Heavenly Challah Bread Recipes
Learn how to make gloriously golden brown loaves of challah, plus creative ways to use the bread in other dishes — from savory brunch casseroles and French toast to the ultimate grilled cheese.
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As a kid, I loved checking on the challah dough invariably rising on baking sheets every Friday afternoon. I was fascinated by the loaves’ growth as they rose and baked, and felt lucky we got fresh, warm challah at Shabbat dinner instead of bakery loaves. The secret — which my mom and Savta (grandmother) shared with a wink when guests raved over the breads — was that they were beyond easy to make because they came from the freezer section of the supermarket, courtesy of the kosher brand Kineret.
Both were consummate bakers, but neither made yeast breads from scratch. The commonly held notions that bread baking is too complicated or the prep time too lengthy may have been a deterrent, and store-bought bread is nothing if not convenient. But as many of us have recently learned, getting into a bread baking rhythm can be an incredibly satisfying hobby with delicious dividends. (My dad now makes challah dough in a bread machine, and my mom shapes and bakes it.)
Speaking of rhythm, challah’s ties to Shabbat (the Jewish day of rest) help define the fabric of the week for many Jewish bakers, who often set aside time every Thursday evening or Friday morning to make fresh loaves for Shabbat meals.
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Challah what? Learn the basics
Commonly asked questions (and answers!) about this beloved braided, yeasted bread. And yes, proper pronunciation will be addressed.
What is challah?
While there are special Shabbat breads from throughout the Jewish diaspora, challah, a mainstay of the Ashkenazi Jewish table, may be the most well-known. Often described as brioche-like, lofty braided challah is typically enriched with eggs and oil (rather than brioche’s butter and milk), and may be sweetened with sugar or honey. The ingredient choice is intentional, as the lack of dairy keeps the bread pareve (neutral), and therefore suitable for both meat and dairy meals per the laws of kosher dining.
Why is challah important?
The pair of loaves served at Shabbat and Jewish holiday meals (other than Passover, when bread is verboten) have symbolic significance — they’re meant to represent both the “showbreads” on display in the holy temple in ancient Jerusalem, and the double portion of manna that fell before Shabbat to sustain the Israelites when they were wandering in the desert. The number of strands in the braid or the overall shape can have both symbolic and decorative significance, too.
There are special rituals associated with challah, including hafrashat challah (separating a small piece of dough and burning it as a remembrance of the temple offerings), and saying the Hamotzi blessing over the loaves before enjoying them. Many Jewish bakers make challah baking a meditative practice, taking time to offer personal prayers for the health and wellbeing of family, friends, and even strangers while mixing, kneading, and shaping the dough.
Um, how do you pronounce challah?
The “ch” is soft and guttural; “challah” rhymes with “koala” (yup, there’s even a cute kids’ book called Koala Challah … )
What should I eat it with?
Challah is incredibly versatile. Tear into it and enjoy it solo, or dipped in olive oil. Serve it with dips or spreads like hummus or baba ghanoush. Top slices with roasted veggies, turn it into croutons, or use it to make the ultimate grilled cheese or French toast. Challah is also outrageously delicious slathered with melted dark chocolate or Nutella, or drizzled with honey.
How should I store challah?
Store challah in a zip-top bag at room temperature for 3-5 days; for longer storage, wrap baked and cooled challah in foil, place in a zip-top bag, and freeze for up to 3 months.
Easy challah recipes
If you’re a newbie to yeast bread, baking challah is a great way to build confidence. The classic recipes are time-tested, generally forgiving, and mixable by hand or machine.
Tori Avey practically holds your hand through the challah-making process with detailed instructions, lots of photos, and a separate tutorial on various braiding and shaping techniques. She also offers suggestions for toppings and mix-ins like raisins or chocolate chips.
Bread machines take a lot of the work out of challah making — all you need to do is shape the dough and bake. This recipe uses a mix of regular and whole wheat flour, in proportions just right for a standard bread machine.
This recipe relies on lots of yeast to ensure a quick rise, so the flavor isn’t as developed as traditional challah, though the olive oil and honey help compensate. If you’re short on time and craving homemade challah, it’s a great option. Note that while the ingredients aren’t metric, the bake temperature is listed as 200° C, which is just shy of 400° F. Try baking at 375° F, and be prepared to bake for an extra 5 to 10 minutes.
For folks with celiac disease or gluten intolerance, it can be tough to find a worthy challah substitute. These recipes help fill the void.
For observant Jews, a tricky thing about most gluten-free challahs is that according to Jewish law, they aren’t actually considered bread. That means they don’t qualify for the ritual of separating challah dough or saying the Hamotzi blessing — two mitzvot (commandments) many would like to fulfill. Happily, the proportion of oat flour in Vered Meir’s recipe lands her gluten-free challah squarely in bread territory, so those who need to avoid gluten can safely partake. Plus, whole grain oats make it higher in soluble fiber than most gluten-free baked goods. The recipe uses metric weight measures, so a baker’s scale that can weigh grams is a must.
Gluten-free bread recipes often rely on a mix of specialty ingredients — think sorghum flour, xanthan gum, rice flour, etc. — that not everyone has on hand. This recipe simplifies things by using a 1:1 flour replacer. Apples and raisins make it a nice choice for Rosh Hashanah. (The recipe calls for a specific 1:1, but you can experiment with other brands.)
Vegan challah recipes
Eggs and honey are standard ingredients in many challah recipes, but they’re far from requisite. In fact, “water challahs,” which skip eggs altogether, are a traditional part of the challah recipe cannon.
I’ve been making this recipe for years, so can attest to its flexibility. I often swap 1 to 2 cups of flour for regular or white whole wheat, use olive oil instead of a more neutral oil, or replace the sugar with honey. Bread flour works beautifully, and you can reduce the sugar. Water instead of soy milk is fine for the maple syrup wash, too.
Zsu Dever literally wrote the book on cooking with aquafaba, so it’s no surprise that she uses the chickpea cooking water to lend loft and a glossy sheen to this vegan challah.
Want a whole grain challah that’s soft, sweet, and egg-free? Here’s your go-to recipe. Spelt is an ancient variant of wheat that’s making a comeback thanks to the growing interest in heritage grains.
Stuffed, flavored, and other creative challahs
Some prefer traditional challah, others love jazzing it up with sweet or savory additions. If you’re in the latter camp, here’s some inspiration to spark your own creative flavor riffs.
The brilliance of the everything bagel translates perfectly to challah. This fabulous recipe even tells you how to DIY your own everything seasoning blend, so you can forgo the bottled stuff (and use it on whatever else strikes your fancy).
Perfect for fall or winter, this richly-hued challah captures the essences of pumpkin and warming spices. Sliced thick, it would make decadent French toast.
A rye bread-challah mashup? Yes, please! Imagine the sandwich possibilities, from cream cheese and cucumber to turkey and avocado…
The sesame sweet halvah is wrapped up in a vanilla extract- and spice-infused challah dough from Molly Yeh; the loaf is topped with honey, tahini, and more halvah for a uniquely delectable treat.
Challah French toast recipes
Challah is the best bread for exceptional French toast. Full stop. Whether you prefer frying it up in a skillet when the mood strikes, or want a do-ahead option, these recipes will serve you well.
Level up your French toast making game with an easy how-to that’s perfect when breakfast-for-dinner cravings strike. Drizzle with maple syrup, or go wild and top with ice cream.
Love French toast, but hate standing over the skillet? Pop the custard-infused bread in a baking dish, put it in the oven, and forget it until it's ready.
Another skillet-free hack, this one’s great if you prefer your French toast in slices.
Fancy up the casserole concept with this strawberry cheesecake-inspired version that toes the line between brunch and dessert. Raspberries would be great, too.
Challah sandwich recipes
Challah’s soft texture, tight crumb, and slightly chewy texture make it a natural for toasted or grilled sandwiches, since it crisps up so beautifully on the outside while staying soft inside. Of course, it’s also an ideal sammie vehicle when simply sliced.
Chocolate and challah make a superlative combo, and so do chocolate and banana. Put it all together, and you have one super-special panini.
Cheese plate lovers will adore this lush spin on grilled cheese; peppery arugula balances the sweetness of the apricot preserves. Try the basic cheese + fruit + savory accent formula as inspiration for your own challah toasties.
Soft challah is the perfect counterpoint to crispy panko-crusted chicken, fresh tomatoes, and a quick honey-sriracha mayo. If you don’t have a small challah, try challah rolls or slices.
Recipes to use up leftover challah
Challah tends to disappear fast, but if you’ve got extra, you can repurpose it in lots of great ways. If it’s stale, so much the better.
Think of strata as a savory French toast casserole. This version is designed for do-ahead cooking, but you can make stratas with less lead time — just give the custard about 15 to 30 minutes to soak into the bread before baking. Use the recipe as a template, and swap in leftover veggies or other cheeses.
Challah makes great croutons, so it works well in bread salads like this one. Add oil-packed tuna, or grilled veggies to make it extra-special.
This easy stuffing offers a taste of Thanksgiving whenever you’d like. It’s vegan, too, if you pick an egg-free challah recipe.
Speaking of Thanksgiving, this pumpkin puree-infused bread pudding makes a wonderfully warming dessert on cool nights.
Bread bakers, there’s more to discover!
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