Rosh Hashanah

Joan Nathan's Chosen Challah

August 21, 2013
6 Ratings
Photo by James Ransom
  • Makes 2 loaves
Author Notes

How to make a perfect challah -- for any time of year, or especially for Rosh Hashanah, when round challah is a must for any holiday table. —Joan Nathan

What You'll Need
  • 1 3/4 cups water
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons active dry yeast
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup vegetable or canola oil
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 8 cups all-purpose flour
  • Poppy or sesame seeds for sprinkling
  1. Put water, sugar, and yeast in the bowl of a mixer, and mix with a paddle.
  2. Add two of the eggs, and the oil, and mix.
  3. Switch the paddle to a dough hook. Add flour and salt, and mix.
  4. Put dough on a floured board and knead. Then spray a large bowl with nonstick spray, and leave dough in bowl, covered, for at least one hour.
  5. Punch dough down, knead again on a floured board. Take half the dough and cut into six even pieces, and roll out each piece into a roll about 12 inches long.
  6. Arrange rolls side by side on the board, pinched together at the top, and braid: Move the furthest roll on the right over 2 rolls, then move the 2nd furthest on the left all the way to the far right. Move the furthest roll on the left over 2 rolls, then move the 2nd furthest on the right all the way to the far left. Repeat until the whole loaf is braided. Then either tuck the ends underneath, or twist into a circle to make a round challah. Repeat with the remaining dough to make a second loaf.
  7. Place on parchment paper on a cookie sheet. Brush loaves with the yolk of your remaining egg. Then either sprinkle seeds directly onto the loaf, or dip one finger in the egg wash, then in the seeds, and apply directly to the loaf.
  8. Let loaves sit for 30 minutes, then put in a 350-degree oven and bake for 30 minutes.

See what other Food52ers are saying.

  • ivy greene
    ivy greene
  • jkandell
  • IndianaSuzy
  • Jeff Markel
    Jeff Markel

10 Reviews

IndianaSuzy September 17, 2020
This is my go to challah recipe that I’ve used for years. Tweaks: I use 7 cups of flour and add the 8th cup as I’m kneading. I probably end up using only about 7 1/2 cups. I also add another 1/2 cup sugar because my family likes challah sweeter.
ivy G. May 14, 2020
The same recipe on NYT cooking uses 5 eggs rather than 3. Maybe that accounts for some of the dryness. I have been challah baking for years using this recipe with the extra eggs. Because of the pandemic, I can only find instant yeast and that has worked perfectly. Ironically, our favorite Italian deli in Santa Monica sells one pound bags of yeast for $5.99. I now have lots of yeast for lots of baking!
Jeff M. April 18, 2020
I've been making this exact recipe for about 5 years now, since i first saw it on the Tablet Magazine website - it's my go-to challah recipe. I certainly don't think it's "too dry." It needs to be pretty low-hydration so that the loaf can be baked free-standing without it splooging out into a pancake.

One problem with the recipe, though, is that it's specified by volume rather than weight, and flour is notoriously variable - a cup of flour, depending on the wheat, the the fineness of the milled flour, that day's humidity, and the heavy-handedness of the baker, could vary from 115 to 165 grams, and that's a HUGE difference which could account for the "too dry" issue. Salt is also problematic, since it too varies wildly by crystal size and weight versus volume. Diamond Crystal Kosher salt weighs about 40% LESS by volume than Morton table salt and that can change both the taste and the dough characteristics by a lot.

Here are the by-weight measurements I use:
* 436 grams of water
* 13 grams yeast (active dry, or instant)
* 100 grams sugar
* 109 grams canola oil
* 3 large eggs (a large egg is about 57 grams)
* 18 grams salt
* 1000 grams all-purpose flour

A change I sometimes make is subbing out a few hundred grams of the AP flour for wholegrain Kamut flour (if you can find it). Even though it's wholegrain, it doesn't seem to add any heaviness to the bread, and its natural golden color and sweetness enhance the challah in great ways.
Mark H. November 25, 2022
Brilliant follow up. Thank You for sharing Your experience and wisdom
rachel October 13, 2015
This challah was delicious, but I agree that the listed amount of flour is a bit too much. I ended up adding more water as I was mixing because the dough was stiffer than it should have been. It rose beautifully though. I also added an extra egg yolk to the dough for richness and then topped the loaves with a hefty dusting of cinnamon/sugar for Rosh Hashana. I cut the recipe in half since I only wanted one challah and it was an enormous two pound loaf. Next time I'll make 4 loaves from the full batch.
jkandell July 19, 2015
This is a very nice challah. 8 cups of flour is probably too much (i.e. 'brick'), so I strongly recommend starting with 6 cups and adding up to 8 cups gradually till the dough comes together but is still soft. ( For me it takes closer to 6 cups.) I think Nathan herself recommends this method if you watch her videos.
Orange N. November 25, 2014
For the record, other two times it was perfect.
Orange N. November 25, 2014
I've made this four times and twice dough barely rose and ended up being a brick. Thoughts on why?
Michelle September 22, 2014
warm water, cold water, room temperature?
ortolan June 28, 2014
Thank you for this beautiful, simple recipe!