The BEST challah bread recipe (and video) you’ll find, I’ll show you step-by-step how to make my Grandmother’s famous six-strand challah bread, perfect for the Jewish Sabbath or weekend French toast.
This challah bread recipe hails from my Ema Ljuba, my Bubbe on my dad’s side, who is the matriarch of the Jewish side of my family. She lives in Israel now so we don’t get to see her as often as we’d like but every time I bake her challah bread I am transported into her former kitchen in Berkeley, CA where I learned how to make this irresistible recipe.
Recently Ema Ljuba was in town for no more than 48 hours and my boys have been asking for her almost every single day since. She has that sort of lasting impact on children, and adults! Effervescent, charismatic, joyful and always smiling from ear to ear, Ema Ljuba is the most magical grandmother in the world.
History of Challah Bread
Challah bread originates in Eastern Europe and is part of Ashkenazi Jewish cuisine. It is typically braided in 4 or 6 strands eaten on ceremonial occasions such as the Jewish Shabbat (sundown Friday) and major Jewish holidays like Rosh Hoshanah.
How to describe Challah
The texture and consistency of challah bread is similar to brioche due to the high number of eggs in the recipe. Light, fluffy and eggy, leftovers make the ultimate French toast!
If you’ve never baked homemade bread before, I urge you to give this fool-proof recipe a shot. Believe me, if I’m baking bread (with yeast!), I can assure you anyone can do it.
How to make a six-strand braided challah bread
To get started, dissolve yeast in warm water in a small bowl or liquid glass measuring cup with 1 tablespoon sugar and set aside.
Note: You’ll want to use a large enough bowl as this mixture will start to grow as the yeast activates.
Second, in a separate large bowl or stand-mixer base, whisk together flour, sugar and salt.
Third, add beaten eggs and the water with dissolved yeast and sugar to the large bowl of flour.
Fourth, slowly pour in oil or melted butter and mix well with a wooden spoon or over low to medium speed. If dough doesn’t start coming together, add a bit more flour, a couple tablespoons at a time, until it pulls away from the bowl. You want the dough to be sticky though.
Fifth, once the entire mass sticks together turn out onto a floured surface and knead by hand for about 5 minutes, adding in that last cup of flour as needed to form a smooth, pliable glossy mass. This is a great time to get out any aggression!
Sixth, drizzle a large bowl with vegetable oil (canola oil works too) then place dough into bowl flipping it over to make sure it is covered with the oil. This will prevent it from sticking. Cover with a towel and let dough rise at room temperature until doubled in bulk.
Once the dough has doubled in size, this is the fun part: punch down with a fist then knead one or two more times before dividing the dough in half to begin forming two braided loaves.
From there, you will divide each half into either 3 strands (or 4 or 6 depending on how intricate you want your loaf to be braided.)
Now that the strands have been rolled out, it’s time to begin braiding. Similar to weaving a pie crust, you’ll want to weave each strand over and under the next one.
If you’re a visual learner like I am, check out this step-by-step video guide I created to braiding challah bread. Once you’ve finished braiding the challah, place each loaf on a greased large baking sheet (or one lined with a silicone baking mat), cover with a dry towel and let rise a second time until loaves are double in size. Strapped for time? It’s ok to skip this second rise. I skip it quite frequently.
Finally, pre-heat oven to 350 degrees then brush each loaf with a beaten egg.
If you’d like to add a topping, this is the time to sprinkle with sesame seeds, poppy seeds or sparkling sugar.
Place both pans in the oven and bake the challah bread for about 30 minutes or until bread is golden brown on the surface.
Ingredients and Substitutions
- All Purpose Flour: The high gluten content and light, fluffy consistency of all purpose flour is essential to the perfect challah bread recipe. I don’t recommend substituting any other type of flour for this recipe.
- Dry Active Yeast: The secret to challah dough that rises into a tall, beautiful loaf is using fresh active dry yeast. I recommend storing in the refrigerator in between uses to extend the life of the yeast.
- Sugar: White sugar adds the ideal subtle sweetness to this brioche-like bread. I wouldn’t substitute with any other sweetener.
- Eggs: The brioche-like texture and density of this bread are due to the high number of eggs in the recipe. This is what separates challah bread from traditional sandwich bread.
- Butter or Oil: We love using butter in our challah bread but oil works just as fine. If you’re avoiding dairy, I would use oil otherwise go for butter.
- Toppings: Before baking, sprinkle the challah with your preferred topping for additional crunch and texture. Great options include sesame seeds, sparkling sugar, poppy seeds or everything seasoning.
Baking tips and time savers
One HUGE baking tip: admittedly, I don’t love the giant mess that baking bread can create in the kitchen. Turns out, neither does my Aunt Sabrina! The solution? All of the dough kneading can be done in a stand mixer with a dough hook! We all use and love the classic KitchenAid stand mixer so if you don’t have one, you should certainly think about adding it to your holiday wish list.
Frequently asked questions:
Does this recipe really use 3 tablespoons of dry active yeast?
Yes, 3 tablespoons is a lot of yeast but this recipe makes two large loaves! We like to save the second loaf for French toast later in the weekend.
Why is sugar used in Challah bread?
Sugar aids in the proofing of the yeast so it is an essential ingredient in this recipe. I don’t recommend using any alternative sweetener.
How to braid Challah bread:
Watch my Step-By-Step Video Guide to a Six-Strand Challah Bread to learn how I do it!
How long do you let the dough rise?
The dough typically takes two hours to rise. I recommend letting it sit in a well-oiled bowl in room temperature with a towel placed on top.
Do you let the dough rise for two hours after braiding?
I have done it both ways and it turns out good either way.
No forks required.
Shabbat Challah Bread (With Video)
- 1 ½ cups to 2 cups warm water
- 3 tablespoons dry activated yeast
- ½ cup plus 1 tablespoon sugar
- 6 cups plus 1 cup all purpose flour
- 1 tablespoon salt
- 4 large eggs (beaten)
- ½ cup oil or melted butter
- poppy seeds or sesame seeds for topping
- 1 beaten egg
- In a small bowl, dissolve yeast with 1 tablespoon sugar in warm water; set aside.
- In a separate large bowl, whisk together 6 cups flour, 1/2 cup sugar and salt.
- Add beaten eggs and the water with dissolved yeast and sugar to the large bowl of flour.
- Stir in oil or melted butter and mix well with a wooden spoon. Once the entire mass sticks together turn out onto a floured surface and knead for about 5 minutes, adding in that last cup of flour as needed to form a smooth, pliable glossy mass. Alternatively, this can be done in a stand mixer with a dough hook. Note: If dough isn't coming together, add more flour, a couple tablespoons at a time, until it pulls away from the bowl. You want the dough to be sticky though.
- Oil a large bowl then place dough into bowl flipping it over to make sure it is covered with the oil. Cover with a towel and let dough rise until doubled in bulk.
- Punch down, knead one or two times and then divide dough in half.
- Divide each half into either 3 strands (or 4 or 6 depending on how intricate your loaf braid will be.)
- Place each braided loaf on a greased large baking sheet (cook spray works well), cover with a dry towel and let rise a second time until loaves are double in size.
- Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees. Brush each loaf with a beaten egg, sprinkle poppy seeds or sesame seeds if you wish.
- Bake for about 30 minutes or until bread is golden brown on the surface.
Want more delicious and family-friendly recipes?? Head over to my Pinterest board!