Serves a Crowd

Ima's Challah

by:
June  8, 2021
4 Stars
  • Prep time 4 hours 25 minutes
  • Cook time 22 minutes
  • Serves 2 large challot
Author Notes

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

Watch This Recipe
Ima's Challah
Ingredients
  • 1 1/2 cups warm water, divided
  • 1/4 cup plus 2 teaspoons sugar, divided
  • 2 tablespoons active dry yeast
  • 6 cups flour, either all-purpose or half all-purpose/white whole wheat, plus more for the surface
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1 pinch ground cardamom, optional
  • 4 large eggs, plus 1 large egg yolk for the egg wash, if desired
  • 2/3 cup vegetable or canola oil, plus more for greasing
  • 1/4 cup mild honey, plus 1 tablespoon for the egg wash, if desired
In This Recipe
Directions
  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. In a medium bowl, mix the eggs, oil, honey, and remaining 1 cup warm water.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. Bake for 20 to 22 minutes, until the challot are golden and baked through.

See what other Food52ers are saying.

  • Lisa Joseph Rothman
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I'm a healthcare consultant by day, food blogger by night, and I make a mean veggie chili. I'm eat a mostly-vegetarian diet, but have a soft spot for meat, especially braised short ribs. And this profile wouldn't be complete without an admission that I absolutely am addicted to cookies and chocolate. Finally, I love the idea of food52 and can't wait to share and read my and others' favorite recipes!

144 Reviews

Lisa J. May 20, 2022
HI- Make this all the time. Today was the BEST: 1 cup of warm water to rise the dry yeast( 2 1/4 tsp) WITH 2 tsp of sugar; used 3 cups BREAD FLOUR, and 3 cups all purpose flour; rose for 2 1/2 hours; punched down, braided for two loaves, rose for another 1/2 hour, baked for 25 minutes. AWESOME . rose beautifully and had full smooth grain- tasted mellow, cushy.
 
Karola February 26, 2022
Yes I would like clarification on water and yeast too please, I'd love to make this but reviews over water are putting me off as I don't want to waste time or ingredients (who does?) Perhaps say 'updated + date' at top so people regain confidence? Thank you!
 
Laurel S. February 26, 2022
Here is the original recipe, with correct water and yeast amounts. It's DELICIOUS!

http://notderbypie.com/imas-challah-now-with-whole-wheat-instructions/
 
Catherine P. February 26, 2022
Could someone please clarify the amount of water
Ingredients show 1 1/2 cups divided Directions show 1 cup + 1 cup
Also yeast amount seems excessive
Many thanks
 
Laurel S. February 26, 2022
This is the original recipe. I don't know what happened to the one here, but it is definitely not right.

http://notderbypie.com/imas-challah-now-with-whole-wheat-instructions/
 
insecureepicure February 26, 2022
water and yeast are not set in stone. depending on humidity you might need more or less water. also, you can use less yeast and give the bread more time. take a chance.
 
May February 18, 2022
I been making this recipe a lot of times and its the best. I always used quick rise yeast and added 1/4 cup water to mix with the oil,eggs honey. Yes it was a bit confusing because there 2 cups of water. Thanks for sharing.
 
Kizen T. February 7, 2022
recipes in grams please..
 
Rosalind P. February 18, 2022
I agree! Weights are the best way to measure, especially for baking, although I don't care if the weights are in metric (grams) or imperial (ounces). So much easier and accurate.
 
Beth D. January 17, 2022
This recipe is a keeper! I cut it in half and used the single load for French toast. It did not disappoint.
 
Beth D. January 17, 2022
Loaf*
 
Margo W. December 3, 2021
This recipe must have been updated with new water measurements and is now unworkable. I’m so upset because I’ve made it many times over the years and it’s come out perfectly. I’ve just had to toss two batches of extremely wet dough (made with two cups as the instructions dictate and 1.5as in the ingredients. ) please revert back to the original recipe.
 
Mirella December 3, 2021
Margo- I read the ingredient list several times and came to the same conclusion (also see my comment about the amount of yeast below).
 
Mirella September 12, 2021
Just a comment- The amount of water (1 1/2 C) in the ingredient list does NOT match the amount of water in the instructions (1 C in Step 1 and another 1 C in Step 3). Also, I used the 2Tbsp of yeast and I thought that the rise was way too fast. I am guessing that you really meant 2 tsp not 2 Tbsp because that would more closely match one standard package of yeast (2 1/8 tsp)....and I bet that's what your mom used. It would be great if the recipe could be corrected.
 
Tammy W. September 18, 2020
I just tried this recipe. I used half all purpose flour and half white whole wheat. I used my Stand mixer to knead for about 9 minutes or so. The dough doubled in an hour. I don’t know how it will taste but it looks great and my house smells wonderful. Thanks for all your great recipes and ideas.
 
Lisa J. August 8, 2020
Ima's challah, Have been making this for years and this time tried the 2 tbsp yeast. Although u say way too much yeast, and it did rise in under 2 hours it happened to be the most finely grained and well risen challah from this recipe that I ever made. Dough was a bit sticky coming form the kitchen aid dough hook mixing so kneaded by hand it a bit more and was able to handle it better before the first rise and when making the braids. So the question is, "How sticky should the dough be when you are finished kneading in the kitchen aid and then what to do to make it less sticky: less water? more flour?"
thx
 
Stephanie T. May 8, 2020
Used this recipe to make my first challah ever and it was a success! I think I’ll just use the whole egg for my egg wash next time, as egg white lends to a shinier finish. Also, instead of a second loaf, I made the other half into cinnamon buns and they were amazing!
 
apple_pierate August 13, 2019
I have been making challah on and off from my family's recipe for several years. That particular recipe for some reason just DOES NOT work in a stand mixer (my mother says the "sweat and swearing" are essential ingredients and help us remember our ancestors suffering or something), and since I had a hankering and an injured hand I went in search of a recipe that I could do in a stand mixer.

This recipe gave me a lot of grief. The end result was decent but required about 2 extra cups of flour to get to a dough consistency that could be kneaded by my KitchenAid with the dough hook attachment. This resulted in a dough that was both over and underworked by the time it came out of the bowl, resulting in a sticky mess that was very hard to scrape out into a second oiled bowl for the primary rise. I'm guessing that the recipe writer either was working with very dehydrated/old flour or packs the flour into the measuring cup, which is not notated in the recipe. The recipes I'm familiar with for breads generally have a lower moisture content, so I guess I should have expected that to happen, but if you're making this from the recipe expect to add a significant amount of flour.

I batch rose it instead of splitting (to save dishes) which worked fine. I did a minor second knead by hand (2 min) before rolling out for braiding to reincorporate the oil on the surface and make the dough more uniform. It's not in the recipe but if you want a good result you need to give it 30 minutes to rise again after braiding before the egg wash. I did like the flip braiding trick and will be repeating it in the future. Breads of this size will never be done in 25 minutes, mine took 45ish with the oven temp lowered to 350 to prevent burning. Even with a second rise it doubled in size in the oven, resulting in a semi-craggy looking outside that no amount of additional egg wash could make shiny and a slightly dense bottom. I agree with other reviewers, cut the yeast in half and you'll get a better result.

Overall rating: 3/5, it's just okay. Might work better if working by hand with the fold and slap method as opposed to a stand mixer. I'm willing to give this another shot with packed flour, halving the yeast, and maybe cutting back the water and sugar slightly (and possibly a longer second rise). The braiding method is great, and I liked the hint of cardamom with the poppyseeds I put on top. It's not bad, but I've definitely made and eaten better.
 
Rosalind P. August 14, 2019
Yikes! What a trial this recipe was for you. I would have thrown in the towel and gone on to another recipe. But it sounds as if you got a decent if not great result. I make challah every week too with a much different recipe but some of the same techniques. If I try another recipe my family is not happy: "If it's not broken don't fix it." The book "Blessing of Bread" by Maggie Glezer has many challah recipes and lots of interesting narrative as well as other breads from around the world. It's out of print but available used. That said, I'm going to try this one. But the problems you encountered might not have occurred if the ingredients had been given in weight measures instead of volume. Good luck with the next try.
 
JKazzaz March 27, 2020
I think there is actually a typo in the recipe with regards to the yeast. The original recipe posted on the author's blog specifies that it only needs 2.5tsp of yeast. Somehow it got transposed into 2tbs when posted on this site. I use the 2.5 tsp measure and swap out 1/4 of the flour with whole wheat flour and it turns out great. Source to the original recipe: http://notderbypie.com/imas-challah-now-with-whole-wheat-instructions/
 
Rosalind P. March 27, 2020
You are so right! Good catch. 2 Tablespoons of yeast is way too much -- obviously a typo. 2 1/4 teaspoons is standard for this much flour, but if you're patient, you can reduce even that: the less yeast, the better the flavor. Just takes longer to rise. But certainly use the original recipe's 2 1/4. (the standard yeast envelope)
 
Jennifer G. September 19, 2021
This recipe is doubled from the version on the blog, so I think it is supposed to be 5 tsp or 1.7 Tbsn.
 
Miriyam G. March 1, 2019
This is the most delicious challah I have ever made. I have tried dozens and dozens of recipes (including my own mother's). But the brilliance of adding a bit of cardomon, as well as the mix of white whole wheat & white (I include some bread flour), along with the EASE of the risings: you really win the prize Ima shel Riva! Bless you! By the way, I add a variety of different seeds to the top of the braids: fennel, caraway, black sesame, white sesame, etc. etc. Beautiful and delicious. Thank you so much for this recipe!
 
Michele K. December 13, 2018
Do you recommend using all-purpose flour or bread flour for the challah?
 
Rosalind P. December 16, 2017
Please, please, please (add as many "pleases" as can fit) give ingredient measurements in weights, ESPECIALLY for baking. Volume measurements for flour are too darn tricky and inconsistent! I know, I know...it's how it's done in the U.S. But I was bedeviled by them and consequently stayed away from baking, again, especially yeast breads. But since they are now more and more in use, I am an indefatigable baker. Please???
 
Carole O. April 17, 2017
I baked the challah from this recipe, but changed some stuff because I've made a lot of bread in my life, and there were things about the recipe that struck me as inconvenient or just plain wrong. The challah turned out great, btw. I didn't add the sugar, although my son thinks I should have, but he likes a sweeter bread than I do. I mixed the dough with a dough hook in my Kitchenaid, and added the liquid to the yeast mixture first, then added the flour mixture a cup at a time. I used maybe another half cup of flour while kneading, which I did for a full ten minutes. I looked at the baking time and thought that'll never work!, so I baked it at 325 for 45 minutes, and it was perfect.
 
Yayita January 24, 2017
First time bread maker, this was a success! I had tried another Food52 recipe: Jessica's Five Fold Challah and it didn't work out for me as the though as very sticky, hard and unmanageable to even do a braid on it :( I decided to give this one a try and it worked! I 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. I will be making this one again :D
 
Sherry Z. November 7, 2016
Long time baker here – This recipe overall had a great result. I did change a few things. For one, I left out the 1/4 cup of sugar. That seemed to be a huge amount of sugar in addition to the 1/4 cup of honey and the bread was none-the-worse for it. I also let the challot proof for another 20 minutes after shaping. Lastly, I always add a touch of milk, olive oil, cinnamon, and sugar to my egg wash – it makes it easier to spread and adds a nice sweet flavor. The one issue that I would fix next time is that this recipe calls for an insane amount of yeast. It took Waaaaaaaay less that 2 hours for it to double in bulk – it actually took less than one hour. I even deflated some of it a bit of the way through to let it re-rise to develop more flavor. I am positive you could get away with only using one packet of yeast rather than two. (I usually use half of one packet for a single loaf, so I was a little suspicious going in.) Overall though, beautiful and delicious result.
 
Sara October 2, 2016
I was super excited to follow this recipe, but once the loaves went into the oven, things began to fall apart. At 20 minutes, the edges were a beautiful golden brown and the valleys between braids were still raw. I bordered the pan in foil over the brown edges of the loaves and had t nearly double the time to get something I could be happy with. Is it common for challah to bake unevenly.
 
Kaite September 29, 2016
This recipe was somewhat disastrous for me. I've made bread before but using recipes that had ingredients listed by weight. I've been really wanting to make this though so today I gave it a try. First off the dough was so sticky! It took me an hour to get it where it needed to be. Gradually adding more flour a little bit at a time. Ok. Proofed the dough, turned it out, rolled the logs, braided, egg washed, stuck it in the oven. After 22 minutes I took it out and could tell it was raw. Had to stick it back in for another 15 minutes as the internal temp was still too low. All the while I had my other loaf proofing a second time on the side lines. Took the first loaf out of the oven after cooking 40 minutes. It works. My husband enjoyed it. Second loaf, 25 minutes later and it is still raw in the middle. Had to cook it longer. While things did turn out in the end, I really had to fidget with the recipe to make it work. Not sure I want to give this recipe another go as it was more fussy than I had hoped.