Jessica Fechtor's Five-Fold Challah

By • September 9, 2015 83 Comments

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Author Notes: This all might sound like a lot to keep track of, but I am a person who has a special impatience, and even I found this to require very little of me—no more than a half hour of paying attention overall. Plus, all the timing prescriptions are flexible: "Sometimes I'm giving my kids a bath and I'll do one fold in 45 minutes, the next one in 20 minutes," Fechtor told me. She's even skipped the overnight rise in the fridge, adding a couple extra folds to compensate, then chilling only enough to make the dough easier to work with.

"I've played really fast and loose and it's always come out great." I too have forgotten to set my timer more than once and the bread has apparently not been the wiser. (Pro tip: Set all your folding reminders at once—as alarms on your phone, so you never forget to keep resetting the timer.)

Lately, Fechtor has taken to rolling out the chilled dough, speckling it with cinnamon, sugar, and raisins, then curling it up into a cinnamon swirl loaf (or braiding it into an even sweeter challah). "When the dough is so easy to work with, it just unlocks things," Fechtor told me. You could even apply this folding technique to your family's own challah recipe, or other breads, even Liège waffles and buttermilk biscuits (she has). "The moral of this story is to fold everything and everything will be awesome." Slightly adapted from Stir (Avery, 2015).
Genius Recipes


Makes two loaves

Dry ingredients

  • 4 cups (500 grams) bread flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons instant dry yeast
  • 2 teaspoons fine sea salt

Wet ingredients + shaping

  • 2 large eggs plus 1 large egg yolk (save the extra white in a covered glass in the fridge for glazing later on)
  • 3/4 cup (190 grams) water
  • 1/3 cup (75 grams) olive oil
  • 1/4 cup (85 grams) honey
  • For sprinkling, before baking (optional): Sesame seeds, poppy seeds, flaxseeds, rolled oats, sunflower seeds, and/or pumpkin seeds
  1. Whisk together the dry ingredients in a large bowl, and the wet ingredients in a smaller bowl. Dump the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and stir with a rubber spatula until a wet, sticky dough forms. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let sit for 10 minutes.
  2. Peel back the plastic. Grab an edge of the dough, lift it up, and fold it over itself to the center. Turn the bowl a bit and repeat around the entire lump of dough, grabbing an edge and folding it into the center, eight turns, grabs, and folds in all. Then flip the dough so that the folds and seams are on the bottom. Cover tightly again with the plastic, and let sit for 30 minutes.
  3. Repeat the all-around folding, flipping, covering, and resting four more times. (I keep track by drawing hash marks in permanent marker right on the plastic.) The dough flops more than it folds in the first round or two. Then, as the gluten develops, you’ll get proper folds. By the final fold, the dough will be wonderfully elastic, and you’ll be able to see and feel the small pockets of air within. Pull the plastic tight again over the bowl and refrigerate for 16 to 24 hours—any longer and you risk over-proofing.
  4. Cover a baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside. Transfer the dough to a lightly floured surface and divide into six equal pieces. Roll into six strands, each about a foot long and 3/4 inch in diameter, dusting sparingly with flour when necessary to prevent sticking. (You’ll want to add as little extra flour as possible.)
  5. Form two three-strand braids, and transfer the loaves to the prepared pan. Cover with plastic and let proof at room temperature for 2 to 3 hours, until the dough is noticeably swollen and puffed and bounces back very slowly, if at all, when you poke it lightly with your finger.
  6. Preheat the oven to 375° F. Remove the plastic wrap from the loaves and brush with the reserved egg white. If you’d like, sprinkle with seeds. Poppy and sesame seeds are traditional challah toppings. Fechtor typically covers one with a combination of flaxseeds and rolled oats, and the other with sunflower seeds and pumpkin seeds, though lately she's been opting for no seeds at all.
  7. Bake for about 20 minutes, until the bread is golden and gorgeous and a tester inserted into the center comes out clean. You can also check for doneness with a thermometer. The internal temperature of the loaves will be 190° F when fully baked.
  8. Transfer to racks and let cool.
  9. These loaves freeze very well: Wrap the cooled loaves in plastic wrap, then put them in zip-lock bags and freeze. Thaw directly in the bag on the counter, then remove the plastic and reheat in a warm oven. You won't be able to tell it's been frozen.

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