Soft and flavorful, challah bread is a favorite for a reason! Equally delicious toasted and drizzled with olive oil or turned into a decadent French toast, this is an easy challah bread recipe for beginner bread bakers.
Of all the bread I bake in the house, challah bread is one of the most common. Have I posted a recipe yet? No. Why? I guess I thought it was boring? Good homemade bread recipes are anything but, so I’m not sure what I was thinking. I apologize. That was the past and this is now, so let’s move on and talk about how to bake challah bread!
What is challah bread?
It’s kind of like a brioche bread. Challah is an egg bread with a rich flavor and tender crumb. But the reason challah bread and brioche are different is that challah contains no dairy. Challah bread is part of the traditional Jewish foods – although it’s a favorite of many who aren’t Jewish (like me).
Because of its roots, it’s a bread designed to be kosher at every meal, so it must be dairy-free. From what I remember, those who follow the kosher diet cannot mix meat and milk at the same meal. Brioche bread, being French, uses butter, but challah gets both fat and flavor from olive oil. Not all recipes include olive oil. Some have other things mixed in like raisins, chocolate, candied fruit, etc. Some of these additions are for specific holidays and have meanings (like the raisins), others are just for flavor.
TL;DR answer – challah bread is a dairy free egg bread recipe. No dairy makes it kosher-diet friendly.
How does it taste and how can I use it?
This bread tastes amazing! I’m really not sure how to describe it. It’s a savory bread, but there’s a light sweetness. You don’t really taste the egg or olive oil, but both flavors blend together to provide a richness to the crumb. It’s a mild bread, which is why it’s so great for sweet or savory recipes, but not bland at all.
Because of the mild flavor and crumb, you can easily enjoy challah as plain toast, a delicious sandwich bread, or in sweet recipes like bread pudding and french toast. The bread has a nice elasticity that makes it very versatile. When I bake it at home, we usually stick to toast and sandwiches. The kids really love a slice of challah with Nutella.
How do I braid challah bread?
Darlings, you’re going to laugh. I can’t actually explain this to you! It’s so embarrassing because I’ve been making this challah bread recipe for well over 10 years now. Remember how back when the Godfather and I first married I knew nothing about baking? And how sometimes I just find a way to “make it work” and things usually do? Well, it turns out I figured out how to braid challah the wrong way. And then kept braiding challah incorrectly for years with no one saying anything. The loaf looks beautiful – you see it in the photos – but I have an ingrained bad habit for braiding all my challah incorrectly.
It makes sense in my head, but when I tried explaining it to someone else, it was a hot mess and a half. I will not confuse you, darlings. I’m going to do the responsible blogger thing, and link you to this easy-to-follow video by King Arthur Flour which you should definitely reference if you want to make the 6 strand braid. When I taught my sister to bake challah, she was perfectly happy making a 3 strand braid. Do what works for you.
Anyway, I hope you love this delicious challah bread recipe, darlings. If you’re newer to bread baking, this is a very forgiving loaf. And for your efforts, you’re rewarded with a beautiful, large loaf of delicious bread. Yum. Happy baking!
- 2 tsp active dry yeast (if using instant yeast, see notes)
- 1 cup warm water
- 1 tsp + 1/4 c sugar
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 3 large eggs - 2 for dough, 1 for brushing
- 2 tsp salt
- 4-4 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose or bread flour
- In the bowl of your stand mixer fitted with the dough hook attachment, or in a large mixing bowl, combine the warm water and 1 teaspoon sugar. Sprinkle the yeast over the water and allow the mixture to sit 5-10 minutes until foamy. This is called "activating" your yeast.
- Stir in the oil and 2 eggs. Then add the salt and remaining sugar and whisk until combined. See notes.
- Add the flour 1 cup at a time, stirring and scraping the bowl after each addition. Stop at 4 cups and start kneading. Knead for 5-7 minutes on low speed (8-10 by hand - see notes). Add additional flour by the tablespoon if needed. You want the dough to be elastic and smooth, but not sticky or dry.
- Place your kneaded dough in a lightly oiled bowl and turn once. Cover with plastic wrap and allow to rise until nearly doubled in size, 45 minutes to 1 hour depending on how warm your house is. Gently deflate the dough in the bowl, cover, and allow to rise and additional 30 minutes before shaping.
- When you are ready to shape the dough, press it down gently and divide it into your desired number of sections (either 3 or 6 typically). Braid and place on a parchment-lined baking sheet.
- In a small bowl, whisk the third egg with a teaspoon of water and brush the egg wash over the bread using a pastry brush. Cover with lightly oiled plastic wrap and allow to rise another 45 minutes to an hour, until puffy. You can also allow this rise to happen for several hours - up to overnight - in the refrigerator. Just remove the bread and allow it to come to room temperature while you preheat the oven before baking.
- Towards the end of the last rise, preheat your oven to 375 F.
- When the bread is ready, remove the plastic cover and brush once more with the egg wash. Bake for 30-35 minutes until the center of the loaf reads 190 F on an instant-read thermometer.
- Cool completely on a rack before slicing. Enjoy!
- If you are using instant yeast (also labeled bread machine yeast), skip the proofing step. Instead, add your yeast when you start adding the dry ingredients to the dough.
- If you are using your mixer with the dough hook, you won't really see things come together particularly well until there's enough flour in the bowl. I usually just put a fork in the bowl to break up the eggs a bit and then continue as written.
- If you are kneading the dough by hand, work on a lightly floured surface. Fold a corner of the dough towards the center and then press down with the heel of your hand. Rotate and repeat until you have a smooth dough. You'll feel the dough go from a bit of a shaggy mess to a smooth and elastic ball.
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