Lightly sweet and dairy-free, this beautiful braided challah has a pillowy texture that no one can resist!
I always say that one of the best parts of being Jewish is that you get to eat A LOT of really good food. Or maybe it’s just in my big Jewish family? Either way, this is especially true at Shabbat dinner—an intimate family feast that always starts with a huge homemade challah, and ends with unbuttoning your pants so you have just a little more room for dessert.
What is Challah?
Challah is a soft braided bread that’s slightly sweet and tastes similar to dinner rolls. It’s enriched with eggs and is traditionally dairy-free, which means you use oil instead of butter and water instead of milk, although newer recipes may call for different substitutions.
How To Make Challah
Making challah is pretty straight forward. You need to mix the ingredients for 10 minutes until you get a soft dough that doesn’t stick to the sides of the bowl but still sticks to the bottom. Start by combining the dry ingredients in your mixer bowl, then adding the wet ones. Once ready, the dough should feel soft, flexible, and just slightly sticky.
Let It Rise Twice
The first rise will take about 1-2 hours, depending on the weather. A great trick for letting dough rise in a warm environment is to preheat the oven to 200F/90C, then turn it off and let the dough rise inside. The second rise should be after shaping the Challah, and takes about 45-60 minutes. Let the bread sit on the counter to rise at room temperature as you preheat your oven to 350F/180C. Once done, it’s time to bake it.
There are many ways to braid challah. You’ll need to start by dividing the dough into balls, then rolling or shaping them into strands. You can watch this helpful video or look for other videos depending on the shape you want. The easiest way would be braiding with 3 strands, but I recommend using 4 (like mine) since it makes for a taller, less flat bread. Also, avoid braiding too tightly as doing so may prevent the bread from rising well and may cause it to tear apart during baking.
If you love yeast bread, then you’ll LOVE these:
- Best cinnamon rolls ever—and I mean ever
- Monkey bread, which is probably even better than cinnamon rolls if made for sharing
- My favorite soft and fluffy dinner rolls
- 6½ cups (900 g) all-purpose flour, plus more as needed
- ½ cup (100 g/ 3.5 oz) granulated sugar (or use ¼ cup sugar plus ¼ cup honey)
- 1½ tablespoons (14 g/ 0.5 oz) instant dry yeast
- 2½ teaspoons salt
- 4 large eggs
- ⅔ cup (160 ml) vegetable or canola oil
- 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons (270 ml) lukewarm water
- 1 egg plus 1 tablespoon water, for brushing the tops
- Sesame or poppy seeds, for sprinkling
- In a mixer bowl, combine flour, sugar, and yeast and mix well, then add salt and mix until combined. Add egg, oil, and water. Fit the mixer with a dough hook and mix on low speed until the dough starts to come together, about 1-2 minutes. If the dough feels too dry, add a bit of water, and if too wet, add a bit of flour.
- Keep kneading for about 8 minutes on medium-low speed, until the dough is soft and elastic and pulls away from the sides of the bowl. It's ok if it sticks to the bottom.
- Place dough in a lightly greased bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Let rest in a warm place for 1-2 hours or until doubled in size.
- Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. When the dough has risen, divide it into two or three even pieces, and shape each into braided challah (read the post above for more information on how it's done). Place challahs on prepared baking sheet, leaving as much space as possible between them, and cover loosely with plastic wrap. Let rise for about 60 minutes or until it has nearly doubled in size.
- Preheat oven to 350°F/180°C.
- Brush challah with an egg wash (1 egg mixed with 1 tablespoon water) for a shiny top, and sprinkle with seeds. Bake in the oven for 30 minutes or until golden brown. A skewer inserted into the center should come out clean. If you have an instant thermometer, the center of the loaf should register 200F/90C. Allow to cool completely on a wire rack before slicing.
- Challa is best the same day it’s made, but can be frozen for up to 2 months.