Serves a Crowd

Ima's Challah

April  7, 2010
17 Ratings
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 —Rivka

Test Kitchen Notes

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&M —The Editors

Watch This Recipe
Ima's Challah
  • Prep time 4 hours 25 minutes
  • Cook time 22 minutes
  • Serves two large challot
  • 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
  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.

See what other Food52ers are saying.

  • Lisa Joseph Rothman
    Lisa Joseph Rothman
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    Stephanie Tipon Catu
  • Rosalind Paaswell
    Rosalind Paaswell
  • Yayita
  • Sherry Zaks
    Sherry Zaks
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!

129 Reviews

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?"
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:
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)
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'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. ;)
Maven53 April 4, 2019
I too don’t have silpats so I just put some parchment paper on the sheet pan. Worked fine.
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...