Holly’s Challah Bread Recipe
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This challah is perfection: golden-crusted with a light, airy crumb. My friend, Holly, learned this recipe from the wife of a rabbi, and one day she taught me how to make it. I am forever grateful because it’s so delicious, so easy, and every time I make it, my children think I’m a hero. Also: It makes the BEST French toast.
When my friend Holly, one of the most reliable cooks I know, told me she had a great challah bread recipe, one she learned from a wife of a rabbi, and offered to show me how to make it, I nearly leapt into her arms.
Shortly thereafter on a Friday morning, after dropping the kids off at school, I joined Holly at her house for coffee and a challah bread lesson. When I arrived, Holly had already made the sponges — 1 cup water, 1 cup flour, 1 packet yeast — which looked alive and ready for action. This is her Friday ritual: make the sponge before dropping her kids off at school; finish the process when she returns.
What I loved about Holly’s challah bread recipe and process is that it is so simple, so unfussy, so unlike the challah bread I had been making.
Into each bowl we cracked two eggs, then added the honey, salt, oil and finally the remaining flour. After a brief kneading by hand, the dough was ready to rise. At this point I left, bowl of dough in hand, and completed the process on my own, guidance provided by Holly via text.
The dough rose beautifully and baked into a perfectly golden, light and airy, tangle of braids. Nearly every week since, I have made Holly’s challah bread, a treat aside any soup (lots of this one and this one these days), a treasure for weekend brunch.
Incidentally, while I was in VT for Thanksgiving, my aunt mentioned she had made a breakthrough with her koulourakia (a twisted Greek cookie): after burning the bottom of several batches, she layered one cookie sheet on top of another, which provided enough insulation to prevent the bottoms from burning. Genius! The conversation immediately made me think of my challah bread-making trials, a burnt underside almost always a constant.
And so, the day after Thanksgiving, I made a loaf of Holly’s challah bread for my family, baked the bread on two layers of sheetpans, and for the first time, the bottom of my challah bread cooked evenly without the slightest sign of overbrowning — a miracle! The Greeks raved! The abstemious indulged! What can I say, Holly’s challah makes me wanna holla holla!
PS: Overnight Refrigerator Focaccia = The Best Focaccia
This is what the sponge — 1 cup water, 1 cup flour, 1 packet yeast — looks like after about an hour:
Then, you add the eggs, honey, salt and oil right into the bowl:
Work in the flour:
Mix until sticky:
Knead briefly until smooth:
Transfer to an oiled bowl to rise:
Then wait an hour or two:
I made a double batch this time, so I divided the dough into 8 portions:
But with a single batch, divide the dough into three or four portions. Be sure to have a helper by your side:
Time to shape! Here’s a quick video on how to shape a round loaf of challah.
And the basic steps:
Holly’s is much prettier:
I actually prefer the shape of the more traditional 3 or 4 braid challah bread for purposes of toast and French toast, but the circular shape is so pretty.
Baking the challah bread on two sheet pans prevents a burnt bottom:
This is day-old challah bread:
The benefit of making a double batch?
French toast of course.
I like to dry out slices overnight:
And I love the Tartine recipe, which calls for lots of lemon zest and no cinnamon, but traditional pan-fried recipes work just fine, too. I bet the overnight method would be delicious with challah bread, too.
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Holly’s Challah Bread Recipe
- Total Time: 3 hours 30 minutes
- Yield: 1 loaf
I learned this recipe from my friend, Holly, who calls it Jennifer’s Challah.
The recipe doubles well. Bread keeps well in a ziplock bag on the counter for several days, and it freezes well, too.
A few notes:
- You can use at least one cup of whole wheat flour or white whole wheat flour. (Holly always does.)
- To create lukewarm water: use ¼ cup boiling water and ¾ cup cold water, which will give you perfect lukewarm water.
- To create a warm place for your bread to rise: Heat your oven for 1 minute, then shut it off. It doesn’t matter what temperature you set it to when you heat it; the key is to only allow it to heat for 1 minute. This brief blast of heat will create a cozy, draft-free spot for your bread to rise.
- A double egg wash creates a beautifully golden and shiny finish to the challah.
- Baking on two sheet pans prevents the bottom of the challah from burning.
- As for shaping, there are lots of resources on youtube. I included one video below for making the round challah, though I really need to get Holly on camera — her four-braided challah is SO pretty.
- 4 to 5 cups (510 g to 620 g) all-purpose or bread flour
- 1 package or 2¼ teaspoons (8 g) instant yeast
- 1 cup (236 g) lukewarm water (made by mixing 1/4 cup boiling water and ¾ cup cold water)
- 1 tablespoon (10 g) kosher salt
- ¼ cup honey
- ½ cup safflower oil or other neutral oil (canola, grapeseed, etc.)
- 2 eggs
- 1 egg beaten with 1 teaspoon water
- poppy seeds, optional
- Make the sponge: Whisk one cup (128 g) of the flour with the yeast and stir in the lukewarm water until the sponge is smooth. Cover with plastic wrap or a dish towel and let rise about 45 minutes or until puffy and bubbly.
- Directly into the bowl, add the salt, honey, oil and eggs. Stir with a spatula or spoon until well mixed, then add the remaining three cups (384 g) of flour. Stir with a spoon until dough forms a sticky mass. Add a bit more flour, and use your hands to knead briefly in the bowl; then turn dough onto lightly floured work surface and knead for a minute or two, until the dough becomes smooth. Transfer to a lightly oiled bowl, cover it with dish towel or plastic wrap and let it rise in a warm spot until doubled in bulk, one to two hours or longer depending on the temperature of your kitchen. (Note: you can make the dough to this point, punch it down, and stash it in the refrigerator overnight).
- Punch down and divide into three or four parts, depending on what shape you want to make. Roll each portion into a ball. Let rest 10-15 minutes. Roll each ball into long ropes (at least 12 inches in length for the 4-braided challah) and braid into desired shape (see notes above or check youtube). Brush with egg wash.
- Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Let the loaf rise on a greased or parchment-lined baking sheet, about 30 minutes. Place another baking sheet underneath it — this will help insulate the bottom and keep it from burning.
- Brush one more time with egg wash and sprinkle with poppy seeds if you like. Bake for 45 to 50 minutes, checking after 40 minutes. Cool completely before slicing.
- Prep Time: 20 minutes
- Cook Time: 45 minutes
- Category: Bread
- Method: Yeast-Risen
- Cuisine: Jewish
Keywords: challah, easy, bread
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289 Comments on “Holly’s Challah Bread Recipe”
This is my idea of a perfect blog post — the photos are phenomenal, the recipe is clear and precise, and this is a bread I’ve always wanted to make. I think I sat there for several minutes trying to decide which photo to pin!
Oh, Sue, thank you so much! You are too kind. I have always wanted to make a good challah too. I hope you give this one a go!
After many trials from different recipes, this recipe is the best !! I never left a comment on any recipe I search on the internet, but I felt I should on this one.
I reduced the amount of salt to 1/2 tsp, I like mine to be on the sweeter side, it didn’t turn sweet though, just right. I used unbleached flour and I think it make a difference, it turned flaky like I wanted.
Thank you so much for this detailed recipe. Btw you have a very cute helper.
So happy to hear this, Jule! And I appreciate you making a note about the salt—often people want to know if they can reduce the salt, so this is helpful. And thank you for the kind words re the cute helper…who is now a rascal 🙂
Had to Pin your helper:)
Lovely Challahs..thanks for the great tutorial!
She’s a rascal … into everything at the moment, but I’ll keep her 🙂
I haven’t made bread in forever, and never challah, but I may have to try this recipe to bring home for the holidays! Looks beautiful and delicious!
Also, sorry to post again, but love the new design of the site! Not sure if I’m late on this one, but it looks great!
Thank you, Alison! That means a lot — I just made changes. Hoping to commit to a look and layout once and for all. I’m still working out some issues, but hoping to finish it all soon. Happy Holidays!
I can’t stop looking at these pictures, it’s probably the most beautiful bread I’ve ever seen. Ever. And I love the tips you’ve included, thank you!
Oh, thank you, Emily! You are too kind.
Ahhh!!! This was my challah right? As in, the one we just gobbled down with your lovely butternut squash soup? 🙂 I was just going to send a thank you note and ask for your recipe, and lo and behold here it is!! I feel so spoiled and honored! Haha Can’t wait to try to make. Blogosphere friends: if you think the pictures are good… This bread is out of this world in person!
Yes! Jenn’s challah! So happy you liked it…too bad it wasn’t warm 🙁 Next time 🙂 And yes re butternut squash soup. That has been a staple all fall. The recipe is from Amanda Hesser, and I spotted it on Food52 earlier this fall: https://alexandracooks.com/2014/10/21/butternut-squash-and-cider-soup-served-with-rosemary-and-sage-flatbread/
So glad you approve! xoxo
Loved the post–I made the challah and what a fragrance. I think there are fewer eggs than in some recipes, which is great for some people. Also, l love your soundtrack 🙂 By the way, how do you shape the more traditional loaf?
I need to get Holly on video, but it’s basically just a braid. The best way to practice is to lay out 4 tea towels. You can secure them with an elastic band at the top, and just give it a go — it’s really easy. So glad you liked the challah!
Forgot to say that the truffles were the hit of my last dinner party. Wonderful texture and subtle flavor.
Ina Garten’s challah French toast is by far my favorite French toast recipe.
Nice! Thank you for the rec. I will check it out ASAP.
This looks excellent. I especially like the little helper you have by your side 🙂
Thank you 🙂
Looking forward to trying out this challah recipe. I also wonder if the texture will be as moist and rope-like (with only 2 eggs) as some challahs I holla over! Is there a significant difference in using APF or bread flour? I can’t recall ever using bread flour for challah in the past. Site looks very great–heymish and professional. Happy Chanukkah to Holly et al.
Haha, I will be interested to hear! That was the thing that surprised me the most about this recipe: it was lighter than so many others I looked at — fewer eggs, less oil and honey, etc — but it came out so moist and light and tender. I also was complicating the issue with that reduced cider making up so much of the liquid, so some of the recipes I tried might actually be OK, but this one just always works so well. The dough handles so nicely. I have never actually used bread flour, but that’s what the original recipe said, so I left it in there in case that’s all someone has on hand. I don’t know how it would work in the challah. I think Holly always uses mostly ap flour and then some whole wheat flour.
Thank you for your kind words about the site. I have been so bad over the years about not committing to a look and making tweaks here and there, and I am trying to just commit to something and make the site faster and more functional, etc. I don’t know why it’s so complicated!
This is a beautiful challah! I love baking bread, and your instructions and pictures are amazing!
Just gorgeous and well worth the effort – can’t wait to try this!
Thank you for sharing this! I’m looking forward to giving it a try. 🙂
I’ve never made bread. It scares me to death, but I’m telling you , I can practically taste that challah. So what the heck, I’m going to give it a try on Friday. Your little helper is darling. Loved the video too!
yay! Good luck!
Seriously?! This seriously sounds easy enough for ME to make! I’m so excited. I have a week of vacation coming and I am so in need of some bake-therapy. Wonderful, thank you so much for sharing! Wren could not be a cuter helper, oh my gosh, she kills me. Warm challah from the oven and next-day French toast, here I come! Don’t you think a loaf would look lovely on our annual Christmas Breakfast-for-Dinner party table? LOVE
LOVE that you have an annual breakfast-for-dinner party! That is the best idea I’ve ever heard. The recipe truly is easy, and besides, you have SKILLZ! Challah definitely delivers as baking therapy. So happy to hear you have some time off. Happy Holidays Sophie!
I do use bread flour — that’s what Jennifer (the recipe’s original author) told me to do! And at least a cup of some kind of whole wheat, because heaven forbid I ever made a loaf of bread with all white flour.
Re Holly/Challah: once when I was a little girl, my uncle took me up after Rosh Hashana services to meet their rabbi, and the rabbi said, “‘Holly’? It’s not a very Jewish name.” And my uncle said, “She’s named for the bread, Rabbi!”
Re French toast, I’d like to try this one, but I haven’t gotten around to it yet: https://food52.com/recipes/7030-crispy-salt-and-pepper-french-toast
HA! love this story, Holly. And thank you for clarifying re bread flour. I had forgotten we used that when we made it.
And that salt and pepper french toast looks so good! Definitely trying it.
This is the recipe for me to finally tackle challah!
Quick question – if I were to do steps 1 & 2 first, then refrigerate, do I need to let the dough rise after removing from the fridge tomorrow? Or do I let it rise a bit before refrigerating?
Hey! Sorry, just seeing this. You should let the dough rise until it had doubled (1 to 2 hours) before refrigerating it. The next morning take it out, punch it down, divide it, shape it, and let it rise for at least 30 minutes before baking. Hope that helps! Good luck with it!
Thanks for the great tutorial. I made your challah yesterday and it was soooo delicious and easy thanks to the details and photos you provided.
Wonderful to hear this!
Hello Alexandra – thank you for the Challah recipe -I have always wanted to try to make this and your recipe looks like one I can handle. You posted such beautiful and helpful pictures too!!!
One question – I’m confused about double batches – is the recipe with 4-5 cups of flour for a double batch or would I double that to be 8-10 cups etc. for a double batch?
Hi Judy! Thank you for your nice comment. If you want to double the recipe, use 8-10 cups flour. Let me know if there is anything else. Good luck!
Best recipe ever! I tried like 10 recipes before getting to this one. This is the first bread i feel really proud about. If you follow it, you will get the same finish. Golden brown but you have to be patient and wait like most of the other recipes.
So happy to hear this! I had the same experience as well. This one just works perfectly for me every time.
Help! The first time I made this it came out beautifully…looked gorgeous and tasted amazing. The second time, there are some pea sized lumps on the surface of the finished bread. Could you guess what I might have done differently?
I have no idea! That is truly puzzling. Did you do anything differently? Switch any ingredients? Did you have any trouble kneading the dough?
Thanks for answering! No, everything was the same in term of ingredients. I wonder if I might have kneaded it less. Do you think kneaded it for more than a just a few minutes would cause a problem?
I don’t think it would. I don’t knead the dough for the hot cross buns I just posted yesterday, and while the dough is sticky and a little lumpy, it bakes just fine — completely smooth. Did you notice lumps in the batter before it baked? I suppose if you noticed lumps in the batter before it baked, then maybe the dough wasn’t mixed/kneaded enough, but I just can’t imagine that being the problem. Hmm. I might have to do some online research here.
Have a double batch of dough going right now. Do you make one large or 2 small out of it?
I make one loaf using a single recipe, so if you have a double batch going, I would make two loaves. Each one will be a nice size. Exciting! I love this recipe.
Thank you so much for yours quick reply. I made this for a brunch during the holidays but I hadn’t noted if I used a double or single batch. It was wonderful then so I hope today’s will be as good. I love your blog. I have used the Danish recipe and the Peasant Bread several times. The results were excellent. I also appreciate have the weights of flour. Thanks again!
Oh, so happy to hear this, Carol! And sure thing — I hope it came out well too!
I have always wanted to make a nice braided bread, and thanks to you I’ve done it!! I’ve got to work on making the loaf itself straight- mine is a lil curvy. Otherwise, this Challah bread is perfect!!! I’m trying the orange ricotta pound cake next 🙂
So happy to hear this, Tarra!! I love this recipe, too. And the orange-ricotta pound cake.
How can I print out the recipe? I don’t see any way to print it.
This turned out so great, I just had to let you know! I used all whole wheat flour and added chopped fresh rosemary to it – so easy. Thank you for posting this!
Hello, I just made two batches of this with little success. The only ingredient I used that you did not specifically outline was whole wheat bread flour. Everything else remained the same.
Two strange things happened: the first rise didn’t really work. It took about 8 hours for it to rise half as large as the dough in your photo. I even did the trick of turning the oven on for a minute to make a warm space. The second strange thing is that a dry crust formed on top, which I had to remove in order to make rolls and form the braid. But this one I assume is because the dough was sitting for hours and hours, so it makes sense.
Do you know why my dough won’t rise? I use instant yeast and tested it in warm water a couple of weeks ago and it foams so I think it’s still alive. Maybe I should try again with a whole new batch of yeast just in case?
It’s at its second rise now, so I’m not sure how it’ll turn out, I will let you know.
Whole wheat flour will greatly affect the outcome of the bread. The bran and germ present in whole wheat flour inhibit gluten development and hinder rising, which is why it took so long for your bread to rise. The lengthy rise then caused the dough to dry out. I think your yeast is fine. If you try again, I would use all-purpose flour so you know how the dough should behave. Then, next time around substitute one cup of the ap flour for one cup of ww flour. I wouldn’t substitute more than than 50% whole wheat flour or you will get a dense loaf.
Hope that helps!
Your recipe of making challah is one of the best! I have tried couple different challah recipes and so far yours is top one in my kitchen! Thank you so much! And love honey instead of sugar, can’t get healthier than this❤️????
Thank you for sharing this amazingly easy recipe for an amateur baker like me…love it!!! I have been making this at least twice a week!!
I’m so happy to hear this! I am forever grateful for my friend Holly for teaching me how to make her challah! So glad you like it, too.
How long do you one for? Sometimes I’m kneading for 10 minutes because it takes that long to get smooth. I also end up always adding 5 cups of flour. Any tips?
This is an amazing challah recipe. Way better than store bought. We can’t stop eating it!
So happy to hear this, Pam!