Jessica Fechtor's Five-Fold Challah

September 9, 2015

Test Kitchen-Approved

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
In This Recipe


  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.

More Great Recipes:
Bread|American|Grains|Oat|Sesame|Make Ahead|Rosh Hashanah|Spring|Summer|Winter|Fall

Reviews (90) Questions (4)

90 Reviews

samanthaalison November 12, 2018
This was so good!!! I've never made any kind of enriched bread before and I was thrilled with the results. We ate the first loaf within a couple hours of it coming out. <br /><br />I wasn't sure I was really doing the folding right, but the end result was awesome so apparently I didn't screw it up. The only thing I'd change next time is I think I might sub a neutral oil instead of the olive because I could taste it in the final loaf.
Camille D. November 8, 2017
a lovely recipe ... and now it seems Ill be able to make Challah old hands and fingers are no longer strong and flexible .....I would like to know if I may mix in Cuisinart till wet.... and proceed as described with the rest of the directions Thank you in advance Camille
Lana R. July 16, 2017
I followed the instructions and the bread was raw after 20 minutes. I doubled the bake time to 40 minutes and it came out perfect.
Phf523 March 17, 2017
When I usually make challah I make about double this amount. I always use 3 cups or so of white wheat flour. How would this effect this challah method?
Yayita January 30, 2017
As a first time bread baker this recipe's title was very alluring because it implied that a tedious recipe was made easier, which I wrongly assumed it made it fool proof. Although I was a first time baker, as a kid I had seen my mom and grandmother make bread so I had a vague idea of how bread dough should look and feel. Before making this recipe though I did watch some "how to make challah" YouTube videos to see what consistency I was looking for in the though and also read a bunch of other recipes online to acquaint myself with the kneading portion as I knew this would be key. Despite reading contradictory instructions on other recipes I decided to follow the recipe to the letter. And so I did. I have to make a note that I used Instant Dry Yeast not Active Dry Yeast. I mixed the ingredients as instructed and found the dough to be VERY sticky, so sticky that I had to scrape dough from the edge of the bowl as 1/3 of it seemed stuck to the sides. I tried really hard to fold it but it wouldn't want to stretch and was still sticky even after lighting flourish it. In order to complete 2 folds I had to flour it each time and even then dough never relaxed enough that it could be stretched and folded. I fought with the dough a 3rd time and tried to fold it and it became even harder to stretch it and so then I knew I wasn't going to be able to braid it at all since I could even stretch it enough to roll it. At this point I decided to salvage it my putting it in a loaf pan and just cooking it as is, this way I would learn from this epic fail I.e. figure out just how hard adding flour made it, or how hard un kneaded challah got. Despite this failure I was looking forward to seeing how the crumb of the bread turned out to be. Alas, I burnt it and wasn't able to taste it at all. If anyone can help me figure out where I went wrong I'd greatly appreciate it. <br /><br /><br />I ended up trying another Food52 recipe: Ima's Challah. In this recipe they ask that the instant yeast be used and in the comment saw that the author specified Active Dry Yeast. Per the recipe I proof the Yeast for 5 mins and used my standup mixer to do the mixing. And it worked! I successfully made challah bread that was both pillowy and chewing. Which leaves me scratching my head as to why the dough for Jessica's Five-Fold Challah didn't seem to work for me. Anyone have any ideas?
Babs I. November 20, 2018
It sounds like you took the dough out of the bowl for the folding. The dough should remain in the bowl, covered tightly by the plastic wrap between foldings. No more flour should be added; the development of the gluten gradually brings it together. The dough should not leave the bowl until after the long rise in the refrigerator, at which point it only needs shaping, not kneading.
LuAnn R. November 25, 2016
Agree with all of the other comments--this recipe is amazing! very easy..and the bread came out perfectly!! Looks just like the picture above, and tastes great! made it for Thanksgiving, froze it as explained. I plan on making french toast with the leftover!
sparkycooks November 24, 2016
This is an amazing recipe. Delicious, delicious AND easy to make. Brought it today to a thanksgiving gathering of friends and it was a huge hit. Will make this again and again. Thank you.
JS I. October 14, 2016
I've made this twice, once as a test run for the holidays, and then again for Rosh Hashanah. Amazing! The best challah anyone in my family could remember. And it's so much fun to make! I'll be looking for excuses (and not just the holidays) to make it. Maybe Thanksgiving?? Many thanks for the recipe and all the helpful comments and suggestions.
Madelien October 10, 2016
Made this last week for Rosh Hashanah - both nights!! It was gorgeous and absolutely delicious. Both my mom and MIL took photos of the loaves LOL. So much easier than every other recipe I've made too. Question: My family would like MORE raisins in the challah this time. Can I just mix the raisins into the dough when I initially mix it up? Adding them to the strands before braiding didn't let me put enough in. Thanks! Wishing a sweet and healthy new year to all who celebrate!!
CarlaK October 4, 2016
Everyone I sent photos to of my just-baked challah raved about how gorgeous the loaves were. They should only have tasted them -- so delicious with a soft, squishy texture and just the right amount of sweetness! I can't get over how easy the whole process was for such a great result.
sticksnscones October 3, 2016
This may well become my "go-to" Challah recipe! I had my reservations, & was concerned about the scant rise after spending an overnight in the fridge. I let it come to room temperature for a couple of hours before shaping it, then let it rise again. It was truly delicious...perfect crumb & balance of flavor & texture. It actually won a blind taste test against a very good bakery!
K I. October 2, 2016
I have never made bread before in my life, but I gave this a try and I am so proud of myself I'm smiling from ear to ear. The bread turned out beautiful and tastes fantastic--light and fluffy and just slightly sweet. Thank you so much for this recipe which I will be making again and again.
J_McCrory October 1, 2016
Just took the first loaf out of the oven and it looks great! One question though, is there a secret to getting that really dark, mahogany color on top? I never seem to be able to achieve that, even with the egg wash...
Babs I. October 1, 2016
My best guess is that the temperature of your oven might be slightly off. All ovens vary temperature within their own space. Have you tried moving the baking sheet to the top rack? Oven temps are always my first suspect.
Idalu January 16, 2017
I slightly beat a whole egg and a little bit of salt and that works for me. Good luck.
shiraz.moola August 4, 2016
I read the recipe wrong a did the first proof for 16 hours on the kitchen counter instead of the fridge. Will this overproof the bread. Shall I shorten the second proof after I make the loaves?
Babs I. August 5, 2016
Ok, so that probably would count as over proofing. However, I would suggest punching it down, kneading a few times (or do a round of folds), put it in the frig for a few hours, then take the instructions from there. Since the ingredients are already used, there's really nothing to lose. If you were planning on using it for dinner tonight, you might want to buy a loaf for backup. Keep making the bread. It took me about six tries to get it to the cotton candy, pull apart texture that we love. I make it about every other week, slice it, and freeze it.
Malavika January 23, 2016
This recipe worked out amazingly for me. I ended up folding 8 times rather than the 5 suggested because I thought I was going to skip the overnight rise, but ended up getting busy and letting it sit in the refrigerator overnight. Texture is that perfect soft pull apart-- really amazing. I've never been able to achieve it before.<br /><br />I didn't have problems with the dough being too dry or anything (I did use my scale for the ingredients). When I was doing the folds, I would wet my hands with water to prevent them from sticking as the dough was tack for most of the handling time.
Sujatha December 18, 2015
Planning to try this weekend but only have active dry yeast rather than instant called for. Other questions about type of yeast & annabels comment about needing extra rise got me wondering & I found this from KAF website<br />"they can be substituted for one another 1:1. We've found that active dry yeast is a little bit slower off the mark than instant, as far as dough rising goes; but in a long (2- to 3-hour) rise, the active dry yeast catches up. If a recipe using instant yeast calls for the dough to “double in size, about 1 hour,” you may want to mentally add 15 to 20 minutes to this time if you're using active dry yeast."
Babs I. March 27, 2016
I only use active dry yeast, and just proof it with the water and sugar (I sub sugar for honey, and add a little extra water to compensate for the moisture). The rise time is the same as in the original recipe, and turns out a fluffy and pull-apart texture.
Tracey December 16, 2015
Made two loaves for company. Thought I would later put one loaf in the freezer. It never made it there. The bread was a hit with everyone. It was amazing! Will definitely be a favorite bread to make for company.
Annabel November 29, 2015
I've made this four times now, and each time the dough has looked "odd" and unfinished, in the sense of not ready to shape yet, after the 24-hour stay in the fridge. Each time I've let it just hang out in there another day, and then it is good to go. The end results have been delicious each time. My yeast must be like my kid: on its own schedule for meeting milestones.
Babs I. November 21, 2015
I have a question about the amount of water. Three quarters of a cup (6 ounces) is less than 190 gms. With the initial 6 oz., it was awfully dry, but with the additional water was very wet and sticky. After all the folding and the overnight it rise, it was only a little sticky, but workable. I think the loaves proofed too long because the bubbles were really big, but they were springing back at the 2 hour point, so I let them go another 45 min. I will definitely try again, but am still unsure about the water amount and how that affected the outcome.
salena November 21, 2015
This recipe works amazingly well. I left out the 3rd yolk by mistake and it didn't matter but decided to use a whole egg for the wash, and that worked too. So, indeed, it is as bread recipes go, relatively flexible. I used a seed called charnushka (from Penzey's), which tastes and looks (and I think must be) what my grandmother used on her challahs and called kimmel (as in Jimmy), which isn't the same as caraway. I highly recommend it. I was very surprised that the loaves baked in 20 minutes. <br />My result was perfect. This made me very happy. Thanks Jessica for sharing this wonderful and easy recipe.<br /><br />