In Jewish culture, braided challah bread is ensconced in tradition. On special occasions, a blessing is said over the loaves before they are served, and they’re often topped with white napkins or intricately decorated challah covers. The challah represents the manna that was served to the children of Israel during their exodus from Egypt. Poppy and sesame seeds sprinkled on the bread symbolize the manna that fell on them from heaven.

Today, challah is popular with people of all faiths. Its soft texture, delicate chew, and rustic flavor make it a bakery staple as well as a home baker’s go-to. Modern challah recipes use fewer eggs than earlier versions, and many replace white flour with whole wheat or oat flour, which helps keep the dough from being tough and chewy. The tricky part comes when the dough is rolled out for braiding. Many people opt for a simple three-strand braid, but for this recipe, we get a little fancier with four strands. Some recipes call for an intricate six-strand braid. To make the braided bread glow with golden color, we recommend brushing it twice with an egg wash in this challah recipe. If you want a richer flavor, you can substitute butter for the oil in the dough. And make sure to bake up extra; leftover challah makes an unbeatable base for bread pudding or French toast.

Challah heading-plus-icon

  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1¾ cups warm water
  • 1 tablespoon active dry yeast
  • ½ cup neutral oil
  • 6 tablespoons honey
  • 5–6 cups flour
  • 1½ tablespoons salt
  • 3 whole eggs
  • 3 egg yolks
  • 1 tablespoon milk
  • Poppy or sesame seeds
Challah Step 1: Blooming the yeast

Step 1

Add the sugar to the warm water and then stir in the yeast. Allow to sit for 5–10 minutes or until it foams. Combine oil and honey. Mix with yeast and then pour into mixer bowl with flour and salt. Combine in mixer on low speed with the dough hook for 2 minutes.

Challah Step 2: Kneading the dough

Step 2

Stir together 2 whole eggs plus 3 egg yolks. Add half of the egg mixture to mixer and continue to mix. After eggs are fully incorporated, add remaining eggs and mix for 6 minutes. Remove dough from bowl and knead for a few minutes on a floured surface. Place dough in a greased bowl and cover with plastic wrap.

Challah Step 3: Dividing dough

Step 3

Let dough rise in a warm place until doubled in size. Divide the dough into 2 pieces for the 2 loaves, and then divide the dough into sections depending upon desired shape. For a four-piece braid (pictured here), divide each dough loaf into 4 pieces.

Challah Step 4: Roll out dough

Step 4

Roll the pieces into approximately 12-inch rolls tapered at the ends and thickest in the center. Lightly dust each piece with flour to keep from sticking. Line the four pieces next to each other and, beginning in the middle, number the strands 1–4 from left to right. The number that each strand is will change as the strand moves in the next step.

Challah Recipe Step 5: braiding the dough

Step 5

To braid, follow this pattern: strand 4 over strand 3, strand 2 over strand 3, strand 1 under strand 2. Repeat to the end then tuck the ends under. Rotate the loaf and repeat on the other side. Lightly dust tops of loaves with flour and cover loosely with plastic wrap. Place in the refrigerator overnight or let rise in a warm place.

Challah Step 6: Brushing dough with eggwash

Step 6

Combine the remaining egg with 1 tablespoon milk and gently brush on the loaves. Top with poppy or sesame seeds and bake at 350 degrees for 30–40 minutes or until golden brown.

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