Fresh from the archives, first published October 27, 2007: it’s my Ima’s challah, with new pictures and better instructions. Enjoy!
Growing up, there was one option for challah in town. Every Friday, my mom would swing by the local market and pick up two loaves from a nearby kosher bakery. The challah was truly uneventful: it was never dense enough, far too airy, not sweet or eggy, and usually even a bit crumbly. A lame excuse for challah, if you ask me.
My mother started making her own around the time I left the house, and she’s never gone back. Before she had the kitchenaid, she did it all by hand, which is actually less time-consuming and labor intensive than one might think. Now that she has the stand mixer, though, challah is a snap.
Over the years, I’ve collected three fantastic recipes for challah. I used to make each with some regularity, but for several years now, I’ve only been making my mother’s. Her basic recipe makes 2 small challot or 1 very large one, which is perfect for me, since I really don’t need all that extra bread lying around (not that I would struggle to find things to do with it…. cough cough french toast cough cough). Second, it’s just sweet enough without being cloying. Third, it’s very easy to substitute some whole wheat flour and wheat gluten for white flour, which makes for a healthier, more rustic loaf of bread. And finally, she’s my mom. Moms’ recipes are best.
A warning about this challah. Back in college, I once brought challah to a meal for 17 people. I made three loaves, in case the first two went quickly. Sure enough, we sat down to dinner and within an instant, both loaves were gone. I offered to bring out the third: “no, no, don’t. I couldn’t possibly. I have to save room for dinner.” Etc. After some more urging, I left well enough alone. After dinner, bellies stuffed, we all migrated over to the couch. I popped into the kitchen to help clean up….and found three girls holding the third challah between them, ripping off big pieces and devouring the loaf as though dinner had never happened. This stuff is addictive.
Of course, I’ve made my tweaks to the recipe. I’ve settled on substituting whole wheat flour for 1/3 of the flour in the recipe, which gives the challah that rustic quality without sacrificing texture. Because I use a modest amount of whole wheat, I don’t add any wheat gluten.
I’ve also taken to making this recipe with melted butter. If you love butter’s flavor in pastries and brioche, you’ll love it here. And while I’m at it, I’ve started to use melted butter mixed with cinnamon and sugar to brush the loaves before baking. That makes the challah feel like a truly special treat.
Play around; see what you love. This has been my challah recipe for about 7 years, and I hope it can be yours, too.
Makes 2 smallish challot or 1 large
As I said, lots of options here. Whole wheat, or white (I’ve offered substitutions for those who want to use whole wheat flour at the end of the recipe); eggwash, or cinnamon-butter; 1 rise, or 2. Do what works for you.
1/2 cup warm water
1 teaspoon sugar
1 packet (2-1/2 teaspoons) yeast
3 cups flour
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup 2 tablespoons sugar
1/3 cup vegetable oil, olive oil, or melted butter
1/4 cup water
pinch cardamom, optional
1 tablespoon honey
3 tablespoons melted butter
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 tablespoon sugar
Put 1/2 cup warm water in a small bowl. Add the teaspoon of sugar, sprinkle the yeast overtop, and leave it to proof for five minutes.
Mix flour, salt, and 1/4 cup 2 tablespoons sugar, and cardamom in a large bowl or in a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Stir to incorporate or blend on low speed.
While yeast is proofing, mix wet ingredients together.
Add yeast mixture to the flour, then add wet ingredients to the bowl, and mix using a wooden spoon or fork, or blend on low-medium speed, until the mixture looks uniform.
If using a stand mixer, switch to the dough hook and knead the dough for about ten minutes, until everything is well incorporated. Make sure flour at the very bottom of the bowl gets incorporated as well – this may require a bit of mixing and coaxing with your hands. If kneading the dough entirely by hand, turn the dough out onto a floured work surface and begin kneading, adding flour by the tablespoon as necessary, until dough is stretchy but not sticky, about 8-10 minutes.
When dough is fully kneaded, transfer it to a large bowl (if using the bowl in which you mixed the bread, you should rinse and dry it first). Cover the dough with a slightly moist towel or a loosely-fitted piece of plastic wrap. Set dough in a warm spot to rise for 45 minutes, until doubled in size. Gently deflate dough, and set aside for another 45-minute rise. Alternatively, let dough rise for 1 hour, until doubled, and then proof the dough for about 25 minutes after it’s braided, before baking. I tend to do the latter, since I like to proof it.
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
After the rise(s), the dough should be soft and more flexible than before. Halve dough, then use a dough hook to cut each half into 3 pieces. Roll each piece into a log almost 1-foot long. Braid the logs together to create your loaf. Trick: I start in the middle and do not pinch the top ends together before starting. After I’ve braided from halfway down to the bottom of the loaf, I turn the loaf over and upside down, and braid the other half. This way, both ends look identical. Tuck the ends beneath the loaf when braiding is finished.
Put each loaf on its own lined baking sheet, or side by side on a large baking sheet, leaving at least 2 inches between them. If using the egg for brushing, mix egg and honey to make an egg wash and lightly brush over each of the challot. Alternatively, mix the melted butter, sugar, and cinnamon together and brush that over the challot.
Bake at 375 degrees for 20-22 minutes, until challot are golden and baked through.
Serve warm or at room temperature.
**You can easily substitute up to 50% whole wheat flour, use the same amount as white, but add one tablespoon wheat gluten for every cup of flour. This ensures that the bread will have that same chewy but soft texture as with white flour. You can find wheat gluten at Whole Foods or Trader Joes — and perhaps at your local supermarket as well. As for which whole wheat flour, my mom recommends King Arthur organic white whole wheat flour: in her words, “it gives the white bread consistency with whole wheat nutrition.”
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I love it! Especially the title of the recipe!
Yum! I’ve made Challa once and it was devine. Your loaves look gorgeous. I’ve definitely gotta try your mom’s recipe.
oh thank you thank you! I’m going to try out your challah recipe–I have been meaning to make some at home for Shabbat one day.
Look out, Ima — here’s a variation, just in time for an abundance of fall squash. This makes a sweet, extremely golden loaf with a mere hint of pumpkin flavor.
MANDY’S PUMPKIN CHALLAH
*makes 2 med-large loaves*
1 c warm water
2 t sugar
2 packets yeast
Combine the above in small bowl.
6 c flour
2 t salt
3/4 c sugar
Whisk the above together in large bowl or mixer.
1/2 c canned pumpkin puree
2/3 c veg oil
1/4 c water
After setting aside 2 T of the veg oil, mix these ingredients thoroughly in a smaller bowl.
Add yeast mix to flour and mix and then add wet ingredients and mix according to Rivka’s/Ima’s recipe.
Once the dough is forming a spongey ball, separate into two balls to rise in two bowls — each greased with the reserved oil. (To minimize dishwashing, one of these should be the messy bowl you mixed in.) Turn the balls once in the oil before you cover them for rising.
Follow Rivka’s rising and braiding routine but BAKE LONGER: 30 minutes or more as needed, until the loaves thump when tapped. Better to bake on separate trays on separate racks, if possible.
NB: If challahs have browned enough after first 20 mins of baking, loosely tent them with foil. Remove foil as soon as you take them from the oven.
Thank you! I was looking for a good Challa recipe for sometime. I read that Dark (red) Whole Wheat is healthier than White whole wheat. Any suggestions how to use the dark whole wheat? Should I mix the white and dark whole wheat together (with more wheat gluten)?
Wow!! absolutely amazing! this recipe takes home made whole wheat challah to a whole new level. It adds a sense of divinity to the Friday night meal. Top it off with Trader Joe’s creamy honey.
I know it’s been almost a year since you posted this, but I’m finally getting around to trying it, and I have a question: Do you let the challah rise again after shaping it, or put it right in the oven? The recipe says to bake it right away, but that seems odd, so I wanted to check before I tried it.
Thanks! I love your blog!
it’s funny that you ask whether to rest or bake the the loaves immediately; I’ve always baked them right after shaping (well, maybe 10 minutes later when it’s all said and done) but my Mom lets them sit for 20 minutes before the oven, so I’ve recently started to do it that way as well.
Thank you, for both the info and the stunningly quick response!
I just tried the whole wheat version and it didn’t rise at all. Never had that before, especially because the yeast bubbled.
This looks and sounds delicious! My boyfriend recently had his first taste of challah and is now a total fan. I’ve been looking for a rock solid recipe to try and this is it!
i’ve been trying to find a reputable reccomendation for challah for a while now!
and my local challah is still how you describe your childhood challah….boo
This will be nothing like the gross-ery store challah you eat now. Make it!!
I tend to like my homemade challah with a bit of sweetness. Can I add a bit more sugar without sacrificing texture? Have you ever made this with more sugar?
You definitely can add sugar. If you add honey, the challah will become more dense – dunno if that’s your thing, but if it is, extra honey is delicious in this dough. I’ve tried it.
Thanks for the reply! I actually like a somewhat dense challah, but never realized honey contributed to the dough’s density. I’m going to have to give it a try. Any suggestions re tested measurements? If not, I’ll wing it. Love your blog posts, by the way. And the food. Always spot on.
Thanks! As for honey measurements, I’d go for 3/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon. Let us know how it turns out.
I have been using a food processor recipe for a long time that is good. I’m game to try yours Ima’s, but I have to adjust a bit since I DON’T WANT TO DEAL WITH (more than a minute of) KNEADING! My kids love it when I add some cinnamon sugar, too. This year I kneaded orange zest (from 2 oranges) and dried cranberries into one of the loaves. It was definitely everyone’s favorite! That pumpkin version in the comments looks good for Thanksgiving.
I’ve also been contemplating a pumpkin challah for Tday. For now, I’m just playing with squash rolls…stay tuned. And as for the kneading, do you have a stand mixer? That’s the trick to perfect challah without the effort. May be worth the investment if you loathe kneading so…
Wow, 10 minutes with the dough hook? I never have kneaded that long with the machine. I’m afraid overworking it. I just knead it until it looks the way I like and feels the way I like. I wonder…
I find that the dough hook does its best work slow and steady. I also find that the hook really needs 10 minutes to get all that flour incorporated and develop the gluten structures in the dough. When I mix it for less than that, the dough ends up looking sort of lumpy: that’s a telltale sign that you’ve underkneaded. That said, if you’re getting good results with less time, by all means – keep doing what you’re doing!
I use honey instead of sugar in my challah and run the dough hook 10 minutes … always came out fluffy, not dense. Never added a pinch of cardamon, tho. Might try that.
Rivka, I made your Ima’s challah for this past Shabbat and it was hands down the best challah I’ve ever made. 2 adults and 2 young kids devoured an entire loaf and would have started on the second if I hadn’t saved it. I’ve made many challah recipes but this was the perfect amount of sweetness and fluffiness, and the 1 cup of whole wheat was delicious. I let the dough rise completely twice and proofed it for another 20 or 30 minutes after shaping it, and the texture was amazing. Seriously, the best challah EVER. Thank your Ima for me!
Hooray! So glad you (and your whole family) loved it. I’ve also made a dozen or so other recipes, and none tops Ima’s.