Serves a Crowd

My Great-Grandmother's Challah

April  7, 2010
6 Ratings
Photo by Jenny Huang
  • Prep time 30 hours
  • Cook time 35 hours
  • Serves 2 large loaves or 4 small
Author Notes

At my grandmother's house, challah was on the table at every Friday night (Sabbath). For years, her mother-in-law, my great-grandmother Nana, made the bread. When she turned 90, she flat out refused to ever make it again. We had store-bought challah for a few months, until I convinced Nana to show me how to create her exceptional challah.

I still can't make a perfect braid, but the flavor of this sweet, eggy, light-textured bread covers for even the humblest looking loaf. It's fabulous as french toast, egg-in-the-hole, and my vegetarian Thanksgiving stuffing. (PS—Challah differs from brioche in that challah is made with oil, not butter. Buttery brioche can't be served with meat at a kosher table.) —MrsWheelbarrow

Test Kitchen Notes

The texture of this challah is just perfect. It’s appropriately doughy but with an even crumb, and it slices up very nicely. Some challah dough gets lumpy after the second rise—not this one; it stays smooth and easy to work. While it starts out quite wet, MrsWheelbarrow is right: avoid the temptation to add extra flour. With enough kneading and resting time, the dough will firm up and lose much of its stickiness. I used corn oil instead of the canola and peanut because that’s what I had (and what I often use to make challah), and it worked great. - Rivka —The Editors

What You'll Need
  • Sponge
  • 5 teaspoons (two packages) active yeast
  • 8 ounces warm water
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • Challah
  • 12 ounces warm water
  • 3 eggs
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 4 ounces canola or peanut oil
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2 tablespoons kosher salt
  • 2 ounces honey (wildflower, clover, or other light-colored one)
  • up to 2 pounds all-purpose flour
  • Coarse cornmeal
  • Egg wash (1 egg yolk + 1 T water)
  • Poppy seeds or Charnushka, to garnish
  1. Whisk the sponge ingredients together in the bowl of your stand mixer. Cover with a dishtowel and allow to stand and start to bubble away—about 10 minutes. If it doesn't bubble, throw it all away, get some fresh yeast, and start again. This sponge should be foamy.
  2. In another bowl, whisk together the water, eggs, yolks, sugar, oil, salt and honey.
  3. Add two cups of flour to the sponge and, using the paddle attachment, blend well.
  4. Add the water/egg mixture and blend well.
  5. Add three additional cups of flour and blend. Change to the dough hook and allow the dough to rest and the flour to absorb all the moisture for 10 to 15 minutes.
  6. This is a great time to tidy up, wash some dishes, and prepare your rising bowl. You'll need a REALLY LARGE bowl for this rise. Generously brush the inside of the bowl with some of the oil.
  7. Once the dough has rested, using a rubber spatula, stir up the dough well, getting all the flour from the bottom of the bowl. Stir in an additional 1/2 cup of flour.
  8. Using the dough hook, knead the dough for 10 minutes on a medium speed. It will be very wet. You won't believe it will turn into bread. Resist the temptation to add more flour.
  9. While the dough hook is working, flour your counter well. Use at least 1/4 cup of flour.
  10. When blisters begin to appear on the surface of the dough and it looks elastic, tip the dough onto the floured counter. Be gentle. Protect the gluten strands as you ease the dough out of the bowl.
  11. Using a bench scraper and well-floured hands, lift the dough, fold, and push it away from you. Be very gentle. This is a delicate bread. Continue to turn, push, and fold until it just comes together.
  12. Carefully lift the dough into the oiled bowl, turn and coat with the oil, and then cover with a clean cotton towel, and put it all in a warm spot and allow to rise for 2 hours, until doubled.
  13. At the end of the first rise, gently deflate the dough (Nana's voice: "Don't punch it! Who punches food?") and allow it to rise again for an hour.
  14. Prepare two baking sheets with parchment brushed with oil and dusted with coarse cornmeal. Preheat oven to 375° F
  15. Now it's time to braid the loaves. Remember to be very gentle with the dough. This will keep it light. Using your bench scraper, divide the dough into two large loaves, then each loaf into three pieces (some bakers make 5-strand and 7-strand braids—go to YouTube for examples.)
  16. Cover half the dough. Working on a lightly-floured surface, and pressing lightly with your hands, roll and push the dough gently out to form three 16-inch strands.
  17. Place the three pieces on one of the baking sheets side-by-side. Start your braid in the center, crossing outside strand to the center, alternating sides. Tuck the ends under. Turn the baking sheet, and braid the other half, tucking under at the end. Don't obsess. Braid the other loaf.
  18. Brush with an egg wash (one yolk + 1 T water) and sprinkle with poppy seeds or Charnushka. Allow the loaves to rest and rise again for 30 minutes.
  19. Preheat the oven to 375° F. Bake the loaves for 35 to 40 minutes. Swap the pans in the oven—top to bottom, back to front, halfway through. Tent with foil if they are browning too quickly. Test for doneness—190° F on a thermometer, golden brown all over, a little browner on the bottom.
  20. Cool on a rack. The loaves freeze beautifully. I pre-slice before freezing, for quick toast.

See what other Food52ers are saying.

  • Catherine Sopinka Williams
    Catherine Sopinka Williams
  • monkeymom
  • WinnieAb
  • Kitchen Butterfly
    Kitchen Butterfly
  • Lizthechef
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19 Reviews

Karen September 15, 2023
Please DO NOT MAKE THIS RECIPE! I have been baking challah for over 30 years and I thought I would try a new recipe this year. This was a disaster. There is no way to handle this dough without adding a LOT MORE FLOUR. The dough spread all over the counter and onto the floor. I followed the recipe meticulously and it was a mess. Did anyone at Food 52 try to make this recipe?
BlueFish May 17, 2020
I have only been able to find instant yeast. How can I adapt this recipe?
MrsWheelbarrow December 29, 2021
I use the same amount of instant as active dry
A December 14, 2018
I love this recipe because the taste of the loaves is not overly sweet and represents the individual honey & egg flavors well. I’m sad; however, I can not seem to do the process justice. It might be the flour or other finicky variables ( SoCal weather, volume measurement, runny farmer’s market honey, kneading & mixing by hand) my dough just never comes together despite step 8’s warning. I am compelled to add more flour lest it run right off the counter. The dough remains so moist, I can not braid it. Any advice?
MrsWheelbarrow December 14, 2018
Hi. I know the dough is crazy wet. In step 8, add up to one more cup (120g) of flour and scatter another cup on the counter. Use your bench scraper to pick up and fold the dough in towards the center. Do what you can to control it, but mostly just get it in the oiled bowl. Refrigerate overnight After the first rise and it will hydrate, rise slowly, and be much easier to handle. Bring it out in the morning and braid it,let it rise again and bake.
MrsWheelbarrow December 14, 2018
Also, FWIW, i use King Arthur flour
slogan September 10, 2018
Can the recipe be cut in half?
MrsWheelbarrow September 10, 2018
I’m sure you can cut it in half, but I suggest making the whole recipe and freezing one loaf for your Thanksgiving stuffing.
Catherine S. February 27, 2016
Thank you for this amazing recipe. This is the first time i've made challah and it turned out perfectly. I did have to add a bit more flour to enable e to work with it, but the results are spectacular and the loaves are being met with oohs and ahhhs.
barbara C. August 13, 2013
I've made challah for years -- this is the recipe I've been looking for!
the loaves are delicious and the crust is tender! Thank you!
Because the dough was still quite wet after adding 7 cups of flour I decided to rise it in the refrigerator overnight in the hope it would firm up a bit. After several hours in the fridge I punched it down by folding the ends in and put it back in the refrigerator overnight for the second rise. The next morning the dough was easy to work with and doubled in the same 1/2 hour called for in the original recipe. Baking time was still 35-40 min.

MrsWheelbarrow August 13, 2013
Barbara, your comment just made my day! I'm so glad you like the challah. It is a very wet dough, there's no doubt about that, but once you learn to work with it, it's that very wetness that makes the crumb so very tender. I hope you have many happy loaves in your future. All best, Cathy
monkeymom May 29, 2010
I made this last night for my dad...and to satisfy the craving for french toast from this last week's theme. I was so happy to make such beautiful loaves! And the bread was absolutely delicious. MrsW, one question. The ingredient list has 6-7 cups of flour but the instructions have you add about 5 3/4. Thus I had to add about a cup more or I wouldn't have been able to knead that correct? Otherwise, all the direction were very clear. Thanks very much!
MrsWheelbarrow May 29, 2010
Thank you for your message. And clearly you are better at math than I am! :) I've used as much as 7 cups and as little as 5-1/2, so much depends on the size of the eggs, the humidity, the flour and so on. I like to resist the temptation to add too much flour, so wrote the recipe with that in mind. I intended to have it add up to 6, though. Oops.
monkeymom June 1, 2010
I am very's good to know that when it feels way to sticky it is okay to add more flour...with a light hand, obviously. Thanks again!
WinnieAb April 9, 2010
Love challah...these are beautiful and I am sure delicious!
MrsWheelbarrow April 9, 2010
Thanks, Winnie. I think the photo shows how inconsistent my loaves/braids are. I'm used to it, but... Hope you'll give it a try!
Kitchen B. April 9, 2010
Super stunning loaves of bread.............thanks for testing my recipe. Glad it worked. I'll have to give this Challah a go, once life gets back to normal!
MrsWheelbarrow April 9, 2010
Thanks! Loved yr recipe, btw. This challah does take awhile to make. About five hours from start to finish, but of course, you're not in the kitchen hovering that whole time!
Lizthechef April 7, 2010
You do your Nana proud - and thank you for the distinction between challah and brioche.