Ima's Challah

April 7, 2010

Test Kitchen-Approved

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. - RivkaRivka

Food52 Review: We've always been entranced by the golden, undulating shape of challah bread, 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. The cardamom registers at a bare whisper, so go for a very big pinch if you want yours well-spiced. - A&MThe Editors

Serves: two large challot
Prep time: 4 hrs 25 min
Cook time: 22 min

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 cups warm water, divided
  • 1/4 cup plus 2 teaspoons sugar, divided
  • 2 tablespoons instant (powdered) yeast
  • 6 cups flour -- either all white or half white whole wheat
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1/4 cup mild honey, plus an extra tablespoon for eggwash, if desired
  • 2/3 cup flavorless vegetable or canola oil
  • 4 eggs, plus one yolk for eggwash, if desired
  • 1 pinch ground cardamom, optional
In This Recipe

Directions

  1. Put 1 cup warm water in a small bowl. Add 2 teaspoons of sugar, sprinkle the yeast over top, swirl the bowl just to combine, and leave it to proof for five minutes.
  2. While yeast is proofing, mix flour, salt, 1/4 cup of sugar and cardamom, if using, in a large bowl (or in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment.) Stir to incorporate or blend on low speed.
  3. In a medium bowl, mix remaining water, honey, oil, and eggs.
  4. When yeast has finished proofing, add it to the flour, immediately followed by wet ingredients. Mix with a large wooden spoon or on medium-low speed in the mixer, just until combined, about 30 seconds.
  5. Switch to dough hook and begin to knead on low speed, making sure to incorporate what's at the bottom of the bowl if the dough hook misses it. If kneading by hand, stir using spoon until dough becomes to thick to stir. Empty dough onto well-floured surface and knead by hand. Knead dough until smooth and no longer sticky, adding flour with a light hand as needed, 7-10 minutes.
  6. Split the dough into two equal pieces. Set 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 white flour, this should take about 2-2.5 hours. If using white whole wheat, it will take closer to 3.5 or 4. 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. Preheat oven to 375.
  8. After the rise, the dough should be soft and pliable. Separate each mound of dough into three equal balls, for a total of six. Roll each ball into a log almost 1-foot long. Braid the logs together to create your loaf. For the nicest-looking braid, do not pinch the top edges of your logs together before braiding; simply place one log over the next and braid until you reach the bottom, then pinch those edges together. Then, flip the unfinished 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 very tips beneath the loaf when braiding is finished. Repeat with second loaf.
  9. Put each loaf on its own silpat-lined baking sheet. If using eggwash, mix yolk with a 1 tablespoon water and 1 tablespoon honey. Brush over loaves.
  10. Bake at 375 degrees for 20-22 minutes, until challot are golden and baked through.

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Bread|Sandwich|American|Cardamom|Grains|Honey|Serves a Crowd|Hanukkah|Vegetarian|Snack|Side|Breakfast

Reviews (119) Questions (8)

119 Reviews

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.
 
messy K. September 19, 2016
I had high hopes for this recipe but it was really wet and I had to end up adding a lot more flour which made it really dry.
 
Dale C. June 18, 2016
Hello! Just trying this out for the first time. The edges of my bread are nice and brown, yet the bread as a whole doesn't look golden, is there something I did wrong?
 
Laurel S. April 11, 2016
I don't have silpat liners - should the baking sheet be oiled, floured, or left dry?
 
Author Comment
Rivka April 11, 2016
do you have parchment paper?
 
Laurel S. April 11, 2016
Nah - just an old fashioned cook here. Surely we can bake bread without silicone or paper, right? I'm not an experienced bread-baker, but it seems I remember my grandmother buttering her bread pans - maybe I'll just try that. ;)
 
Roxanne A. April 8, 2016
Can coconut flour be used ? I have a gluten intolerance.
 
CanadaDan December 31, 2015
fantastic recipe! i halved it to make one loaf, and used about 3/4 of a tbsp yeast instead of 1 tbsp since i proofed it for about 16 hours in the fridge. i also added the yeast to the flour directly instead of proofing it in water, and let the braided load proof for about 1.5 hours at room temp. sprinkled some coarse salt on top before baking too. it came out really well...colour wasn't perfectly brown all around but i blame that on my oven and the fact that it was my first time braiding a challah. will use this recipe from now on. thank!
 
Rebecca F. September 14, 2015
Made this for rosh hashanah-- it was a huge hit! Thanks for a great recipe!
 
Simone H. August 22, 2015
This is now my go-to challah recipe. I love it! My only addition is to let the dough rise for a second time (for about 20-30 minutes) after the challot have been braided.
 
Short &. April 6, 2015
I made this the other day. Split it into one large loaf and two mini loaves. It is totally delicious! Everyone loves it, even the dogs who, when I left the house to gift the two smaller loaves, climbed on the kitchen counter and ate the ENTIRE large loaf! Making more tomorrow and storing it in the cupboard where they cannot get to it unless they grow thumbs...
 
burning-ice March 29, 2015
This was lovely, and very easy! I added some lime peel to the dough, and it tasted amazing. Will do this many more times, I am sure.
 
Michelle D. February 8, 2015
I just took my loaves out of the oven. They rose beautifully but the crust came out harder than I was expecting. I subbed melted butter for the oil and didn't do the egg wash. Any ideas about the crust?
 
SK January 26, 2015
Can milk be substituted for water in this recipe?
 
Author Comment
Rivka January 26, 2015
sure.
 
pvanhagenlcsw December 27, 2014
I have always wanted to make challah and this presented the perfect opportunity. Wonderful recipe with amazing results. High praise from all those who were fortunate enough to taste it.
 
Leora November 13, 2014
Can you please provide weight for dry ingredients?
 
Author Comment
Rivka November 13, 2014
Hi Leora,<br /><br />I don't think I can provide accurate weights for the dry ingredients in this recipe. My cup of flour typically weighs 4.5 oz, and I think 5 grams of yeast is about 1.5 teaspoons, which means 2 tablespoons of yeast is about 20 grams. Other than that, can't speak to the weights - it's a "heritage" recipe, so I make it as instructed, using cups and spoons. Less consistent, perhaps, but I'm so used to it that I've never bothered to weigh for this recipe. If you do, report back.
 
Ri C. December 25, 2015
Use volumen.io for transforming the ounces to grams!
 
Ibolya G. October 26, 2014