover the loaf with plastic wrap, then let rise in a warm, draft-free place until the bread is puffy and nearly doubles in size, about 30 to 60 minutes.
- While the loaves are proofing, preheat the oven to 375°F. In a small bowl, whisk the remaining egg with 1 teaspoon water until well combined. Using a pastry brush, very gently brush the tops and sides of the challah with the egg wash. If you like, dust the loaves with the seeds or sprinkle with coarse salt.
- Bake until golden and hollow when thumped on the bottom, about 40 minutes. If the loaf starts to brown too quickly, cover it loosely with a piece of foil. Let cool on a rack before slicing.