Shannon Sarna’s Basic Challah Recipe

published Nov 22, 2021
hanukkah
Shannon Sarna's Basic Challah Recipe

Use this easy-to-follow recipe to create a 3-strand, 4-strand, or 6-strand challah.

Makes2 (11-inch) loaves

Prep30 minutes

Cook24 minutes to 28 minutes

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Credit: Shannon Sarna

There are few greater joys than ripping into a freshly baked loaf of challah bread. Challah is one of the most recognizable and beloved Jewish foods. Unlike special dishes like holiday brisket, Moroccan mufleta or hamantaschen cookies, which are made for specific holidays or festivals, challah is enjoyed each week for the Jewish sabbath, called Shabbat, which begins at sundown on Friday night. 

Whereas a fermented bread such as sourdough may take several days of prep work, you can wake up in the morning, prepare your dough, and make a challah all within a few hours. This recipe makes two medium-sized loaves, which means you can enjoy one right away, and turn the other into the best-ever French toast

For braiding instructions, check out my full tutorial here.

Shannon Sarna's Basic Challah Recipe

Use this easy-to-follow recipe to create a 3-strand, 4-strand, or 6-strand challah.

Prep time 30 minutes

Cook time 24 minutes to 28 minutes

Makes 2 (11-inch) loaves

Nutritional Info

Ingredients

  • 1 1/4 cups

    lukewarm water (100ºF to 110ºF)

  • 2 (1/4-ounce) packets

    active dry or instant yeast (4 1/2 teaspoons)

  • 3/4 cup

    plus 1/2 teaspoon granulated sugar, divided

  • 5 cups

    bread flour, preferably King Arthur, divided, plus more for dusting

  • 2 1/2 teaspoons

    kosher salt

  • 1/4 cup

    vegetable oil, plus more for the bowl

  • 3

    large eggs, divided

  • 2 to 4 tablespoons

    sesame seeds, poppy seeds, nigella seeds, flaky or coarse salt, or everything bagel seasoning (optional)

Instructions

Make the dough:

  1. Place 1 1/4 cups lukewarm water in a small bowl. Sprinkle with 2 packets active dry or instant yeast and 1/2 teaspoon of the granulated sugar, and stir to combine. Let sit until foamy on top, about 5 minutes. If it doesn’t smelly “yeasty” or bubble up, throw it out and start again with new yeast. Meanwhile, place 1 1/2 cups of the bread flour, the remaining 3/4 cup granulated sugar, and 2 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt in the bowl of a stand mixer.

  2. When the yeast is ready, mix the flour mixture with the whisk attachment on medium speed until combined, 1 to 2 minutes. Add the water-yeast mixture and 1/4 cup vegetable oil and mix on high speed until smooth, about 3 minutes.

  3. Stop the mixer and switch to the dough hook attachment. Add the remaining 3 1/2 cups bread flour and 2 of the large eggs. Mix on high speed until the dough is smooth and pulling away from the sides of the bowl, about 5 minutes.

  4. Lightly coat a large bowl with vegetable oil and transfer the dough into the bowl. Cover the bowl with a damp kitchen towel or plastic wrap. Let rise in a warm place until doubled in bulk and puffy, about 3 hours at room temperature, or overnight in the refrigerator.

Assemble and bake:

  1. If the dough has been refrigerated, let it sit at room temperature for 1 hour. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat.

  2. Transfer the dough onto a very lightly floured work surface. Divide into two portions (about 22 ounces each). Braid each portion into the desired shape. Transfer to the baking sheet, spacing them evenly apart. Let the challah rise uncovered until risen by about 1/2 inch and puffed, 25 to 35 minutes. This step is very important to ensure a light and fluffy challah.

  3. Meanwhile, arrange a rack in the middle of the oven and heat the oven to 375ºF. Place the remaining 1 large egg in a small bowl and beat with a fork to break up.

  4. Brush the egg wash liberally over the challah. Sprinkle each loaf with 1 to 2 tablespoons of topping if desired.

  5. Bake until the challah is golden on the outside and sounds hollow when you “knock” on the bottom, 24 to 28 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack and let cool completely before serving or freezing.

Recipe Notes

The challah can be flavored if desired; add any of the following after the eggs have been mixed into the dough:

  • 1 tablespoon chopped garlic + 2 tablespoons dried rosemary
  • 1/3 cup dark chocolate chips + 1/3 cup chopped, dried tart cherries + 2 teaspoons vanilla extract + 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1 tablespoon dried basil + 1/3 cup chopped pitted kalamata olives
  • 2 tablespoons za’atar spice + 1 teaspoon chopped garlic
  • 2 tablespoons chopped pickled jalapeños + 1/3 cup shredded cheddar cheese

Storage: The cooled challah can be tightly wrapped in plastic wrap and stored at room temperature for up to 4 days or frozen for up to 2 months. Thaw at room temperature, then reheat in a 300ºF oven for 5 minutes.