hanukkah

Braid Challah Like a Pro with This Step-by-Step Guide

published Nov 22, 2021
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Credit: Shannon Sarna

When I teach cooking classes, I always tell my students that while making and shaping a beautiful loaf of challah might seem intimidating, it’s actually an extremely forgiving bread to make — in fact, the process is far simpler than sourdough, baguettes, or bagels. One of my other favorite things to remind students is that it doesn’t matter if you’ve mastered a 6-strand challah braid or if you’re still struggling with a 3-strand loaf: Freshly baked challah bread is always delicious, no matter what it looks like.

I’ve been braiding and baking challah nearly every week for the past 20 years, and I am still learning all the time. That said, there are of course some tricks, techniques, and tools that will help you in your challah-braiding journey. And with some practice you can be braiding challah in your sleep.

There are many different ways to braid challah. Here, I’ll describe four different styles: 3-strand, 4-strand, 6-strand, and a round loaf wrapped around a ramekin that you can fill with honey or your favorite dip. Any of the techniques below work with any challah dough, such as my basic challah recipe.

Challah Braiding Tips

Weigh the dough: Grab yourself a digital scale, and weigh each piece of dough so that the size of each strand is as even as possible. This will ensure that the challah bakes evenly, and also has a more uniform appearance.


Use the heel of your hand to press and roll: As you roll out each strand, press down evenly as you roll with the heel of your hand, not your fingertips. You don’t want to press into the dough, but rather press as you roll.

Don’t over-roll the strands: Resist the urge to keep rolling and rolling your dough out into long, thin strands. A thicker loaf makes a better bake, whereas a long, thinner challah will dry out quickly when baking.

Keep your braiding loose: The strands will need room to expand as the loaf bakes. A loose braid will also prevent that pulled look after the challah is baked.

How to Make a 3-Strand Challah Loaf

This braiding technique is the easiest and a true classic. The technique I describe below involves starting from the middle and braiding one side, then turning the loaf around and braiding the other. This helps keep your loaf even, but feel free to just start at one end and go for it like you would braid someone’s hair.

  1. Divide the dough into three even pieces, then roll out each piece of dough into strands that are even in length and width, slightly tapering the ends.
  2. Crisscross two of the strands, creating an X. Lay the third strand right down the middle on top of the other two strands. All three strands should meet in the middle.
  3. Start by taking the strand on the right in your hand, lifting it, and passing it over the center strand. Now take the strand that is all the way on the left and pass it over what is now the center strand.
  4. Repeat until half the loaf is braided.
  5. Rotate the loaf. Take the strand on the right and loop it under the center strand. Take the strand all the way on the left and loop that under the center strand.
  6. Repeat until the second half of the loaf is braided.
  7. Pinch the ends.
  8. Brush with egg wash and sprinkle with desired toppings before baking.

How to Make a 3-Strand Challah Round Loaf with Honey Bowl

This loaf is inspired by the beautiful centerpiece challahs that New York’s Breads Bakery produces every year for the Jewish New Year. The bread is shaped around a ramekin, which you can fill with honey for dipping, symbolizing a sweet new year. But there’s no need to make this style of challah just for Rosh Hashanah — you could use this method all year and fill the ramekin (after baking) with any dip you love, such as hummus or tzatziki. This method starts out just like making a regular three-strand loaf, but I’ll repeat the full instructions here. You will need an oven-safe round ramekin and cooking spray for this shaping method.

  1. Grease the outside of a round ramekin with cooking spray. Set aside.
  2. Divide the dough into three pieces, then roll out each piece of dough into strands that are even in length and width, slightly tapering the ends.
  3. Criss-cross two of the strands creating an X. Lay the third right down the middle on top of the other two strands. All three strands should meet in the middle.
  4. Start by taking the strand on the right in your hand, lifting it, and passing it over the center strand. Now take the strand that is all the way on the left and pass it over what is now the center strand.
  5. Repeat until half the loaf is braided, leaving the ends loose. 
  6. Rotate the loaf. Now take the strand on the right and loop it under the center strand. 
  7. Take the strand all the way on the left and loop that under the center strand. Repeat until the second half of the loaf is braided, leaving the ends loose again. 
  8. Working on top of a baking sheet lined with parchment (so you don’t have to move the challah), shape the challah around the ramekin. 
  9. Braid the loose ends together so they form a closed circle. It doesn’t have to be perfect, but should be closed all around.
  10. Brush with egg wash and sprinkle with desired toppings before baking.
  11. After removing the bread from the oven, fill the ramekin with your favorite honey or dip.
Credit: Shannon Sarna

How to Make a 4-Strand Challah Loaf

This braid is one I learned from a dear friend and fellow baker. I think this is the best braid of them all: It bakes beautifully, it’s not super complicated, and it creates nice lift because you are braiding the strands on top of one another. Week after week, this is my go-to braid.

  1. Divide the dough into four even pieces, then roll out each piece of dough into strands that are even in length and width, slightly tapering the ends.
  2. Pinch all 4 strands at the top and weigh them down — a dough cutter is perfect for this, but you can also use a knife.
  3. Begin with the strand that is all the way on your right, lifting it up and crossing it over all the way to the left. (It should be pushed slightly up, not straight down next to the next strand.)
  4. Next take the strand that had been all the way to the left (and is now second to the left), lift it up, and cross it over and slightly up onto the right side.
  5. Pick up the strand that is now on the left side and lay it gently down the middle. (As you are braiding, make sure that you always keep a path down the middle.)
  6. Lift up the strand second to the right and cross it over and up to the left.
  7. Now the strand on the right gets laid gently down the middle.
  8. Repeat crossing left to right, then down the middle, right to left, then down the middle until the entire loaf is braided.
  9. Pinch the ends.
  10. Brush with egg wash and sprinkle with desired toppings before baking.

How to Make a 6-Strand Challah Loaf

The 6-strand loaf may be the most daunting to look at, but if you can master the 4-strand, the 6 strand is identical in its technique, simply with more strands included. Don’t let those extra strands intimidate you.

  1. Divide the dough into six even pieces, then roll out each piece of dough into strands that are even in length and width, slightly tapering the ends.
  2. Pinch all 6 strands at the top and weigh them down with a dough cutter or a knife.
  3. Begin with the strand that is all the way on your right. Lift it up and cross it over all the way to the left. (It should be pushed slightly up, not straight down next to the next strand).
  4. Next take the strand that had been all the way to the left (and is now second to the left), lift it up, and cross it over and slightly up onto the right side.
  5. Pick up the strand that is now on the left side and lay it gently down the middle. (Make sure as you are braiding that you always keep a path down the middle.)
  6. Lift up the strand second to the right and cross it over and up to the left.
  7. Now the strand on the right gets laid gently down the middle.
  8. Repeat crossing left to right, then down the middle, right to left, then down the middle until the entire loaf is braided.
  9. Pinch the ends.
  10. Brush with egg wash and sprinkle with desired toppings before baking.