Challah bread is a braided egg bread and a traditional part of Jewish meals on the Sabbath and holidays. Depending on where you live, challah bread is also very commonly found in grocery stores and bakeries, because it has this slightly sweet yet savory flavor and a dreamy texture making it perfect for eating alone, or using for everything from sandwiches to French toast. In fact, my first blog post ever was for a pumpkin challah bread pudding. 🙂
I started making challah bread about five or six years ago after an experience at a nicer grocery store in Georgia. We wanted bread to make French toast that weekend and sandwiches, but when I went to ask, the attendant at the bakery told me they would have to go thaw some from the freezer. We had shopping to do, so I agreed, although I did find it a little odd that it wasn’t baked fresh on site. When we got the bread home, it was dry, and not as good as we were hoping for. It was fine for French toast, but not the consistency and flavor we had come to know growing up in an area where fresh baked was always readily available.
I decided to look for a recipe and start baking my own in the hopes that we could always have access to delicious challah bread whenever we wanted. To date, it is the bread I make most frequently in our home. I like to play with variations from time to time, and the reigning favorite is roasted garlic. To make this Texas Toast variation, I swapped some of the traditional olive oil for melted butter.
While this isn’t a variation I’d use for sweet recipes, it’s amazing for sandwiches, topped with additional butter and garlic for garlic bread, or as toast topped with a drizzle of olive oil, butter, or even mashed avocado. The garlic flavor is very subtle, especially if you only use one head of garlic.
My biggest pet peeve with challah comes with the braiding. I feel like challah loaves should always be hand braided. The only exception would be if you’re making a gluten free challah and then the dough has to be poured into a mold pan. You can definitely tell a molded bread from a hand-braided bread in the way it pulls when you bite it. It’s hard to explain, but once you make this and try it, you’ll see what I mean.
Personally, I had a lot of trouble following written instructions for a six strand braid when I started baking challah and it took me some trial and error practice to find the pattern to make the perfect braid every time. In case you’re like me, and learn better by watching, I’ve taped a video for you to follow along showing how to braid challah with 6 strands.
This recipe makes one big loaf (just over 2 lbs), or two smaller loaves (about 1 lb each). If you choose to make the smaller loaves and want to save one for later, freeze the dough just after braiding and before the second rise. Wrap it very well once it’s frozen. When you’re ready to bake, thaw in the refrigerator overnight, and then set on the counter 2 hours to bring to room temperature and complete the second rise.
- 1-2 whole heads garlic (see note)
- 1-2 tbsp olive oil
- 2 tsp dry yeast
- 1 cup warm water
- 1 tsp + ¼ c sugar
- 2 tbsp unsalted butter, melted
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 3 eggs - 2 for dough, 1 for brushing
- 2 tsp salt
- 4-4½ cups unbleached all-purpose or bread flour
- dried parsley to top (optional)
- Preheat the oven to 350 F.
- Cut the tops off the garlic heads so the cloves are just exposed and rub with olive oil. Place in a cupcake tin or on a baking sheet, cut side down, and cover with aluminum foil.
- Roast 25-30 minutes until very soft and golden.
- Allow to cool 15 minutes or so until cool enough to handle and then squeeze the cloves out of the paper. They should slide out easily.
- Mash with a fork and set aside.
- In a large bowl (or the bowl of a stand mixer), combine the yeast, 1 tsp sugar, and warm water. Allow to sit 10 minutes until bubbly.
- Stir in the remaining sugar, butter, salt, and olive oil. Then add the two eggs, one at a time.
- Stir in the first cup of flour, then stir in the garlic paste. Add the second cup of flour, mix again, then add the third. If doing this by hand, the dough should be firm enough to use your hands to knead at this point. If your bowl is large enough, do this right in the bowl, if not, turn dough onto a clean, lightly floured surface to knead in the last cup. If doing this in a stand mixer, switch from the paddle attachment to the dough hook.
- Add the fourth cup of flour and knead into the dough. If the dough is still sticky, add additional flour 1 tbsp at a time. If the dough is dry, add water 1 tsp at a time. You are looking for a dough that is still a bit "wet" but not sticky. If kneading with a stand mixer, you will see the dough pull away cleanly from the sides of the bowl. If kneading by hand, the dough will not stick to the work surface, but won't have clumps of flour stuck to it either.
- Knead the dough for 5-7 minutes by machine until smooth or 8-10 minutes by hand until it passes the "windowpane test". You should be able to pull a small portion of the dough thin enough to see light through it without it breaking.
- Place the dough in a lightly greased bowl, cover with a clean damp dishcloth or plastic wrap, and allow to rise in a warm place for one hour. I usually just clean out my mixing bowl and brush it with additional olive oil.
- Press down the dough to deflate, cover, and allow to rise an additional 20-30 minutes until doubled in size.
- Gently press down the dough again and transfer it to a clean surface for braiding. A video demonstration of how to do a 6 strand braid is included in the post on my blog.
- Place the loaf on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Beat the third egg with 1 tsp water and brush a coat of egg wash on the braided loaf. Cover the loaf loosely with plastic wrap and allow to rise an additional hour.
- Towards the end of the rising time, preheat your oven to 350. Brush the bread with a second coat of the egg wash and top with parsley if desired.
- Bake for 30-35 minutes until the loaf is a rich golden brown and the bottom sounds hollow when tapped. Allow to completely cool on a rack before slicing.