Just about every Friday, on the eve of Shabbat, I make challah, the enriched, braided Jewish bread. I make it so often, the process has become a kitchen dance where I’m guided by muscle memory. I know the feel of the dough so well, I adjust it ever so slightly, depending on the weather and temperature of my kitchen.
I didn’t grow up eating challah, and so when I began baking it, I struggled. Every recipe I came across resulted in a dry, crumbly challah that was just a smidgen more flavorful than cardboard, but I had a feeling challah should taste ethereal, like a sunshiny eggy cloud. It wasn’t until I landed in cookbook author Melissa Clark’s home as her kitchen assistant, and she shared her recipe, that I found the challah I wanted to make again and again.
The secret, Clark explained to me one day, was choosing more egg yolks vs. whole eggs for a tender crumb, juice in place of water, and olive oil instead of vegetable. Her message: Use what you can to infuse your challah with flavor.
Over the years, I continued to tinker with the recipe. After baking challah for years with just all-purpose flour, I now prefer a 50/50 mixture of bread and all-purpose flours. When baking any kind of bread, I rely on King Arthur Baking flours. Its high protein content delivers the best texture — soft, but with enough structure to maintain its integrity.
When you pluck off a section of challah — we never slice ours — you should see the interior of the bread pulling apart like cotton candy.
When it comes to extra-virgin olive oil I prefer one that’s fruity — usually from Spain — to something that’s peppery or grassy, though you may discover you like something else as you chart your challah journey. After trying many egg-to-egg-yolk variations, I’ve settled on my golden-hued formula: two egg yolks plus one egg, which results in a moist, luxurious interior.
For juice, unfiltered apple juice or cider, or fresh orange juice — tangerine, clementine and such all work well, too. (Store-bought orange juice doesn’t have the same bright sunshiny flavor.) And, in place of the sugar, I use mild honey, which adds both moisture and flavor to the dough.
This dough will be stickier than some. I’ve discovered over years of weekly baking that I prefer to work with a wetter dough that’s a little harder to manipulate and may not look picture-perfect in the end, because it produces a more flavorful and tender bread.
Three rises are essential with enriched dough, if you want an airy interior. My colleague Becky Krystal tested the recipe and reached out to Martin Philip at King Arthur Baking to ask about all the rises, and he explained that with enriched doughs fat impedes strength and sugar impedes activity. “You want a smooth dough which, once risen, rises with an almost muscled fullness,” Philip wrote in an Instagram message, “If it’s not strengthened in that way, the plaits won’t look as healthy.”
To counter the slight wonkiness of my dough, I divide and weigh the sections that are then rolled out into ropes to be braided. Occasionally, the ropes can get a little sticky, in which case I lightly dust them with flour and proceed as usual. When I’m rushed, I do a quick, three-braid loaf, but sometimes I’m feeling fancy and do six braids. There are loads of online tutorials for braiding, but this is the one by Hadassa Sabo Milner that I found easiest to follow.
For High Holidays, the loaf is traditionally braided into a round loaf. Similarly, there are loads of excellent videos online for this process, but if you find it overwhelming, just do a three-braid loaf and wrap it around itself in a spiral, tucking the ends underneath; it’ll still look beautiful.
My last signature move is three coats of the egg wash, for that burnished, lacquered challah-of-your-dreams look. Don’t skip that third coat — it makes a difference!
By far, the hardest part of making challah is waiting for it to cool and not tucking into it before Shabbat starts. There’s nothing quite like a fresh-from-the-oven warm loaf seducing you with its heady aroma, so if you happen to sneak a segment for “quality control,” surely you can’t be blamed.
Challah With Olive Oil and Honey
Make Ahead: The dough can be prepared up to the second rise and allowed to complete its second rise in the refrigerator overnight.
Storage Notes: Challah is best the day it’s made, but will keep, well wrapped, for up to 3 days. Leftover challah makes excellent French toast.
- 3/4 cup (180 milliliters/188 grams) fresh orange juice or unfiltered apple cider, room temperature or lukewarm
- 1 packet (1/4 ounce/7 1/2 grams) active dry yeast (about 2 1/4 teaspoons)
- 1/3 cup (80 milliliters/70 grams) extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for greasing the bowl and dough
- 2 large eggs, divided
- 2 large egg yolks
- 1/3 cup (80 milliliters/106 grams) mild honey, such as clover or orange blossom
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more for egg wash
- 2 cups (250 grams) all-purpose flour
- 2 cups (250 grams) bread flour (may substitute all-purpose flour), plus more as needed
- 1/3 cup (50 grams) golden raisins (optional)
- 1 tablespoon water
- White sesame seeds, for decorating (optional)
In a large bowl or in the bowl of a stand mixer, add the orange juice or apple cider. Sprinkle the yeast over it and let stand for about 5 minutes. The yeast should get frothy and develop ripples as it absorbs the water. If any of the yeast is not dissolved by then, gently whisk the mixture to combine.
Whisk the oil into the yeast mixture. Then, whisk in 1 egg and the egg yolks, one at a time, followed by the honey and salt until the liquid is fairly uniform.
If using a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook, lock the mixer bowl in position, add the flours and knead on medium-low until a soft, pliable and tacky (not sticky) dough comes together, about 5 minutes. The dough should be smooth, elastic and soft. Depending on how humid or hot it is, as well as other variables, the amount of flour needed may vary; if it's still overly sticky, add more flour, 1 tablespoon at a time, until the desired texture is reached. If your dough is somewhat firm, you’ve added too much flour. It's not the end of the world, but make a note to tread more carefully next time.
If kneading by hand, add the flours and mix, using a large wooden spoon or stiff bowl scraper, until the dough starts to come together in a shaggy, sticky mass. Knead the dough until it becomes a sticky, singular lump. Continue to knead until the dough is smooth and slightly tacky (but not sticky), 8 to 10 minutes.
Using a bowl scraper, transfer the dough to a clean counter or a cutting board, wash the bowl and dry it thoroughly. Lightly oil the bowl. Give the dough a few kneads to shape it into a ball and return it to the bowl, lightly oiling the top and sides of the dough, as well. Cover the bowl with a clean kitchen towel and let rise in a warm place until the dough has doubled in size, about 1 hour.
Using your knuckles, press down (don’t punch) the dough, cover, and let it rise again for about 1 hour. The dough should double again and have an even more plush, malleable feel.
Line a large, rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper. Knead the raisins, if using, into the dough still in the bowl. Transfer the dough to the counter and divide it into 3 equal parts (about 320 grams each without raisins). Roll out each part into 12- to 18-inch ropes; then pinch the top of the ropes together and tightly braid them until you reach the end. Tuck both ends of the challah under for a neater look. (For a round challah, traditional on Rosh Hashanah, bring the ends together to form a round, braided loaf; see Notes.) Transfer the braided challah to the baking sheet.
In a small bowl, combine the remaining egg with 1 tablespoon of water and a tiny pinch of salt. Brush the loaf all over with the egg wash and let the loaf rise, uncovered, for about 45 minutes, brushing the loaf midway through the rise with the egg wash.
While the challah is rising, position a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 375 degrees. Gently brush a third coat of the egg wash over the loaf and sprinkle the sesame seeds on top, if using.
Bake the challah, 27 to 35 minutes, until rich golden brown and burnished. Transfer the challah to a wire rack and let it cool until warm or room temperature.
NOTES: If you use a kitchen scale, place the mixing bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer on the scale and reset the scale to zero (“tare”). Then, add each ingredient, as directed, resetting the scale between each addition.
To do a 4- or 6-braid or a round challah, numerous videos online can teach you approaches/methods. For those new to challah-baking, you can make a round challah from a three-braid loaf wrapped around itself with the ends tucked under.
(based on 10 servings)
Calories: 318; Total Fat: 10 g; Saturated Fat: 2 g; Cholesterol: 74 mg; Sodium: 130 mg; Carbohydrates: 48 g; Dietary Fiber: 2 g; Sugar: 11 g; Protein: 8 g.
Recipe adapted from cookbook author Melissa Clark.
Tested by Olga Massov and Becky Krystal.
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