How To Make Challah Bread

Mandy Silverman March 13, 2024

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What Is Challah Bread?

Challah is more than just a great slice of bread for your French toast or the base of a killer brisket sandwich – indeed, this beautiful braided bread is rooted in the deepest and most ancient of Jewish Sabbath traditions. Challah is served most famously on the Jewish Sabbath but also at ceremonial occasions such as weddings and bar and bat mitzvahs, and on Jewish holidays. You could definitely say that challah is the chosen carb of the chosen people!

Challah is often compared to brioche, as both are rich, sweet, eggy, and delicious in nature. While similar, the biggest difference between the two is that brioche is heavy on butter and usually contains milk. This gives brioche a texture that is lighter and more pastry-like than challah. Challah bread is usually certified kosher and therefore never contains any butter or milk as the laws of kashrut forbid dairy ingredients in bread. Learn more about kosher bread laws here.

Another difference is the shape. Challah is almost always braided, while brioche is served in more conventional loaf shapes.

What is the symbolic meaning behind the different braiding variations?

You will see a variety of explanations for why challah is braided. Some people say the braiding is to show a difference between regular weekday bread and the special bread of the Sabbath. Others say the braiding creates a shape that pays homage to the 12 tribes of Israel. My favorite explanation is that the weaving is a way of representing togetherness; just like the strands of the challah are woven together on Sabbath, we all are brought together as Jewish people and as a family into one beautiful tradition. Challah truly is an amazing unifier for the Jewish people.

That said, bread baking is challenging on its own, but add in that braided shape and preparing this loaf gets a lot more complicated. That is why I am so happy to create this helpful guide to making your very own challah. I will walk through some of the ways to make sure your challah dough preparation goes as smoothly as possible, tips and tricks to perfecting your challah, step-by-step tutorials for 3-, 4-, and 6-stranded challah, and challah knots, and then, of course, lots of fun ways to kick up your challah flavors or use your challah dough in other ways!

On this page:

Traditional Challah Recipes

How Many Ways Can Challah Be Braided?

Challah Braiding Tutorials (3-Strand, 4-Strand, 6-Strand, and Challah Knots)

Challah Ingredients

Gluten Free Challah

Egg Wash and Toppings (including Vegan Egg Wash)

Troubleshooting Common Issues (Yeast, Dough Consistency)

How to Serve Challah (+3 Delicious Dip Recipes)

Preparing Your Dough in Advance and How To Store

Other Uses for Challah Dough

Blessings to Make on Challah

Traditional Challah Recipes

Mandylicious Traditional Challah Dough, Small Batch Recipe


1 and 1/3 cups water                     
1/3 cup canola oil                 
4 large egg yolks                     
2 teaspoons table salt
4 and 1/4 cups high-quality bread flour, high gluten flour, or high protein flour, plus up to an additional 1 to 2 cups if dough is too sticky
Generous 1/2 cup sugar
1 tablespoon instant yeast (if using active dry yeast, see proofing directions below)

To make vegan: in place of egg yolks, increase water amount to 1 1/2 cups and oil amount to 1/2 cup 

Egg Wash:

1 egg, well beaten


1. This recipe can be made by hand, in a mixer, or in a bread machine.

2. If using a bread machine, add dry and wet ingredients to a bread machine in the order specified by the manufacturer. Set machine for “dough” cycle.
If not using a bread machine, combine all the ingredients in a large bowl and knead for 5 to 7 minutes by hand or by using the dough hook in a stand mixer. To reach desired consistency: if sticky, add additional flour, one tablespoon at a time; if dry, add additional water, 1 tablespoon at a time. 

3. Allow to rise in a large bowl, covered with a towel, for 1 and 1/2 hours. The dough will NOT double in size.

4. When the dough cycle is complete, remove dough from the bread machine or bowl and divide into 6 equal portions.

5. On a floured surface, roll 3 portions into long ropes, then carefully braid together (see: 3-Strand Braid, then place on a greased loaf pan or greased cookie sheet. Repeat with remaining dough.

6. Cover with a towel and let rise for an additional 20 to 30 minutes. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. 

*If using active dry yeast: To proof active dry yeast use the same amount (1 tablespoon) but add it to 1/3 cup 105-degree-Fahrenheit water and a pinch of sugar, and mix. When it bubbles, the yeast has been activated and can be added to the rest of the ingredients. Use 1/3 cup less water in the rest of the recipe.

To Finish:

1. Brush with an egg wash (Vegan: use oil, melted margarine, or aquafaba)
2. Bake for approximately 25 to 35 minutes or until golden brown. 

Mandylicious Challah Recipe with 5-Pound Bag of Flour (for Beracha, or Blessing)


4 cups water                    
1 and 1/3 cups canola oil                   
16 large egg yolks                   
2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons table salt
5-pound bag high-quality bread flour
Generous 2 cups sugar
1/4 cup instant yeast
Extra water and flour as needed for consistency
To make vegan: In place of egg yolks, increase water amount to 6 cups and oil amount to 2 cups.


Follow directions above, except increase kneading time to 10 to 15 minutes, and do not use bread machine (it’s too big!).
Makes 8 loaves of challah.

How Many Ways Can Challah Be Braided?

3-Strand Braid:

Step-By-Step Directions:

1. Divide dough into three even parts and roll into “snakes.”

2. To braid “from the middle,” start with the bottom half by taking the strand on the right and going under the bottom of the middle strand, making an “X”.

3. Then take the strand on the left and go under the bottom of the strand that is now in the middle.

4. Repeat, pulling gently as you go to taper the strands to a point, until you can go no further. Pinch the end and tuck under the end.

5. Now, to braid the top, start with the strand on the left and go over the top of the middle strand.

6. Then take the strand on the right and go over the top of the strand that is now in the middle.

7. Repeat, pulling gently as you go to taper the strands to a point, until you can go no further. Pinch and tuck the end underneath.

8. Ta-da! It’s now ready to rise for 30 more minutes before baking.

9. Egg wash and top as desired (See: Toppings and Add-Ins) and bake at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for 30 to 35 minutes.

4-Strand Braid

Step-By-Step Directions:

1. Roll strands to around 12 to 15 inches long and line them up.

2. Pinch the tops of the strands together.

3. Move two strands to the right and two to the left.

4. Take the outer right and outer left strands and bring them into the middle, being sure each one is as close to the pinched center as possible.

5. Take the outer left strand and cross it over the outer right strand and place it in the center, as close to the top as possible.

6. Repeat all the way down, each time taking the outer left strand and crossing it over the outer right strand, and placing it in the center.

7. When you can’t go down any further, pinch the end and tuck it under.

8. Ta-da! It’s now ready to rise for 30 more minutes before baking.

9. Egg wash and top as desired (See: Toppings and Add-Ins) and bake at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for 25 to 30 minutes. 

6-Strand Braid

Step-By-Step Directions:

1. Line up the six strands and, starting with the bottom half, take the strand all the way to the right and have it go OVER 2 strands.

2. Then UNDER 1 strand and OVER the remaining 2 strands, being sure to pull the strand alongside the others at the end.

3. Repeat the steps again starting the strand that is all the way to the right: OVER 2 strands.

4. UNDER 1. OVER 2.

5. Repeat until you get all the way to the bottom of the loaf and cannot stretch your strands anymore, and then pinch the ends together and tuck under.

6. Flip the loaf around and repeat the process. 

7. Starting with the strand all the way to the right, go OVER 2 strands, UNDER 1 strand, OVER 2 strands.

8. Repeat until you can not go any further, then pinch the ends of the strands together and tuck under.

9. To help even things out, gently squeeze your challah from the sides and top and bottom.

10. Ta-da! It’s now ready to rise for 30 more minutes before baking.

11. Egg wash and top as desired (See: Toppings and Add-Ins) and bake at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for 25 to 30 minutes.

Challah Knots

1. Divide dough into 8 pieces.

2. Roll out each piece to approximately 9 inches long.

3. Take one strand and make a smile, or “U” shape.

4. Cross one end over the other.

5. Take the end that’s on top, wrap it behind and pull it through the hole.

6. “Kiss” the ends of the strand and pinch them together.

7. Tuck the pinched end underneath.

8. Repeat for the remaining 7 strands and arrange as desired.

9. Ta-da! It’s now ready to rise for 30 more minutes before baking. 

10. Egg wash and top as desired (See: Toppings and Add-Ins) and bake at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for 25 to 30 minutes.

Challah Ingredients

It is important to remember that all challah recipes are varying amounts, ratios, and combinations of flour, fats, salt, and sugar. This is why so many challah recipes can contain the same basic ingredients but end up tasting vastly different.

For flour, bread flour or high protein flour is the absolute best. The higher proteins mean a higher gluten content, which leads to a dough that comes together more easily and has a better final consistency. If you are using all-purpose flour in a recipe that calls for bread flour, be prepared to add a significant amount more flour to get your dough to the right consistency (see: Dough Consistency) as all-purpose flour does not contain that same high level of protein that the flour for the recipe was created with.

Some people prefer whole-wheat challah. When I make my whole-wheat challah I use my same base recipe but switch out the bread flour for a mix of bread flour and white whole-wheat or whole-wheat flour. Since whole-wheat flour has a different amount of gluten than bread flour, you may have to adjust the amount of water or add additional flour – but as long as it gets to that Just Right consistency mentioned in the Dough Consistency section before that first rise, it will be great.

Oil is also one of those things you can definitely adjust based on your own preferences. I have had luck using olive oil, avocado oil, and coconut oil in lieu of the canola or vegetable oil my recipe calls for.  You use the same amount of oil, but do keep in mind that the viscosity of each of the oils is slightly different, so be prepared to add flour or water to get your dough to the Just Right consistency.

Sugar can be replaced with honey, brown sugar, pure maple syrup, molasses, or even a combination (when I make my whole-wheat challah I use a combination of honey and brown sugar)!  Just be sure that the total amount of sugar is the same amount that the recipe calls for, and adjust for consistency if necessary. I also do not recommend using sugar substitutes.

Eggs are where you see a lot of differences in recipes. Some use just yolks and lots of them, some use whole eggs, and some use a combination of the two. I prefer using all egg yolks because it gives a richness to the dough that can’t be beat!  That said, if you are vegan (or just do not have time to separate eggs), my vegan recipe simply adds a little more water and a little more oil and the result is every bit as mouthwatering! (see recipe section for vegan adjustments).

Gluten Free Challah

Yes – challah can be made gluten free!  Although it should be noted that it is the gluten in challah that gives it its shape and structure, so I always give bakers a heads-up that while you can make a gluten free challah, it might not taste or look exactly like traditional challah. Some people even use a challah-shaped mold to give it the look of a braided loaf. That said, it can still be delicious. It is important to note though, if you want to be able to say the special hamotzi blessing on the challah, the rule is that more than half of the flour that is used in the recipe must be from one the Five Species of grains named in the Torah – wheat, barley, oats, spelt, and rye. The only one of these that is available gluten free is oat, so if you would like to say the blessing for bread on a gluten free challah, more than half of the flour used in the recipe needs to be oat flour. You can read more about it here.

Egg Wash

Egg wash is what gives challah its beautiful shine and golden color. While the egg yolk itself is what helps the browning process, the egg yolk alone browns too quickly so you have two primary options when preparing your wash:

1. Use the egg yolk mixed with 1 and 1/2 teaspoons of water

2. Just use the entire egg, and the egg white will help keep the yolk from browning too quickly

No matter what you choose, be sure to whisk the wash well! Any egg yolk that isn’t broken up can lead to streaking, overbrowning, or bubbling.

When brushing on your loaf, I recommend brushing from the outside, in, so you don’t end up with the wash pooling in the grooves between the braids. And if you don’t own a basting brush, don’t worry – you can just use a paper towel.

Vegan Egg Wash

Nothing can quite replace an actual egg for egg wash, but some people melt together vegan butter or margarine with a splash of maple syrup for color and brush that on the bread. Another common vegan option is aquafaba (aka the liquid in a can of chickpeas).

Toppings and Add Ins

Challah is amazing just the way it is, but sometimes you might want to give it a few “twists” to make it even more special.

There are 3 ways to alter your challah’s flavor without altering your base recipe:

1. Add-ins to the dough recipe itself

2. Add-ins after the dough has had its first rise

3. Toppings after the dough has been braided and completed its second rise

Dough Recipe Add-Ins

A quick trick to add flavor to your dough without changing your recipe is to add around 2 tablespoons of seasoning for every 4 cups of flour with the rest of the ingredients. (Important: Any seasoning you add in cannot have added salt or sugar or it could harm the yeast’s rise in baking.)

Some fun flavors to add in your dough as it is coming together are:

1. Cinnamon

2. Cocoa powder

3. Onion flakes

4. Italian seasonings

5. Dill weed

Dough Add-Ins*

Once your dough has had its first rise, you can easily (and gently!) knead in fun ingredients to change the flavor profile. It is important to note that any added moisture has potential to harm your dough, so stick with items that have minimal added moisture.

1. Granny Smith apples- peeled, diced, and patted dry with a paper towel

2. Raisins

3. Mini chocolate chips

4. Crispy fried onions

5. Sunflower seeds

Dough Toppings*

After your challah has had its second rise, it is time to top it with egg wash, and then you can use that egg wash as a “glue” to apply whatever fun toppings you would like!

Some common toppings are:

1. Sesame seeds

2. Poppy seeds

3. Everything but the bagel seasoning

4. Turbinado sugar

5. Coarse sea salt

Some unique but delicious toppings are:

1. Schwarma seasoning

2. Taco seasoning

3. Zaatar

4. Vanilla Sugar

5. Rainbow sprinkles

With these 3 methods alone, your options can be endless! Some of my favorites are cinnamon challah with apples and raisins for Rosh Hashanah, onion flavored dough with crispy fried onions on top for Chanukah, and a sea salt and turbinado sugar challah for that ultimate sweet-salty combo!

*Please keep in mind that some rabbis do not allow for the adding of sugar to challah, so if you are unsure, check with your local rabbi.

Challenges with Challah Dough Making

There are two areas where people struggle the most when creating their dough. The first is yeast, and the second is dough consistency. Let’s review each of these.


Yeast is probably the most important part of creating your dough! Without working yeast, your dough will not rise. However, there are many types of yeast out there, and that gets confusing.

The most common yeast used is called Active Dry Yeast. This yeast requires you activate (proof) it before adding it to the rest of the ingredients. This is done by adding your yeast and a pinch of sugar to water that is around 105 degrees Fahrenheit. Since water that is too hot will kill your yeast, and water that is too cold will not be able to activate your yeast, getting the temperature correct is imperative. Using a thermometer is a great way to be sure that your water is the proper temperature, but if you don’t have one, I always suggest getting to a temperature that feels right around the temperature you would like to take a bath in! Not too hot that you could not step in it, but not too cold that you would want to hop right out.

Once you have combined the yeast, warm water, and pinch of sugar, let it sit for a few minutes and you should see the mixture turn frothy and bubbly. Bubbles are the proof your yeast is alive and is ready to be added to the rest of the ingredients. If you do not see bubbles or any frothing, throw out the yeast mixture and start again.

The yeast I prefer using is called Instant Yeast (bread machine yeast also works). Instant yeast is magic because it does not need to be proofed, i.e. mixed with warm water, and it can be added in with your ingredients at any point. Indeed, it’s ready instantly! Using this type of yeast eliminates any stresses associated with yeast proofing and leads to higher success rates! In fact, you can use instant yeast measure for measure in any recipe calling for active dry yeast.

A note of caution, though – any yeast that is labeled “Quick Rise” or “Rapid Rise” etc, is not the same as traditional instant yeast. These types of yeasts are a style of instant yeast that is designed for single-rise recipes to create a rise extra quickly, and therefore will not work in recipes with long rise times and second rises – like challah. This means if you use quick rise yeast in a recipe that does not call for quick rise yeast, you may end up with your dough overrising and falling flat.

Dough Consistency:

I am about to say something a little controversial! Many recipes involving flour recommend using precise measurements when assembling your dough. In fact, using a scale is necessary, as you need to measure your ingredients down to the gram to be successful.

That may be the case for many recipes, but I find the opposite to be true when creating challah.

Dough consistency is sensitive to things like humidity in and out of the home, type of flour used, and even different brands of flour have varying protein levels, which all effect dough consistency. It is because of this variability that your challah will need slightly different amounts of flour and/or water every time it is prepared.

Your goal for challah is to get it to a tacky but not sticky consistency that is just soft enough to give a nice squish to, but not wet enough to stick to your hands. If your dough is too wet before that first rise, it will not be able to be shaped properly when it is time to braid it, and you will have to add so much flour to create the braids, that your dough will end up dense and floury tasting.

If your dough is too dry before going into that first rise, it will not rise properly, making the end result taste dense and floury.

The key is do whatever you have to do to get it to that Just Right (tacky but not sticky) consistency before that first rise. If you have to add flour, slowly add as much flour as you need to BEFORE that first rise. If you have to add water, slowly add as much water as you need to BEFORE that first rise.

The dough consistency will not improve as it sits, so be sure to take the time to get it just right before letting it rise.

If you are finding that you are always having to add a considerable amount of flour to a recipe because it is too sticky, go ahead and start with a little less water. If you are finding that you are always having to add more water to a recipe because it is too dry, go ahead and start with a little less flour.

How to Best Serve Your Challah (+3 Delicious Dip Recipes)

Now that you have worked so hard to create your stunning challah breads, it is time to serve them!

Keep in mind that the tradition is to serve 2 loaves of challah on Sabbath. This is to honor the double portion of manna that fell from the sky for the Jewish people when they were wandering in the desert. This double portion fell only on Fridays in order to use it for the Sabbath on Saturday.

The good news is, not only do you get to honor the miracle of manna, but this way you get to have even more challah on your table!

Since nothing is better than fresh warm challah, many people try to time their challah to come out right as the meal is getting started. This is an admirable goal and many experienced bakers have done it successfully, but it’s not always for the best. Your challah needs ample cooling time once it is out of the oven because it continues to bake as it cools. If you cut into the challah while it is piping hot out of the oven, you will often end up with a gummy, doughy center.

To avoid this (and the stress of trying to cook a perfectly timed challah along with an entire Sabbath meal), I strongly suggest baking your challahs ahead of time (see Storing Your Challah) and then simply warm them before serving. To do this, wrap your challah in foil and place in a 350-degree oven for around 10 to 15 minutes.

This mirrors that sensational freshly baked taste and makes your meal prep so much less complex.

Challah also is great for dipping! Traditional dips like hummus and matbucha are popular. I like to serve mine with either hummus or a variety of bread dipping oils! Here are 3 recipes for challah dipping oils that I love!

Lemon Date Challah Dip

1/2 cup high-quality olive oil 

Juice and zest of 1 large lemon

1 tablespoon date honey

3 cloves garlic, crushed

1/2 teaspoon dried crushed rosemary

Fresh ground pepper to taste

Salt to taste

Pomegranate Herb Challah Dip

1/2 cup high-quality olive oil

3 tablespoons pomegranate juice 

3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

1/3 cup freshly torn basil and mint

3 tablespoons pomegranate seeds

Salt to taste

Hot Honey Challah Dip

1/2 cup high-quality olive oil

4 tablespoons red wine vinegar

2 teaspoons honey

2 to 3 teaspoons hot sauce or sriracha

1/2 to 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes

Salt to taste

Preparing Your Dough in Advance

Some doughs are designed to rise in the refrigerator. My recipe is not, but once your dough has had its first rise, you have three options

1. Braid your dough to get it ready for its second rise and baking

2. Put your dough in a large zipper storage bag or loaf bag and place it in the refrigerator for up to 5 days

3. Put your dough in a large zipper storage bag or loaf bag and place it in your freezer for up to 30 days

If using refrigerated dough, take your dough out of the refrigerator around 20 minutes before you are ready to begin braiding. The dough will not get to room temperature. Your goal here is to simply allow the dough to soften slightly so it will be easier to work with.

Once the 20 minutes has passed, braid, second rise, and bake as usual.

If you are freezing the dough, allow the dough to defrost in the refrigerator overnight. Then follow the steps for the refrigerated dough.

Storing Your Challah

Most freshly made challahs, if they are properly wrapped, can last on your counter for up to 5 days, and in your freezer for at least one month.

To store your challah, be sure your challah cools completely before wrapping. I love placing the cooled loaves in well sealed loaf bags or large Ziploc bags.

If your challah is frozen, just let it defrost on the counter the day before you would like to serve it. I also recommend heating up your challah before serving for an extra treat! (See: How to Best Serve Your Challah)
I do not recommend refrigerating challah as that may affect its texture.

Other Uses for Challah Dough

The challah dough itself is so versatile. Once you learn how to make challah dough, you can easily use that same dough to make many awesome yeasty treats!

Here are 10 popular things you can use your challah dough for in lieu of the dough called for in the recipe:

1. Pizza crust

2. Cinnamon rolls

3. Bagels

4. Pretzels

5. Breadsticks

6. Garlic bread

7. Babka

8. Hamburger and hot dog buns

9. Sandwich bread

10. Donuts

Challah is a traditional and beloved Jewish food.

It, like many yeasted or braided breads, is definitely not easy to prepare and may take several attempts to get to a version you are pleased with. That said, it does not mean you cannot learn to create a stunning challah masterpiece your Bubby would be proud of. There are ways to make challah preparation a little easier (instant yeast was a game changer for me!) and ways to make it fun (did you see that 4 strand?), and with unique flavor combos to make it fun and personal to you (hello, sunflower seed dough and schwarma spiced crust challah!). No matter how you make it, you should feel proud that you are participating in something that brings the Jewish people together as a family and across generations. If you ever have any questions or need help with your challah in any way, please feel free to message me on Instagram, @mandyliciouschallah.

Here is my Challah recipe with 5-pound bag of flour (for making a beracha, or blessing – see below).

Blessings to Make on Challah

Hafrashat Challah (read all about the process of separating challah here).

ברוך אתה יהוה אלהינו מלך העולם אשר קדשנו במצוותיו וציונו להפריש חלה

Baruch atah Adonai Eloheinu melech haolam asher kiddeshanu b’mitzvotav v’tzivanu l’hafrish challah.

Blessed are You, L-rd our G‑d, King of the Universe, who has sanctified us with His commandments and commanded us to separate challah.

Hamotzi (the blessing one makes before eating bread)

ברוך אתה יהוה אלהינו מלך העולם המוציא לחם מן הארץ

Baruch atah Adonai Eloheinu melech haolam hamotzi lechem min Haaretz

Blessed are You, L-rd our G‑d, King of the Universe, Who brings forth bread from the earth.

Happy Baking!