Classic Challah

This deep-gold, light-textured bread is traditionally served on the Jewish Sabbath and other holidays. The dough is wonderfully smooth and supple, making it an ideal candidate for braiding. The simplest way to go is a three-strand braid; but feel free to try the slightly more complex four-strand braid, or even a six-strand braid, which makes a striking presentation. The inspiration for this recipe comes from Lora Brody, cookbook author, photographer, and long-time King Arthur friend.

This recipe has been amended as of 3/16/21 — please see the details in “tips,” below.

Prep
20 mins
Bake
30 mins
Total
3 hrs 50 mins
Yield
one 16" loaf
Classic Challah

Instructions

  1. To make the dough: Weigh 480g of flour; or measure 4 cups by gently spooning it into a cup, then sweeping off any excess. 

  2. Combine the flour with the rest of the dough ingredients. Mix and knead them by hand, mixer, or bread machine, until you have a soft, smooth dough. If the dough is very sticky, add an additional 1/4 cup (30g) of flour.

  3. Allow the dough to rise in a plastic wrap-covered bowl for about 2 hours, or until it's puffy; it won't necessarily double in bulk.

  4. Gently deflate the dough, and transfer it to a lightly greased work surface.

  5. Divide the dough into pieces, the number depending on what kind of braid you want to make. You may braid the challah the traditional way, into a three-strand braid; for helpful tips watch our video, How to braid a three-strand loaf. For a fancier presentation, make a six-strand braid; watch our video, How to braid a six-strand loaf, to see how it's done. To make a four-strand braid, see shaping instructions in our blog post about making four-strand braided challah. 

  6. Once you've decided which braid you're doing, divide the dough into the appropriate number of pieces. Roll each piece into a rope about 20" long. If the dough starts to shrink back as you roll, cover it and let it rest for about 10 minutes, then resume rolling. The short rest gives the gluten a chance to relax.

  7. Braid the loaf. Remember, for three- or six-strand braids, watch the videos linked above. For a four-strand braid, see the step-by-step photos of how to make a four-strand braid.

  8. Gently pick up the braided loaf, and place it on a lightly greased or parchment-lined baking sheet.

  9. Cover the loaf with lightly greased plastic wrap and let it rise at room temperature until it's very puffy, 60 to 90 minutes. Toward the end of the rising time, place a rack in the upper third of your oven and preheat the oven to 375°F.

  10. To make the topping: Whisk together the reserved egg white and water. Brush the mixture over the risen loaf. Sprinkle generously with poppy seeds or sesame seeds, if desired.

  11. Bake the challah on the oven's upper rack for 25 to 30 minutes, or until it's a deep golden brown and a digital thermometer inserted into the center reads 190°F.

  12. Remove the challah from the oven and transfer it to a rack to cool.

  13. Storage information: Store any leftover challah, well wrapped, at room temperature for several days; freeze for longer storage. While challah does tend to dry out after a day or so, it's always good toasted, or made into grilled sandwiches or French toast.

Tips from our Bakers

  • 3/16/21: Thanks to suggestions from you, our baking community, we've made some changes to the recipe to streamline and shorten the preparation and baking process. For a softer dough (that'll rise more quickly) and enhanced flavor, we've increased the water and yeast; decreased the honey, and added an egg yolk, in the process freeing up an egg white for the egg wash.  

  • During Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, this bread's traditional braided shape is supplanted by a spiral, which symbolizes the cyclical nature of the year. For a spiralled challah, roll the dough into a 36" rope, and coil it into a lightly greased 9" cake pan. Allow it to rise until puffy, then bake as directed in the original recipe.
  • Make it whole wheat: While challah made with 100% whole wheat flour will be heavier than that made with all-purpose flour, it will still be soft and delicious. For best flavor, we recommend substituting white whole wheat flour for the all-purpose flour. For best texture, allow the just-mixed dough to rest for 20 minutes before kneading; this gives the flour a chance to absorb the liquid, making it easier to handle. If necessary, knead in 1/4 to 1/2 cup additional water, or enough to make a soft, smooth dough.  

  • Make it ahead: Prepare the loaf up to the point where it's braided and on the pan. Tent it with greased plastic wrap, and place it in the refrigerator overnight. Next morning, remove the dough from the refrigerator (keep it covered). Let it warm and rise at room temperature for 60 minutes before baking as directed.
  • Join King Arthur baker Martin Philip and his family as they bake Classic Challah together, start to finish. Watch Martin Bakes at Home - Challah now.