Challah is a traditional bread baked for the Jewish Sabbath, but it is more commonly known among everyone else as braided bread. It’s attractive and has a firm, egg-rich texture that works for dinner, sandwiches, or French toast. Each braid symbolic of love, Challah bread is typically braided with three, four, or six strands of dough.
How to Make the Challah Dough
Challah bread is really very easy to make, especially from a mix. There is a sense of satisfaction in working the dough by hand and crafting such an attractive bread and it certainly will impress guests.
For this bread, we used one of our traditional bread mixes though you can braid nearly any bread—including your favorite recipe.
- Heat the water to the correct temperature before adding in the mix and yeast. For the mix we were using, the package directions called for two cups of water. To make the dough egg-rich, we cracked two large eggs into a measuring cup and added enough warm water to total two cups. Whisk the water and eggs together with a fork then heat it in the microwave until warm (110 degrees).
- Mix the bread according to package instructions using the egg and water mixture. Place the bread dough in a greased bowl, cover, and let rise until doubled—about 1 1/2 hours.
- Prepare a large baking sheet by greasing and sprinkling with cornmeal. Use a lighter colored sheet to help keep the bottom from burning.
Forming the Braided Loaf
- Once raised, use a knife to divide the dough into three equal pieces (or four if you choose to make a four-braid bread).
- Roll the pieces under the palms of your hands into three long ropes as shown. You may need to let each rest for five to ten minutes to allow the dough to relax to get the proper shape. Using this mix, you should have three ropes nearly 24-inches long. If you want the loaf to be larger in the center and less rectangular shaped, make the ropes thicker in the middle and tapered toward the ends.
- Braid the three ropes as shown in a common three strand braid just as if you were braiding pigtails. (Some people find it easier to create a symmetrical shape if they start braiding from the center.)
- When you get to the ends, wet them, pinch them together, and tuck them under. You should have a neat, symmetrical loaf when you are through.
- You can shape the loaf somewhat with your hands. If you don’t like how the loaf looks, simply pull the braids apart and start again.
- Place the finished loaf on the prepared sheet. (The formed loaf will be about 12-inches long but after rising and baking, you will have a finished loaf of about 24-inches so be sure to allow room on your sheet for expansion.)
- Cover the loaf and let rise until doubled, about one hour.
Baking Your Challah Bread
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
- Prepare a glaze by whisking one egg with one-half tablespoon of water.
- Just before baking and when the loaf has fully doubled, remove the plastic wrap and gently brush glaze over the entire surface of the loaf.
- Sprinkle the top with poppy seeds or sesame seeds as desired. (Tip the loaf so that you can sprinkle seeds on the sides as well.)
- Bake the bread for 20 minutes then cover the bread with a large sheet of aluminum foil to protect the top.
- Continue baking for another 20 to 30 minutes or until the bread crust is a deep golden brown. The interior of the loaf should register 190 degrees with an insta-read thermometer.
- Use an egg turner to loosen the bread from the pan and transfer the loaf to a wire rack to cool.
Note: If you choose to bake two loaves, reduce the baking time by five to ten minutes.
Sweet and Savory Variations
Challah bread has so much room for creativity, whether you’re changing up the bread base, stuffing it with some goodies, or choosing a different topping. Some of our favorite variations can be found below.