I Tried 10 Store-Bought Challahs — These Are the 2 I’ll Buy Again
There are few smells as comforting and homey as bread baking in the oven. For me, the warm, yeasty smell of challah on a Friday night tells me that the long week has ended and it’s time, finally, to unwind. But sometimes (okay, often), I don’t have the time to bake a fresh loaf of challah for Shabbat — and when that happens, I head to the store. Fortunately, many grocery stores, including Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods, and Publix, now carry challah year-round. For special occasions, you can also find a wide variety on Goldbelly.
Challah traces its origins back to the Ashkenazi Jews of the Middle Ages. According to My Jewish Learning, the word comes from the Hebrew word for “portion,” as referenced in the biblical commandment that states, “The first of your dough you shall give unto the Lord a portion for a gift throughout your generations.” This ceremonial bread is typically braided in a three-, four-, or even six-strand braid, and in recent years, increasingly elaborate challahs have been all over Instagram and TikTok. Traditionally a braided challah is enjoyed at Shabbat, and other shapes are reserved for specific observances, such as a round, spiral challah for Rosh Hashanah.
Jimmy Woodward of Grateful Bread in Sacramento explains more about what makes challah unique: “Challah is an enriched dough because it’s made with eggs. This makes it yellow on the inside, and it has a velvety feel. It’s soft and has a tight crumb, which means it’s great for sandwiches because it absorbs sauces.” Challah is often compared to brioche, but instead of butter, challah is typically made with oil so that it can be considered pareve, and consumed with either meat or dairy foods.
How I Tested the Challah
For this test, I created two categories: grocery-store challah and online-delivery challah. To keep things consistent across the board, I focused exclusively on egg challah, rather than including vegan versions. For the grocery-store group, I included loaves from Publix, Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods, and Wegmans. I also tried Green’s, which is available in select grocery stores and online.
For the online-delivery challah, I relied on Goldbelly, whose challah selection is impressively vast — braids, circles, even a gold flake-gilded challah (because YOLO). For this group, I sampled Russ & Daughters, Oneg Bakery, Grateful Bread, Liv Breads, and Butterflake Bakery.
For each challah, I examined the appearance and texture of the exterior as well as the appearance, taste, and mouthfeel of the crumb and crust. I sampled each loaf by slicing a piece from the middle and eating it plain. I also toasted a slice from each to compare the toasted versions. After a side-by-side comparison, there were two that rose to the top.
Best Grocery-Store Challah: Publix Challah
When the baker at my local Publix noticed me picking up a loaf of their challah, she shared that she bakes the loaves each morning using a mix made at Publix’s corporate kitchen. The resulting loaf, with its golden-brown, super-shiny exterior, looks like the Platonic ideal of challah.
The rich, egg- and sugar-enriched loaf has a well-developed flavor, and the bread’s sweetness is balanced with a touch of salt. While the bread is great sliced straight off the loaf, it also toasts well, and I enjoyed slathering honey butter on toasted slices for breakfast.
Find it in stores: Publix Challah, $4.49 for 1 loaf at Publix
Grocery-Store Challah Honorable Mentions
Although Publix took the top prize, each grocery-store challah had its own strengths. Wegmans’ challah was impossibly soft and fluffy inside, while Whole Foods’ challah had a denser version. Whole Foods’ raisin challah was wonderfully sweet, and the plump, juicy raisins amplified the bread’s rich, caramelized flavor. Trader Joe’s challah is a nice, standard version of the classic, and if you have extra, it makes great croutons. Green’s challah, which is available online and in stores, made beautiful cloud-shaped slices that were my favorite for French toast or, better yet, French toast casserole, because they soaked up the egg mixture without falling apart.
Best Online Challah: Russ & Daughters Challah
There’s a reason that Russ & Daughters has been around for more than 100 years, and that’s the unmistakable quality of everything they sell. The challah — both the traditional braid and the round, raisin-studded spiral that’s available around Rosh Hashanah — is simply the best I’ve ever tasted (except, I must note, my best friend’s mom’s challah, but she was ineligible for this taste test because she doesn’t sell hers).
The exterior of Russ & Daughter’s challah is a consistently shiny, tawny golden-brown. It smells of yeast and, remarkably, Bubbe’s kitchen. The crumb is flavorful with a pleasing color, a deft balance of sugar and salt, and an impossibly feathery texture.
Buy: Russ & Daughters Challah, $9.00 for 1 loaf at Goldbelly
Online Challah Honorable Mentions
I didn’t come across any challah in the online bunch that I would deem “bad.” In fact, most of them were pretty great and each one had a unique feature that I loved. Grateful Bread’s round raisin loaf uses golden raisins, instead of the more common red raisins, which made me realize that I really prefer golden raisins in bread. Oneg’s dairy-free challah is massive, which gives you excellent slices for big, satisfying sandwiches and epic batches of French toast. The challah from Liv Breads had a remarkable honey flavor, thanks to the honey syrup they brush on each loaf. Butterflake Bakery allows customers to create their own three-loaf combo from their selection of original, raisin, chocolate chip, and cinnamon; and if you’re not satisfied with those pedestrian offerings, you can always upgrade to the gold leaf-coated loaf.
Do you have a favorite store-bought challah? Share your pick in the comments below.