Classic Challah Bakealong: Challenge #17

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Classic challah is a soft loaf made with all-purpose flour (or a combination of all-purpose and whole wheat flours) and enhanced with both eggs and a sweetener (either sugar or honey).

Classic Challah Bakealong via @kingarthurflour

Challah is similar in taste and texture to Greek tsoureki or Swiss zopf, but unlike those breads it’s dairy-free. Traditionally served at the Jewish Sabbath and on most holidays (save Passover), it’s safe to say challah and its many incarnations are a part of Jewish cuisine and culture in much of the world.

Classic Challah Bakealong via @kingarthurflour

What distinguishes challah from other soft white breads is its striking appearance. Shaped into a coil or braid (from simple to intricate), the loaf is a shiny, deep-mahogany brown, thanks to a coating of egg glaze before going into the oven.

So, are you ready to test your yeast bread skills with this Classic Challah Bakealong? Don’t worry, we’ll offer you plenty of support along the way (even if you’re an all-thumbs dough shaper like me!)

Learn how to braid your most beautiful challah ever with this Classic Challah Bakealong challenge. Click To Tweet

Gather your ingredients

1/2 cup lukewarm water
6 tablespoons vegetable oil
1/4 cup honey
2 large eggs
4 cups (17 ounces) King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon instant yeast

First step: Weigh out 17 ounces of flour; or measure 4 cups of flour by gently spooning it into a cup, then sweeping off any excess. The more accurately you measure your flour, the better your bread will be; too much flour will yield a dry, heavy loaf.

Mix and knead the dough

Combine all of the dough ingredients and mix to make a rough dough.

Classic Challah Bakealong via @kingarthurflour

Knead the dough — by hand, using a stand mixer, or in a bread machine — to make a soft, smooth dough. It’ll still have a slightly rough surface; that’s fine.

Classic Challah Bakealong via @kingarthurflour

Place the dough in a lightly greased bowl, and cover the bowl.

Classic Challah Bakealong via @kingarthurflour

Let the dough rise

Allow the dough to rise for about 2 hours. It won’t necessarily double in bulk, but should become noticeably (if not dramatically) puffy.

Gently deflate the dough, and transfer it to a lightly greased work surface.

You may braid the challah the traditional way, into a three-strand braid. But for this Bakealong challenge, we’ll be tackling a fancier six-strand braid.

We’ll show you how to make a six-strand braid in the step-by-step photos below. But we encourage you to first watch our video, which will give you a feel for the rhythm of this braiding technique:

Classic Challah Bakealong via @kingarthurflour

Divide and shape the dough

Divide the dough into six pieces. A scale is a big help in dividing the dough evenly.

Classic Challah Bakealong via @kingarthurflour

Shape each piece into a rough log.

Classic Challah Bakealong via @kingarthurflour

Cover the logs, and let them rest for 10 minutes.

Classic Challah Bakealong via @kingarthurflour

Roll each piece into a long rope. Your goal is ropes about 20″ long; if the dough starts to shrink back as you roll, cover it and let it rest again for about 10 minutes, then resume rolling. The short rest gives the gluten a chance to relax.

Make a six-strand braid

Pinch together the ends of the strands so that all six strands are joined at one end.

Mentally number the positions of these strands 1 to 6, going left to right. The outermost strand on the left is #1; the outermost strand on the right is #6.

While the individual strands themselves will move, this numbering of positions will remain the same: looking left to right, the order of the strands is 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6.

Classic Challah Bakealong via @kingarthurflour

Now, cross the two outer strands. That’s easy, right?

To continue and ultimately finish the braid, you’re going to repeat a sequence of four steps (labeled 1, 2, 3, 4 below) all the way through. Each photo shows where the numbered strand should end up at the completion of the step you’re performing.

Classic Challah Bakealong via @kingarthurflour

1. Cross 1 over 2 and 3.

Classic Challah Bakealong via @kingarthurflour

2. Cross 5 over 4, 3, 2, and 1.

Classic Challah Bakealong via @kingarthurflour

3. Cross 6 over 5 and 4.

Classic Challah Bakealong via @kingarthurflour

4. Cross 2 over 3, 4, 5, and 6.

Repeat those four steps:

Classic Challah Bakealong via @kingarthurflour

Cross 1 over 2 and 3.

Classic Challah Bakealong via @kingarthurflour

Cross 5 over 4, 3, 2, and 1.

Classic Challah Bakealong via @kingarthurflour

Cross 6 over 5 and 4.

Classic Challah Bakealong via @kingarthurflour

Cross 2 over 3, 4, 5, and 6.

And repeat again:

Classic Challah Bakealong via @kingarthurflour

1 over 2 and 3…

Classic Challah Bakealong via @kingarthurflour 5 over, 4, 3, 2, and 1…

Classic Challah Bakealong via @kingarthurflour

6 over 5 and 4…

Classic Challah Bakealong via @kingarthurflour

2 over 3, 4, 5, and 6.

Here’s the process one more time, in motion.

Keep repeating this sequence until you get to the end of your strands.

Classic Challah Bakealong via @kingarthurflour

Gently pick up the braided loaf, and place it on a lightly greased or parchment-lined baking sheet.

Classic Challah Bakealong via @kingarthurflour

Let the braid rise

Cover the loaf with lightly greased plastic wrap, and let it rise until it’s very puffy, 90 minutes to 2 hours at room temperature.

Towards the end of the rising time, preheat the oven to 375°F.

Classic Challah Bakealong via @kingarthurflour

Whisk together 1 large egg and 1 tablespoon water. Brush this glaze over the risen loaf.

Bake the challah

Nest the challah on its baking sheet into another baking sheet, if you have one. This double layering of pans will help prevent the challah’s bottom crust from browning too quickly.

Put the challah into the lower third of the oven, and bake it for 20 minutes. If it’s a deep golden brown, tent it loosely with aluminum foil. If it’s not as brown as you like, check it again at 30 minutes.

Once you’ve tented the challah, bake it for an additional 10 to 15 minutes, until the loaf looks and feels set and its interior registers at least 190°F on a digital thermometer.

Classic Challah Bakealong via @kingarthurflour

Remove the bread from the oven, and place it on a rack to cool.

Store any leftover bread, well wrapped in plastic, at room temperature for several days; freeze for longer storage. While challah does tend to dry out after a day or so, it’s always good toasted or made into grilled sandwiches or French toast.

High-altitude adjustments

Do you bake at altitude? Check out our high-altitude baking tips.

Make it whole wheat

While challah made with 100% whole wheat flour will be heavier than that made with all-purpose flour, it will still be soft and delicious. For best flavor, we recommend substituting white whole wheat flour for the all-purpose flour. Increase the amount of water to 3/4 cup, adding up to an additional 2 tablespoons water if necessary to make a soft, smooth dough. Allow the just-mixed dough to rest for 20 minutes before kneading; this gives the flour a chance to absorb the liquid, making it easier to knead.

Make it ahead

Prepare the loaf up to the point where it’s braided and on the pan. Tent it with greased plastic wrap, and place it in the refrigerator overnight. Next morning, remove the dough from the refrigerator (keep it covered). Let it warm and rise at room temperature for 60 minutes before baking as directed.

Baking gluten-free?

The intricate braiding involved in challah doesn’t easily lend itself to the absence of gluten. We don’t recommend you try to bake gluten-free challah, but instead urge you to check out our tempting array of gluten-free bread recipes.

Classic Challah Bakealong via @kingarthurflour

Take the challenge!

Are you ready to take the Classic Challah Bakealong challenge? Follow this post on your tablet or laptop, or print the recipe. And when you’re done, remember to post your photos, tagged #bakealong. We’re looking forward to seeing your gorgeous braided challah!

Classic Challah Bakealong via @kingarthurflour

photo courtesy of Anne Mientka

One final note: Our new silicone bread braiding mat offers both a reduced-stick work surface, and handy instructions for shaping a six-strand braid. 

Interested in more? See our complete collection of Bakealong recipes.

PJ Hamel
About

PJ Hamel grew up in New England, graduated from Brown University, and was a Maine journalist before joining King Arthur Flour in 1990. PJ bakes and writes from her home on Cape Cod, where she enjoys beach-walking, her husband, two dogs, and really good food!

comments

  1. Evelyn Moore

    Challah is my most favorite bread to make…braiding is the fun part. I always braid 8 strands. it is very easy…

    Reply
  2. Joni

    Hi!
    I have been living at 5,000 feet elevation outside Boulder CO for the past year and have almost given up on baking as it has been very frustrating. Before we moved here I baked almost all our bread and rarely bought any bread over the previous five years. How would you adapt this recipe for my altitude?

    Reply
    1. Susan Reid

      Hi, Joni. At altitude, you’ll want to increase the liquid in the recipe to compensate for the dry air; since you’re an experienced baker your hands will likely tell you if the dough is right; try adding an additional 2 tablespoons to the water amount. I’ve also found extra-large eggs to be quite helpful when baking at altitude. Also, I would encourage you to let the dough rise for 1 hour at room temperature to let it get going and do the second hour of the rise in the refrigerator to keep the yeast from getting ahead of itself (at altitude, dough will rise much more quickly, even a challah). Give those things a try and do please let us know how it goes for you! Susan

  3. Kathleen Kindred

    I held off making this during the challenge as I felt it was beyond my abilities. Couldn’t get it out of my mind and have now made this beautiful bread several times. Thanks to the great step by step directions it came out perfectly! I even made it to be used as our communion bread at church. The KAF recipes are wonderful. Thanks again.

    Reply
  4. Colleen Kela

    Why do you use K.A. Unbleached all purpose flour and not K. A. BREAD flour in making bread? Also, I would like to know the steps in making- rising- braiding – freezing the loaf – before baking . Very much enjoy your articles

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Hi Colleen. We use all-purpose flour in this bread because we want it to have a nice, soft, tender interior without a thick, crunchy crust. Bread flour is great for really chewy loaves, but for anything soft we prefer all-purpose. We wouldn’t recommend freezing this or any yeasted loaf before it’s been baked if you can help it as it kills the yeast and results in a very dense loaf. Instead, you can bake the loaf all the way, let it cool, wrap it well in plastic wrap, and freeze it for up to 3 months. When you’re ready to enjoy, let it thaw on the counter overnight still wrapped in plastic. Just before serving, remove the plastic, wrap it in tin foil, and bake it for about 10 minutes at 350°F. It’ll be warm and ready in no time! Annabelle@KAF

  5. Mary

    Hi
    I made his and loved it and want to make it again and wondered if I could mix the dough and let it rise in the fridge overnight , then let it come to room temp in the morning and braid , do the 2nd rise. Would that work?

    Also to sub half of the flour with white whole wheat, did you all say not to adjust the amount of water ? I think I read that, but there are tons of comments !!

    Thank you !

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Hi Mary, you’re welcome to use the approach you’ve suggested: complete the first rise in the fridge overnight. We tend to let the shaped loaf rest in the fridge so it’s ready to bake the next day, but you can opt for chilling the first rise if you prefer. (Just note that it may take a few hours for the dough to come to room temperature and proof after shaping, longer than indicated in the recipe.) We didn’t need to adjust the amount of water in the dough when we used half whole wheat flour, but you may need to depending on your environment. If the dough feels stiff or dry, add 1-2 tablespoons of water to see if that helps. The dough should feel supple and smooth. Happy baking! Kye@KAF

  6. Kristin

    I made this bread over the weekend, on a rare day when I had all the time in the world to let it rise, and it came out beautiful and yummy. My bread-making dilemma is that I don’t generally have the time to make a loaf uninterrupted, start-to-finish because I have two busy little boys and am in the thick of their school and extracurricular activities. How flexible is this dough if I had to let it sit for an extra hour or two during one of the risings, because I have to leave the house to pick up my kids from school? I run into this problem ALL THE TIME with all kinds of breads, but the longer the risings called for, the more of a problem it is.

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      We’re glad to hear your enjoyed this recipe, Kristin. Your dilemma is a common one! This bread works beautifully when you make the dough the day before, let it have its first rise, shape it, and then stick it in the fridge overnight. You can pull it out and bake it the next day, and it doesn’t need more than an hour to get puffy after removing it from the fridge. This is a safer way to spread out bread baking than letting rises go longer than needed. When you give a loaf an extra hour or so to rise, it tends to overrise and then collapse, giving you a denser, heavier loaf. I hope the fridge tip can work for you and your family! Annabelle@KAF

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