Ima's Challah

By • April 7, 2010 • 99 Comments

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Author Notes: I make challah almost every week. After trying about 5 other recipes, I've returned to my mother's tried-and-true version. (Should've known -- mom's always right!) At this point, the recipe is so familiar I practically have it memorized. The original recipe calls for white bread flour, but Ima and I have both transitioned to half white, half King Arthur's White Whole Wheat. Take your pick. Either way, my mother emailed me today to let me know that since she gave me her recipe, she's started adding a pinch of cardamom to her dough. I've included that option below. - RivkaRivka

Food52 Review: We've always been entranced by the golden, undulating shape of challah bread, but never felt so confident in the shaping technique as with Rivka's instructions. Her braid-flip-braid trick is ingenious -- and fun too. We let ours rise a second time after braiding for about 30 minutes (we're nervous nellies) and were pleased with the results -- it emerged from the oven grand and poufed with an airy crumb, begging to be buttered up and devoured. The cardamom registers at a bare whisper, so go for a very big pinch if you want yours well-spiced. - A&MThe Editors

Serves two large challot

  • 1 1/2 cups warm water, divided
  • 1/4 cup plus 2 teaspoons sugar, divided
  • 2 tablespoons instant (powdered) yeast
  • 6 cups flour -- either all white or half white whole wheat
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1/4 cup mild honey, plus an extra tablespoon for eggwash, if desired
  • 2/3 cup flavorless vegetable or canola oil
  • 4 eggs, plus one yolk for eggwash, if desired
  • 1 pinch ground cardamom, optional
  1. Put 1 cup warm water in a small bowl. Add 2 teaspoons of sugar, sprinkle the yeast over top, swirl the bowl just to combine, and leave it to proof for five minutes.
  2. While yeast is proofing, mix flour, salt, 1/4 cup of sugar and cardamom, if using, in a large bowl (or in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment.) Stir to incorporate or blend on low speed.
  3. In a medium bowl, mix remaining water, honey, oil, and eggs.
  4. When yeast has finished proofing, add it to the flour, immediately followed by wet ingredients. Mix with a large wooden spoon or on medium-low speed in the mixer, just until combined, about 30 seconds.
  5. Switch to dough hook and begin to knead on low speed, making sure to incorporate what's at the bottom of the bowl if the dough hook misses it. If kneading by hand, stir using spoon until dough becomes to thick to stir. Empty dough onto well-floured surface and knead by hand. Knead dough until smooth and no longer sticky, adding flour with a light hand as needed, 7-10 minutes.
  6. Split the dough into two equal pieces. Set each in a large oiled bowl, cover both bowls with plastic wrap or a damp towel, and let rise at room temperature until doubled in size. If using white flour, this should take about 2-2.5 hours. If using white whole wheat, it will take closer to 3.5 or 4. Feel free to let the dough rise in the refrigerator overnight instead; if you do this, be sure to set out the dough in plenty of time before shaping, so it can come to room temperature.
  7. Preheat oven to 375.
  8. After the rise, the dough should be soft and pliable. Separate each mound of dough into three equal balls, for a total of six. Roll each ball into a log almost 1-foot long. Braid the logs together to create your loaf. For the nicest-looking braid, do not pinch the top edges of your logs together before braiding; simply place one log over the next and braid until you reach the bottom, then pinch those edges together. Then, flip the unfinished loaf the long way, so that the unfinished edge is now at the bottom and the loaf has been flipped over and upside down. Finish braiding and pinch these edges together. This way, both ends look identical. Tuck the very tips beneath the loaf when braiding is finished. Repeat with second loaf.
  9. Put each loaf on its own silpat-lined baking sheet. If using eggwash, mix yolk with a 1 tablespoon water and 1 tablespoon honey. Brush over loaves.
  10. Bake at 375 degrees for 20-22 minutes, until challot are golden and baked through.
Jump to Comments (99)

Tags: savory, serves a crowd, traditional

Comments (99) Questions (6)

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about 1 month ago Leora

Can you please provide weight for dry ingredients?

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about 1 month ago Rivka

Hi Leora,

I don't think I can provide accurate weights for the dry ingredients in this recipe. My cup of flour typically weighs 4.5 oz, and I think 5 grams of yeast is about 1.5 teaspoons, which means 2 tablespoons of yeast is about 20 grams. Other than that, can't speak to the weights - it's a "heritage" recipe, so I make it as instructed, using cups and spoons. Less consistent, perhaps, but I'm so used to it that I've never bothered to weigh for this recipe. If you do, report back.

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2 months ago Courtelizab

Do we not let them rise a second time after shaping?

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2 months ago Rivka

The Food52 team did proof them before baking, and I've taken to doing so as well, but it isn't essential. If you do, 30-45 minutes should suffice.

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2 months ago Sharon N

Yes, I always do a second rise, usually between 45-60 minutes depending on how warm the kitchen is!

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3 months ago Jenn2323

Rivka, I have finally mastered your recipe! My challahs were sweet, moist, golden. Your recipe tops them all! Shanah Tova!

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3 months ago zlota

Hi!! I also make challah every week, my recipe its similar to yours, but I've been having problems baking the challa, maybe you can help me! I bake it at 325 and use 2 baking sheets one stuck to the other to protect the bottom, I bake it for 20 minutes first and then turn it half thru, and keep baking 20 more minutes, if its turning too brown I tent it loosely with aluminum foil. But the problem is that they are a little raw in the center, just a little piece, but I want it to be perfect, that just happened today that im baking round challot for Rosh Hashana!!
Do you have any advice on that??
Thank you Rivka:)

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3 months ago Rivka

Zlota, have you calibrated your oven? 325 is pretty low and shouldn't cause the challah to burn. I wonder if your oven runs hot. It also sounds like you're pulling out the loaves too early. You might try starting the oven higher - 350 or 375 - to get that heat all the way to the center of the loaves, then turn down the oven after 15 minutes or so and bake until brown on top. Wish I knew what exactly went wrong - hope this helps.

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3 months ago Diana

I just baked it and it's sooooo good!!! yumm!!! THANK YOU!!!

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3 months ago Suzy Allen

I'm new to bread baking. Can this be made on a weekend and left in the fridge or freezer for a couple of days before baking?

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3 months ago Rivka

You can freeze it unbaked, but be sure to bring it all the way to room temperature before letting it proof a bit. Otherwise it won't fully rise, and then it'll overrise in spots once it hits the oven.

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3 months ago Anne-Cecile Blanchot

I could not get this recipe right on the first try... do you have any advice for bread beginners? My dough way too sticky and I couldn't save it. This is the first time I was using active dry yeast. I used the Kitchen Aid Stand Mixer with the paddle and the hook but it didn't work for me. I'm trying to pinpoint what I did wrong, thank you!

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3 months ago Rivka

Anne-Cecile, see my comment right below this one - you can add more flour, let it rest, refrigerate the dough, or all of the above. You can also wet your hands a bit when shaping; that's an old Rose Levy-Berenbaum trick that often works for me and helps avoid adding too much flour.

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3 months ago Jenn2323

Your the best, Rivka! Just in time for a Rosh Hashanah!

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3 months ago Rivka

Hi everyone! If your dough is too sticky, you can add a wee bit more flour, but you might try kneading it a little longer, letting it rest a bit, or even putting it in the fridge. Over the years, I've done all of the above with success.

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3 months ago Jenn2323

I had the same problem, but everyone else kept saying how perfect the recipe was. Food52 can you help solve the "wet, beyond, sticky" dough? Is the marble countertop too cold or hot? Could the temperature where my challah rises too cold or hot?

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3 months ago Sheila Litman

I agree with Pikilinska. Mine was also dense and dry. The dough was so wet I added more flour. Is it supposed to be so wet or should I hold back on the water?

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3 months ago Pikilinska

The flavor of the this challah is fantastic, however, mine came out fairly dense. I added some flour during the kneading process because it was quite sticky but not more than an 1/8 cup. Any ideas? Do I need to leave it in the oven longer?

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4 months ago Sheila Litman

Not sure what powdered yeast is...is it active dried yeast that you start with water and sugar or do you just add it right into the dough? Thanks, can't wait to make this next week.

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4 months ago Rivka

Hey Sheila,
Yep - it's active dry yeast. Enjoy!

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4 months ago Allison T

I love making bread homemade. I think I will be making this recipe this week. Since moving south I have been having a bit of a problem with my bread since we have so much humidity. Thanks for sharing this recipe!
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7 months ago Riegan

Excellent recipe! I made the whole wheat version, kneaded by hand for 10 min, let it rise for about 3 1/2 hours, braided it and then let it rise for another 1 1/2 hours before baking for 22 minutes. It was perfect and delicious. I served it to my guests right out of the oven. We made a meal out of 1 loaf, hummus, olive oil and dukkah, cheese, and honey. This will be my go-to challah recipe from now on. Can't wait to try it with raisins!

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7 months ago Rivka

Thanks - so glad you enjoyed it!

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8 months ago MrsPrincess07

I have made this recipe a few times now and today, I perfected it! I had been kneading by hand but was getting a rather heavy bread. Tasted great, but just heavier than any challah had I eaten before. I used my 7qt stand mixer today to mix and knead, it required a lot of extra flour, and finished the knead by hand. The bread once braided rose nicely but spread in the oven. I expected it to be dense like the other loaves. Not so! it was super soft, super light, and the texture is PERFECT! I am printing this recipe, making some notes, and will stick to this recipe from here in out. Thanks for publishing this!

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9 months ago Zazie

This was a great recipe! I was worried because the dough seemed very sticky when I tried to knead it, but it all came together beautifully. One tweak: I let it rise for nearly an hour after braiding. A delicious loaf of challah!

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9 months ago Ned Semoff

So yummy! My father is not a big fan of challah and he loved this receipt.

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10 months ago Teodora Bojilcheva

Just made it all by hand and it wasn't not at all difficult. Perfect - fluffy and heavenly delicious. My family loved it.