Joan Nathan Has a Clever Tip for Gorgeous, Glossy Loaves of Challah

published Dec 11, 2019
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Credit: Image: Joe Lingeman; Design: The Kitchn

Joan Nathan is the doyenne of all things Jewish cooking. She has authored too many books to list here (many of them award-winning), but my personal favorites are The Jewish Holiday Baker, King Solomon’s Table, and Quiches, Kugels and Couscous. Joan has also been instrumental in putting Jewish food on the general food map with her work for The New York Times.

I’ve made Joan’s recipes for years, so naturally I was excited to try her challah as part of Kitchn’s challah recipe showdown. I mean, even the homepage of her website boasts a gorgeous challah! Here’s what happened when I took to the kitchen.

Get the recipe: Joan Nathan’s Challah

Credit: Images: Joe Lingeman; Design: The Kitchn

Making Joan Nathan’s Challah

Like most challah recipes, Joan has you begin by mixing the yeast with water and sugar. Her recipe calls for 1 1/2 tablespoons of yeast from 1 1/2 packages, but it took 2 1/2 (1/4-ounce) packets to measure the correct amount. Rather than allowing the yeast mixture to bubble first, Joan’s recipe has you move right into adding the oil, eggs, sugar, and salt to the yeast mixture. 

The recipe then asks you to gradually add 8 to 8 1/2 cups of all-purpose flour, but I used 7 — I just couldn’t add any more to the dough without risking a very dry loaf. I was initially planning on mixing the dough by hand, but that proved difficult, so I transferred it to my stand mixer and let the dough hook do the work, then finished kneading it on the counter for 2 to 3 minutes. I let the dough rise in the bowl on the counter for one hour, then punched it down and let it rise for another 30 minutes. 

Joan provides instructions for six-braid loaves, but I made two three-braided loaves to be comparable to the other contenders. After braiding, I brushed the remaining beaten egg on top and let it rise for another hour, then glazed the loaves a second time. I baked the loaves for 37 minutes (the recipe recommends 35 to 40).

Credit: Joe Lingeman

An Honest Review of Joan Nathan’s Challah

I was suspicious about whether Joan’s dough would rise properly, since the recipe doesn’t instruct you to give the yeast mixture time to bubble before adding additional ingredients. But the dough did rise, albeit not as much as I would have liked, as it was a bit challenging to braid. In fact, it was quite a workout. Spongier doughs are much easier to work with.

The baked challahs looked very pretty, and you would be happy to have them on your Shabbat or holiday table. I loved Joan’s tip for brushing the loaves with egg wash twice — once just after braiding, and then again before they bake. This gave them their glossy sheen and gorgeous deep golden color.

The loaves had a soft texture, plus some stringiness, but I would have liked more stringiness when I pulled the pieces apart. The flavor, however, was not remarkable and rather plain. It did taste like challah, although a very basic one.

Credit: Paula Shoyer
Joan Nathan Challah

A Few Tips If You’re Making Joan Nathan’s Challah

1. Use less flour. The recipe calls for 8 to 8 1/2 cups of flour, but the dough was perfectly smooth after the 7th cup.

2. Use a stand mixer to mix the dough. The dough was dense to mix, so I would recommend using a mixer with the dough hook to make it easier. The recipe states that the dough is ready for kneading “when the dough holds together,” which I found to be unclear. I would recommend kneading when you stop adding the flour.

3. Give the dough extra time to rise. The risen dough was also dense and not at all spongy, which made it hard to braid. I would recommend adding more time to the first rising.


  • Difficulty: 9/10
  • Taste and texture: 6/10
  • Appearance: 9/10 
  • Overall: 7.5/10
Credit: Image: Joe Lingeman; Design: The Kitchn