Challah bread is a traditional Jewish bread that is made to welcome in Shabbat.
Two loaves are placed on a table, representing the double portion of manna that fell from heaven to last through the end of Saturday. Historically, priests would set out challah, or a small bit of dough, as an offering to God.
Truly, it can be any bread, but you’ll most commonly see beautiful, golden braided breads used for this tradition. They tend to be slightly sweet and oh, so delightfully fluffy.
In order to get the perfect light and airy on the inside, crispy on the outside results, you need to use the right flour in your dough. What is the best flour for making challah bread? A good strong bread flour will be perfect, for a few reasons.
Keep reading to learn what to look for when you’re shopping for your challah ingredients.
Why Does Flour Matter & Which Is The Best For Challah?
Not all flour is created equal! All bread rises, but challah is especially dependant on a great elasticity that will allow you to braid and shape your bread and still feel confident that it’s going to rise well.
A strong bread flour is made from hard wheat varieties, meaning it contains more gluten than other types of flour. This is exactly what you’re going to want to look for.
Depending on where you are in the world, you might only find “strong flour” or “bread flour.” If this is the case, don’t worry, they all mean the same thing!
If you choose a generic all-purpose flour, your challah is probably going to have trouble rising, the strands might meld together in the baking process, ruining your delicate artwork, and you run the risk of either burning the bottom or not getting a good, thorough bake.
Best Flour for Challah
We always like to recommend organic flour for bread making because it has the most vitamin, nutrients and healthy bacteria to add to the unique flavors of your baking.
Our personal favorite is King Arthur Flour, 100% Organic Bread Flour
How To Make Challah Dough
Challah is made from a simple dough that you can whip up fairly quickly if you choose instant or rapid-rise yeast.
If you’ve got your flour ready, you’ll just new a few more items to get you started. Most bakers will have all of them ready and waiting in your pantry already.
- 1 Cup (C) of hot, not boiling, water
- 1 Tbsp rapid rise yeast
- ¼ C olive oil
- ¼ C honey
- 1 egg + 1 egg for the egg wash (keep separate!)
- 1 tsp salt
- 3 3/4 C of flour
- Mix your wet ingredients together with the yeast and salt, in the following order: hot water, yeast, egg, olive oil, honey, salt
- Slowly add in the flour, 1 C at a time. If you have a stand mixer with a dough hook, you can use that for making your dough on a very slow speed. Otherwise, get your fingers ready for a good knead!
- Once all the flour is added, knead the dough thoroughly for about 5 minutes. You want it to be nice and smooth. If it remains sticky after the 5 minutes, add a tiny bit of flour and keep kneading until it’s the perfect doughy texture.
- It’s time to rise and shine! Put your dough into a large bowl and cover it with plastic wrap. Let it sit for 30 – 45 minutes and it should double in size.
- Get a large, lightly floured surface ready. Punch the dough down, transfer it to your workspace and knead for another 5 minutes or so.
As with most bread, every batch will respond a little bit differently. If your dough feels sticky, kneading more should work it out.
Use more flour only as a last resort as doughy challah bread is not ideal. This part is more of an art than a science, and practice really does make perfect.
You can start braiding and bake it right away, or you can store it as dough until you’re ready to bake it.
How To Store Challah Bread Dough
If you plan to bake your bread the next day, instead of letting your bread rise on the counter, you can cover it and let it rest and rise in your fridge overnight. Let it warm back up to room temperature before using it, but then continue on with step 6 above.
If you’re a few days ahead of your baking schedule, once your dough is ready, separate it into as many portions as you’re going to need for your braid (see next section), and place each ball of dough in its own lightly oiled bowl. Cover tightly and place back into the fridge for no more than 4 days.
Many bakers will make a large batch of dough and freeze the extra. If you freeze and defrost carefully, your dough should be as fresh as the day you made it.
Again, separate into the portion sizes your going to need for your braids. Wrap each ball of dough tightly in plastic wrap. Place all of them together inside a resealable freezer bag and get as much air out as possible.
The dough should be fine in your freezer for a 1- 3 months. Writing the date on the bag is a great way to keep track of how long your dough has been in there.
When you’re ready to get baking, let your dough thaw in the fridge overnight inside its plastic wrapping. The next morning, take your bread out and let each dough ball sit it its own slightly oiled boil, covered, for 2 hours to let it come back to room temperature.
Now it’s time to braid!
Top Tips For Braiding Challah Bread
The most basic challah bread is a standard 3 strand braid, but you can absolutely get creative, especially if you’ve used a strong flour giving you plenty of elasticity. We’ll give you the details for the basic approach, followed by a few ideas for really wowing your dinner guests.
Basic Challah Bread Braid
- Roll your dough out into 3 equal ropes or strands about 9 inches long, tapering off the ends
- Dust the strands lightly with flour to help them keep their individual shapes and stop them from bleeding into one another
- Pinch the tops together and braid the strands, placing the left outer rope over the middle, then the right outer rope over the middle, and repeating the process all the way down
- Pinch the ends together and roll them under, top and bottom, to seal nicely
- Put your braided challah bread on a greased baking sheet or, better yet, a silicone baking mat, and cover with a dishtowel or some plastic wrap
- Let it rise again until it’s doubled in size once more, probably another 30 minutes
- You’ll know your dough is ready when you can make a dent by poking your dough and it doesn’t spring back into place
- Preheat your oven to 350F
- Beat your remaining egg and use a pastry brush to paint the top of your braid
- Bake until the bread is golden brown, checking at 25 minutes but leaving it in a bit longer if it needs some extra time
Challah bread should sound hollow when you tap it. If the top browns too fast, but your bread doesn’t sound hollow yet, create a tent out of aluminum foil to protect it and let it bake a few minutes longer.
Let your bread cool completely before you try to slice it or, better yet, pull it apart with your hands!
Make Your Challah Bread Unique
Just as you can braid hair in many different ways, so you can make challah bread in many different designs. Here are a few more ideas for adding to the wow factor of your finished challah bread:
- Add additional strands or double up your ropes for a more complex look
- Wrap your loaf into a circle or spiral for a round loaf
- Use only 2 strands for a thinner, longer loaf that you can spiral more easily
- Try tying knots, weaving, using loops or pretzel-ing your dough for new effects
- Add poppy seeds, sesame seeds, kosher salt or a combination to the tops of your egg-washed bread
- Work food coloring into one or more of your strands for a beautiful, rainbow effect
- Add sweet or savory flavors, such as dill, cheese or lemon
Above all, never waste any dough! If you have leftovers, make baby challahs. Leave them as tiny loaves and turn them into tiny dinner rolls. Rolls won’t take as long to bake, so keep a close eye on them.
Why is my challah dense?
Probably because you didn’t let it rise a second time. It’s so tempting to get it in the oven as quickly as possible after it’s braided, I know, but leaving it for another 30-45 minutes is a very critical part of the bread baking process. The second rise is where you get all your fluffiness.
Is brioche the same as challah bread?
No! Although they look similar, Challah is a kosher Jewish bread, therefore made without any dairy, whereas brioche is a French bread made with plenty of high-fat milk and butter!
Why is challah braided?
In Jewish tradition, the challah is made to represent the 12 showbreads that were placed on the table of the Holy Temple during Shabbat.
Many bakers use a 6 stranded loaf and, since there are traditionally 2 loaves on the table, this represents the number 12.
Up Next: What is Low-Gluten Flour?