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. - Rivka
Sandwich fan? Tune into our podcast, The Sandwich Universe, where co-hosts and longtime BFFs Molly Baz and Declan Bond debate and cook up iconic sandwiches every ‘wich way. —Rivka
Test Kitchen Notes
Challah is a rich, delicious bread that originated in Eastern Europe that at times almost looks too pretty to eat. You'll be so impressed by your creation that you'll find yourself making and perfecting this recipe over and over again. We've always been entranced by the golden, undulating shape of challah, 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 immediately. The cardamom registers at a bare whisper, so feel free to go for a very big pinch if you want yours well-spiced. It's shiny thanks to a simple egg wash, as well as rich and pillowy, and doesn't require any special ingredients to make (the cardamom is totally optional). The taste is similar to brioche and is served for Shabbat and Jewish holidays, but it can also be enjoyed all year-round. The braiding may seem like the most intimidating part, but after watching Rivka's technique in the video, you'll be able to nail it on your very first try.
As mentioned above, this recipe calls for cardamom, but you could also experiment with cinnamon, nutmeg, even raisins. Otherwise, with just some sugar, yeast, flour, salt, eggs, and oil, you probably have all the ingredients in your pantry and fridge already. You can make and knead the dough by hand, but using a stand mixer will definitely cut down on prep time (and an arm workout). It's a fun weekend project, as you have to wait for a couple of hours for the dough to rise, and it'll make your house smell amazing. If you have any challah left over, we recommend making some French toast, bread puddings, even croutons. —The Editors
- Prep time 4 hours 25 minutes
- Cook time 22 minutes
- Serves 2 large challot
1 1/2 cups
warm water, divided
plus 2 teaspoons sugar, divided
active dry yeast
flour, either all-purpose or half all-purpose/white whole wheat, plus more for the surface
ground cardamom, optional
large eggs, plus 1 large egg yolk for the egg wash, if desired
vegetable or canola oil, plus more for greasing
mild honey, plus 1 tablespoon for the egg wash, if desired
- Into a small bowl, pour 1 cup warm water. Add 2 teaspoons of sugar and sprinkle the yeast over the top. Swirl the bowl just to combine and let proof for 5 minutes.
- Meanwhile, in a large bowl (or in the large bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment on low speed), mix the flour, salt, cardamom, if using, and 1/4 cup of sugar until incorporated.
- In a medium bowl, mix the eggs, oil, honey, and remaining 1 cup warm water.
- Add the yeast mixture to the flour mixture, immediately followed by the egg mixture. Mix with a large wooden spoon (or on medium-low speed) for about 30 seconds, just until combined.
- Continue to stir with a spoon until the dough becomes too thick to stir (or switch to the dough hook and mix on low speed, making sure to incorporate anything at the bottom of the bowl). Roll out the dough onto a well floured surface and knead by hand, adding flour as needed, for 7 to 10 minutes, until smooth and no longer sticky.
- Divide the dough into 2 equal pieces. Place 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 all-purpose flour, this should take about 2 to 2 1/2 hours. If using white whole wheat, it will take closer to 3 1/2 or 4 hours. 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.
- Heat the oven to 375°F. The dough should be soft and pliable. Separate each mound of dough into 3 equal balls, for a total of 6. Roll each ball into a log almost 1 foot long. Braid the logs together to create a loaf. For the nicest-looking braid, do not pinch the top edges of the logs together before braiding; simply place one log over the next and braid until you reach the bottom, then pinch those edges together. Flip the 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 tips beneath the loaf when the braiding is finished. Repeat with the second loaf.
- Place each loaf on its own silpat-lined baking sheet. If using an egg wash, in a small bowl, mix the egg yolk with 1 tablespoon water and 1 tablespoon honey. Brush over the loaves.
- Bake for 20 to 22 minutes, until the challot are golden and baked through.