How to Make Challah Bread: The Easiest Recipe
What could be more important than bread?
A staple of the human diet since the beginning of civilization, bread remains a centerpiece of our food experience. Whether eaten as part of a sandwich, an afternoon snack, or as a dipping tool for soups and sauces, it’s hard to go wrong with a loaf of bread.
However, as you may know, not all breads are created equal. Some are just better than others. There are two reasons for this: ingredients and love. When you use quality ingredients (and just the basic ones, not all the extra stuff they put in industrial bread), it really makes a difference. But when the bread is made with love and has a special meaning, then it can be even better.
Enter challah bread. A traditional Jewish food, challah bread is loaded with symbolic meaning. And it’s also versatile and delicious, especially when homemade.
Want to know how to make challah bread? Here’s a bit more about this traditional food as well as one of the easiest recipes you can find for making it at home.
What is Challah Bread?
Pronounced “hal-ah,” challah bread is basically just a braided loaf of bread. It’s made of the traditional combination of eggs, flour, yeast, and salt, just like many other breads. However, it uses a unique combination that makes the bread come out a little differently.
The primary challah recipe is plain. When baked, the crust takes on a brown color, and it’s common to sprinkle it with sesame seeds. Though many recipes call for you to include fruits, such as raisins, or nuts, typically walnuts.
In general, the recipe for making challah bread is rather simple. However, getting the shape -- the braids -- can be a bit tricky, especially if you didn’t mix the dough just right. But don’t worry, we’ll explain how to do that so you can make perfect challah bread every time.
What Makes Challah Bread Special?
Besides its somewhat unique shape, you might be wondering what makes challah bread so special. Well, as with many things in Jewish culture, it’s all about the tradition.
The word -- challah -- in Biblical Hebrew literally means “loaf” or “cake.” But it also refers to the tradition of “mitzvah” which means “offering.” Therefore, the idea behind challah bread is that the baker, while making it, sets aside a portion of the dough as a contribution and symbol of respect to the rabbi.
Officially, challah should be observed for any bread, but only those in which more than 10 cups of dough are used (traditional Jewish laws are very specific). But today’s challah bread is seen as special because it’s often served on shabbat or during the high holidays, particularly Rosh Hashanah. Because of these special occasions, it’s especially important to make this allotment of dough.
However, there is no law that says you can’t make or eat challah bread whenever you want. In fact, it’s a delicious treat year round. It’s soft and spongy, mostly because of all the eggs, and also has a light yellow color. It’s perfect on its own or as part of something else, such as French toast, which we will discuss in a bit more detail later on.
And while the recipe is a bit trickier than other breads, once you get the hang of it, it’s not so difficult, which means you can have this traditional, delicious snack whenever you want!
How to Make Challah Bread: The Easiest Recipe
When you look at the ingredient list for the challah bread recipes, you’re first reaction might be, “Oh! This is easy!”
Well, we don’t want to scare you away, but the dough is really the easiest part. Later on, when it comes time to braid the dough to make the traditional challah bread shape, things get a bit more complicated. But a little practice and patience is all you need, and before you know it you’ll be trained and ready to work at a traditional Jewish bakers.
Okay, maybe not. But you’ll at least know how to make challah bread and be able to eat it whenever you want!
To get started on your challah bread, start by collecting your ingredients. To make one loaf, you will need:
- 1 ¼ ounce packet of active dry yeast
- ¼ teaspoon sugar
- 1 cup of warm water (slightly warm to the touch but not hot)
- 2 eggs and one egg yolk (save the white!)
- ⅓ teaspoon of honey and another ½ teaspoon. (They go in at two separate times)
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 3-4 cups of flour (bread variety if you can though all-purpose will work)
- ½ cup boiling water
- ½ tablespoon sesame seeds
Note: this recipe yields one loaf of bread. If you want more, simply multiple the ingredients by the number of loaves you want.
In addition to these ingredients, you will also need the following tools:
- A couple of small bowls and a whisk to mix ingredients
- A standing mixer
- A baking sheet
Now, here’s how to make challah bread:
Step 1: Test the Yeast
In order for your bread to rise, you need to make sure your yeast is still active, i.e. alive. So, before you begin, empty your yeast packet into a bowl and combine it with the sugar and warm water.
Then, mix it up and let it sit for a few minutes. It should become frothy. If it doesn't, your yeast is not active. But as long as you are using fresh stuff, this shouldn’t be a problem. When it does froth up, put it to the side and continue with the next step.
Step 2: Make Your Challah Dough
Crack your eggs, making sure to separate out one yolk, into your standing mixer bowl. Next, add the honey and salt.
Then, add in your flour and yeast and turn your mixer to medium for about three minutes, until the dough is soft.
Tip: add the flour slowly to gauge how it impacts the bread. You might not need it all. The goal is to make a nice, soft dough that you can easily work with your hands. Also, because of the eggs, the dough will feel sticky.
If you’d like to add raisins to the dough, now is the time. A half cup should be just fine for this size load, though you can do as much or as little as you want.
Step 3: Knead the Dough
Now it’s time for some manual labor. Take some flour and pour it onto a clean countertop. Then, dump the dough from your mixer onto the surface and, using your hands, begin to work the dough until it becomes softer and more pliant.
You should be able to stretch the dough into a thin layer that you can see through. If doing this causes the bread to tear, then you will need to knead it a bit more.
Once you’ve got the dough just right, place it into a greased bowl and then let it sit under a damp towel to rise. This should take about an hour in warm kitchens and a little longer if it’s cold.
Step 4: Make Ropes and Braid
The dough should more or less double in size as it rises, and once it does, it’s time to make the braids for challa’s signature shape.
To do this, break the dough into six equally-sized pieces. Then, roll them out with your hands on the floured surface to turn them into ropes that are about ten inches each.
From there, take the ends from one side and put them all together into a ball, and then separate out each rope. It should look something like this:
Then, it’s time to braid. If you know how to braid hair, then this will be easy. If you don’t, then there will be a learning curve.
Start with the piece all the way to the left and carry it over two other ropes, under one, and then over the other two. Then, go back to the left and do the same thing. When you do this, the last rope you cross over should be the end of the first one.
Keep doing this over and over again until you’ve run out of dough and your challah bread is complete.
And that’s it. Cover your braided dough with a towel and let it rise for another hour.
Step 4: Bake the Bread
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. In the meantime, take the egg white you put aside from the beginning and mix it with a dash of water and the rest of the honey. Mix it all together and then, using a brush, apply it to the bread. Once this is done, sprinkle the loaf with sesame seeds.
Then, pop it in the oven and let it bake for about 30 -- 40 minutes. The crust should be golden brown and if you stick a toothpick into the dough, it should come out clean. If neither is true, then just leave the bread in for a few more minutes.
Take the bread out of the oven and let it sit to cool. Once it has, it’s ready to serve! If you’re going to save it, make sure to put it somewhere where it will stay dry, such as your pantry or, even better, a bread box.
Delicious Recipes Using Challah Bread
Challah bread is delicious all on its own, but you can also incorporate it into other recipes that are just plain old delicious. The slight sweetness of the bread plus its spongy texture make it great for all sorts of decadent dishes, both savory and sweet. Here are a few of our favorites:
- Traditional French toast -- The spongy Challah bread soaks up the mixture more than regular bread and comes out soft and delicious. Top it with fruit and whipped cream for an even better treat.
- Grilled cheese -- Again, the thick, sweet bread is a nice contrast to the savory melted cheese of this classic meal.
- Bread pudding -- A unique twist on this classic dish, you can mix together sweet ingredients (such as peaches and dulce de leche) or savory (such as mushrooms and cheese) to make a unique, delicious dish.
Ready to Make Some Challah Bread!?
As you can see, challah bread, while a bit labor intensive, is a relatively easy recipe to follow. And now that you know how to make it, don’t shy away from whipping up a batch for your next special occasion. Or, if you just want to spend your Saturday doing something fun and making something delicious, that works too.
Another option is to order one of our ready-made challah breads. Either way, you won’t be disappointed.