Here is my now-famous traditional challah recipe, scroll down for the full recipe, but first let me answer a few questions I am frequently asked.
What is challah?
Challah is the Jewish egg bread served every week on Shabbat and is usually braided. You don't have to top it, but I love it with everything topping and I have a heavy hand. I make this recipe every week and I get so much satisfaction out of the kneading and braiding it is the one dish I don't mind spending time on. And don't forget to get the kids involved. Not only are they in my prayers, but they each get their own little mound of dough to shape and decorate as they like. I like everything spice, they like sprinkles, we are all happy. Enjoy this challah bread recipe this Shabbat and for many years to come.
What makes challah bread different?
Challah baking is part magic, part science and 100% spiritual. It's not simply an egg bread that is made dairy-free with oil instead of butter. Challah touches the soul. Challah is one of those foods that is a spiritual key, placing it front and center at the start of all our Shabbos and holiday meals. We eat challah every Shabbos as an allusion to the manna that G-d showered on the Israelites in the desert after they left Egypt. The manna would fall every day, but it was just enough for one day. The Israelites had to learn to trust in G-d for their daily sustenance and not worry about tomorrow. That’s a pretty good lesson in itself. But the kicker is that every Friday a double amount would fall, so there would be enough to eat on Shabbos morning. We put two challahs on the Shabbos table, as a reminder of the Friday double portion of manna. Every week, we enjoy our challah. At the same time, we deepen our faith in G-d, who loves us so much that He provides us with everything we need day after day, from paying the mortgage down to my daughters’ Hello Kitty alarm clock. We reaffirm our allegiance to Shabbos, a day so special that we don’t cook or bake; we just eat delicacies we prepared on Friday.
Bread is for the body, but challah, challah touches the soul.
Can you eat challah bread anytime?
While challah is on the table for every Shabbat and holiday meal, it can be eaten any other time as well.
Why is challah bread so special?
There’s a reason challah pays spiritual dividends, but to understand it we have to visit ancient Israel for a minute. (Don’t worry. I’ll bring you back.) Back in the days of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, people called Kohanim (a huge extended family, really) did not own farmland because their sole task was to serve in the Temple and teach the holy Torah to every Jew. The mitzvah (law) of giving them tithes and food gifts was mandated so they could devote themselves exclusively to this calling.
One of those gifts was called “challah,” which meant that whenever someone baked bread, he or she was to give a small portion of it to a friendly local Kohein. And the baker did not just drop a package on the doorstep and run. He would learn some Torah with the Kohein, maybe have a cup of tea and schmooze a while. This exchange not only fed the Kohanim and their families; it fortifed the bond between average Israelites and their spiritual mentors.
It was a great system.
Today there’s no Holy Temple, but we still keep the mitzvah, called hafrashat challah, to elevate that simple act of baking bread to a spiritual activity.
How do you make challah bread?
Watch me make this challah dough in the video above and then learn to shape so many different ways with our Challah Shaping and Braiding Videos.
If you want to try the easiest challah ever, check out my No Knead Challah recipe here.
Looking for a healthier, 100% whole grain challah with all natural sweeteners? Sign up for our Fresh Families healthy meal plan today.
A few more things to consider before we get to the actual recipe.
The Flour: I always use flour that is high in gluten because gluten adds stickiness and sponginess to the dough. High-gluten flour will give you a nice chewy texture. Bread flour or bread machine flour are interchangeable with high-gluten flour. All-purpose flour can be subbed if necessary. This recipe calls for a 6-pound bag of high-gluten (bread) flour. But fear not if you can’t find a 6-pound bag: 3¼ cups of high-gluten flour equals 1 pound, and 3¾cups of all-purpose flour is equivalent to 1 pound.
Download a 1-page printable pdf of Jamie Geller's Challah recipe.
- Cook Time
- Prep Time
- 4 loavesServings
- 2 ounces (¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons) active dry yeast (57 grams) + 3 tablespoons sugar (40 grams)
- 6 cups warm water, divided (1,440 grams)
- 4 tablespoons kosher salt (72 grams)
- 1 (6-pound) bag high-gluten flour (2.7 kg)
- 2 cups sugar (400 grams)
- 4 egg yolks
- 1 ¼ cup canola oil, divided (375 grams)
- 2 whole eggs, lightly beaten
- ½ cup sesame seeds
- ½ cup poppy seeds
1. In a medium bowl, dissolve yeast and 3 tablespoons of sugar in 2 cups of warm water, cover loosely with a towel and set aside.
2. Place salt in a huge plastic bowl.
3. Add flour to bowl.
4. Add sugar and egg yolks.
5. Yeast should now have bubbled/foamed and doubled in size, if yeast has not bubbled or does not seem active repeat the process again.
6. Make a well in the middle of the flour mixture and slowly pour yeast and sugar water mixture into the well. Then add the remaining 4 cups of warm water into the well. Make sure the water is not too hot. It should be no warmer than you would use for a baby’s bath.
7. Start kneading ingredients together and add a ½ cup of oil.
8. For the next 10 minutes, knead, adding another ½ cup of oil slowly during that time as needed to create a workable dough. Dough shouldn’t be too sticky and also should not be dry. It should become one cohesive mass.
9. Loosely cover dough with a large kitchen towel and place in a warm spot in your kitchen for 15 minutes.
10. After 15 minutes, lightly oil your hand and knead again for another 5 minutes adding a touch more oil to the dough if necessary. The dough should now be easier to work with and will become smooth and satiny.
11. Rub a little oil over the top and around the dough. Cover bowl with a kitchen towel. Place covered bowl in a medium plastic garbage bag and place open ends of the bag loosely underneath the bowl, trapping in air.
12. Place in a warm spot and let rise for 1 hour or until doubled in size.
13. Punch dough down and knead (lightly oil your hands if necessary), flipping it and releasing any air bubbles. Cover again, using the towel and the bag, and let rise 1 more hour.
14. Lightly oil your hands, and punch down again. With a sharp knife divide dough into 4 equal parts.
15. Liberally spray 4 (9-inch) round baking pans with non-stick cooking spray and set aside.
16. Preheat oven to 375°F.
For Round Challah:
17. With lightly oiled hands, place 1 piece of dough on a smooth work surface. Play with the dough a bit, squeezing out any air bubbles. Then roll the dough into a long, thick rope, adding oil as needed to keep it from being too sticky. Don’t use too much oil; a little sticky is fine.
18. Place one end of the rope up against the edge of the prepared pan and coil it, ending in the middle. Set aside.
For Pull-Apart Challah:
19. With lightly oiled hands, place 1 piece of dough on a smooth work surface. Play with the dough a bit, squeezing out any air bubbles. Separate into 8 equal parts. Roll each part into a round ball, adding oil as needed to keep it from being too sticky. Don’t use too much oil; a little sticky is fine.
20. Place one ball in the middle of the prepared pan and surround with remaining balls. Don’t worry if they don’t touch. They will rise into each other while baking. Set aside.
21. Repeat either method with remaining dough so that you have 4 challahs.
22. Brush challahs with beaten egg and sprinkle with a combination of poppy and sesame seeds.
23. Bake at 375°F for 10 minutes and then lower your oven temperature to 350 F and bake for an additional 35 to 45 minutes, until challah tops are dark golden brown.
24. Allow to cool slightly before serving. Serve while still warm. Once the challah has been sliced, you can store the slices in sealable plastic bags for about 4 to 5 days.
Recipe Courtesy of JOY of KOSHER Fast, Fresh Family Recipes by Jamie Geller (William Morrow/HarperCollins 2013) - BUY NOW
Make half the recipe as follows:
- ¾ ounce (21 g) active dry yeast
- 8 ounces (227 g) (or up to 10 ounces for sweeter challah) plus ½ ounce granulated sugar, divided
- 3 cups (708 g) warm water (90° to 100°F), divided
- 1-ounce (28 g) kosher salt
- 3 pounds (1,360 g)high-gluten (bread) or all-purpose four
- 2 large eggs, separated
- ½ cup (120 g) olive oil, more as needed for kneading and shaping
- Spelt Flour: Step 2: Add 2 ¼ cups of water.
- 100% Whole Wheat Flour: Step 2: Add 2 ½ cups of water.
- Simply eliminate the egg yolks from the recipe and brush or spray the challah with water in place of egg wash for egg free challah. No other adjustments required.
- Less Sugar: Decrease the sugar to 4 ounces with no other adjustments required.
- Brown Sugar: Substitute brown sugar, for the granulated sugar in equal parts with no other adjustments required.
- Honey/Syrup: Substitute silan/date honey, bee’s honey or maple syrup in part or in place of sugar. Reduce water by the amount of “liquid” (moisture rich) sweetener you are using. For example, if using ½ cup honey decrease water by ½ cup.
- ¾ oz dry yeast = 2 oz fresh yeast