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Best Challah Recipe

This is by far my favorite challah recipe.  It is soft, fluffy, and incredibly easy to make!   Eat it right out of the oven when it’s still warm, or use it for a traditional Shabbos meal.  Either way, you can’t go wrong.

Challah bread on marble counter

While bread in theory may be easy to make, I’ve always struggled to find a challah recipe that worked for me.  

They always came out too heavy and only tasted good warm.

I mean sure, pretty much everything tastes best fresh out of the oven, but it shouldn’t have to be warm to taste good.

But really, is there anything better than fresh baked bread?  If there is, I sure can’t think of it!

One of my favorite memories is the time I drove with a friend from Queens to the Adirondacks in Upstate New York.  

We left really early and stopped at a huge supermarket in Albany for breakfast.

There, we found fresh bread that was still warm right out of the oven!  

I couldn’t believe how soft and good it was… I’ve been obsessed with fresh bread ever since.

This recipe tastes just like store-bought, but better!  It’s soft, fluffy, and tastes good warm or at room temperature.  It even tastes good the next day.

This recipe really is the only one I’ve ever made that left me with too little challah to upcycle into other recipes.  

There was no challah french toast or challah cinnamon toast Sunday morning.

I didn’t even have enough for homemade croutons or bread crumbs. There was just a small end that was enough for a single serving of challah egg in a hole.

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20% of all profits are donated to a women’s shelter to support the fight against domestic violence.

WHAT YOU NEED

Dry measuring cups and spoons
Liquid measuring cup
Mixer with dough hook
Damp towel
Baking spatula
Baking sheet

EGG CHALLAH VS WATER CHALLAH

This challah is a water challah which is particularly popular in Israel.

The water challah came about because the sfardic community – who believe that eggs and too much sugar make bread more of a cake.

Egg challah, in contrast, is popular in the States and among Ashkenazi Jews.

BREAD FLOUR VS ALL PURPOSE FLOUR

Bread flour has a higher protein content than all-purpose, which helps with gluten development.

Some recipes call for it if an especially chewy texture is desired.  It will also produce a heavier and denser loaf.

All purpose flour has a lower protein content, but can generally be substituted for bread flour.

I almost never use anything other than all purpose flour, including in bread recipes. I like it because it’s inexpensive and extremely versatile.

HOW TO MEASURE FLOUR AND OTHER DRY INGREDIENTS

Using a dry measuring cup, scoop ingredients from the bag or spoon them into the cup.  Next, level off the ingredient by removing the excess with an upside-down butter knife.

The one exception to this is brown sugar.  Brown sugar should be packed down and then any excess should be scraped off as well.

DRY VS LIQUID MEASURING CUP

Ever wonder why measuring spoons often come with a set of measuring cups?  I used to.  I didn’t see why we needed a set when we could have one large measuring cup. 

After a quick search, I had my answer.  I discovered that the large measuring cup is used for liquids, whereas the set is used for dry ingredients.

As it turns out, if you try to measure dry ingredients with a liquid cup, the measurements get messed up. 

First, you pour the flour or cocoa in, next you shake it around to get it level, and then you add more. 

By shaking it, you are causing the powder to settle, and when you add more, you end up using more than called for.

WHY SIFT FLOUR and Other Powder Ingredients

There are a number of benefits to sifting flour and other ingredients like cocoa ingredients: 

It removes any unwanted debris and you can get a more accurate measurement than when packed tight in a bag. 

It also removes any lumps that can get into the batter and be hard to break up later, or be missed altogether before baking.

If you sift the powdered ingredients together, it helps combine them and mix more evenly with other dry ingredients like sugar.

BAKING WITH OIL

In general, oil in baked goods makes for a superior texture than those made with butter.  

Oil cakes tend to bake up taller with a better crumb. They also stay moist and tender far longer than recipes made with butter.

Furthermore, since oil is lighter than butter, the texture of oil cakes is lighter too. Also, given that oil is 100% fat while most American butter is 15% water, it creates a more tender crumb.

This is due to the fact that the extra water strengthens the gluten, resulting in a crumb that’s more dense.

Which Type Of Oil to Use

I use neutral oils like canola oil, safflower oil, and vegetable oil.  However, it’s not unheard of for oils with stronger flavors like olive oil or coconut oil to be used.

If using olive oil, I recommend using pure olive oil for its milder flavor and higher smoking point.

Baking with Oil Conversion Chart

If you want to convert your butter recipes to oil recipes, check out my baking with oil butter to oil conversion chart.

Types of YEAST

There are seven different types of yeast used for baking.  However, only five are relevant to home bakers:

WILD YEAST

Wild yeast is found naturally in the air.  This type of yeast is used for sourdough breads, and in order to use it, you need to make a sourdough starter.

FRESH YEAST

Fresh yeast (a.k.a. cake yeast), block yeast, wet yeast, or compressed yeast is found in small, foil-wrapped cubes.  

It is far less popular with home bakers because it’s highly perishable. However, it is still widely available for commercial use and is still used by home bakers in some countries.

The benefits of using it is that it’s easier to measure and has the most leavening power.

If you want to use fresh yeast in this recipe for every 1 teaspoon instant dry yeast you’d need 17 grams (or .6 ounces) of fresh yeast.

Make sure to bloom it before using it in this recipe.

ACTIVE DRY YEAST

Active dry yeast looks like large grained powder mainly used by home bakers in the States.

It has a much longer lifespan than compressed yeast, lasting up to a year at room temperature and more than a decade if frozen.

Unlike other types of yeast, it needs to proof first. This means it is rehydrated in warm liquid such as water or milk to activate it.

The main downside of using this is that a lot of the yeast is already dead, so you need more of it than other yeasts.  This can cause an undesired yeast flavor.

If you want to use active dry yeast in this recipe, for 1 teaspoon of instant dry yeast you need 1 1/4 teaspoons of active dry yeast.

Make sure to bloom it first before using it in this recipe.

INSTANT YEAST

Instant yeast looks the same as active dry yeast. However, it does not need to be proofed before using. Instead of having to be activated in warm liquid first, it can be added as is when making the dough.

It is more perishable than active dry yeast, lasting only 2 to 4 months at room temperature and for years in the freezer.

This is my favorite type of yeast to use because it lasts longer than fresh yeast and you need less of it than active dry yeast.

Typically it will be 1 teaspoon of active dry yeast for every cup of flour called for in a recipe.

RAPID-RISE YEAST

Rapid-rise yeast is often specifically marketed toward users of bread machines.  It’s essentially instant yeast with a smaller grain. The smaller granules allow it to dissolve faster in the dough and therefore rise faster.  

While most baking experts believe that the bread flavors aren’t as developed by using this yeast. others feel it makes little difference.

WHY BlOOM INSTANT YEAST?

As mentioned above, active dry yeast needs to be bloomed (aka proofed) before use to activate it, but I also proof instant yeast. The reason for this is because it helps troubleshoot if any problems come up.  

By blooming the yeast first, you know it is active. So, if the dough has trouble rising, you know it’s not the yeast.

This is particularly useful when you don’t have a “warm” place to let it rise.

How to Bloom Yeast

To bloom, place the yeast, warm water, and sugar together in the bowl. Stir and wait for it to activate.

You know the yeast is activated when foam appears on the surface. This can take up to 10 minutes.

Please not that hot water will kill the yeast and cool water won’t activate it. Lukewarm water is ideal.

If you are using fresh yeast, make sure to break it up with a fork once it is in the water.

HOW LONG DOES IT TAKE DOUGH TO RISE?

How quickly dough rises depends on how warm the place it is rising in is.

If you put it in the fridge for instance it could take 8 hours or so. In the summer in Israel, it rises very quickly.

If you leave it on the counter in a comfortably warm room, its usually 45 minutes.

HOW TO RISE BREAD FASTER

I often find myself running late and need to rise dough faster, or sometimes, in the winter, I don’t have a warm place and the dough take forever to rise.  So, I let my dough rise in a warm oven.

What I do is preheat the oven to its lowest temperature and turn it off.  Then, I cover the dough with a damp towel and place the oven.

This trick works for me every time.  On occasion, I may need to remove the dough and preheat the oven another time or two, but usually just once does the trick.

The down side of this process is that some bakers feel it doesn’t allow for flavors to really develop.  Personally, I never noticed much of a difference.

PUNCHING DOUGH DOWN

Punching is a bit of a strong word.  Yeast is a delicate living thing so you actually need to treat it with care.  

What you’re really doing is lightly pressing down the dough through the center with first.  This removes gasses that have formed during the first rise allowing for a better crumb.

 By doing this you are also bring the yeast, sugar, and moisture back together which is important for the second rise as the yeast feeds on the sugar.

After you “punch” the dough you should pull edges of the dough to the center. Once you’re done, take dough out of bowl and place on lightly floured board, turn over, and shape your dough into a ball.

If desired, you can kneading the dough two or three times to release additional air bubbles.

LET THE DOUGH REST

While you don’t need to let the dough rest after punching it down, it is preferable to.  

If you have the time, allow the dough to rest between 10 to 40 minutes. Ideally no less than 15 minutes.  

This will allow the gluten to relax making the dough easier to roll out and shape.

I often allow the dough to rest for 20 minutes in the fridge with a damp towel. Chilled dough can be easier to work with.

THE SECOND RISE

The second rise allows the yeast to feed longer on the sugar.  This allows the bread to become larger, have a better crumb, and develop a better flavor.  

Also, if you were to let it rise only once, punch it down, shape it, and stick it in the oven, your bread would rise somewhat, but not enough for it to become fluffy.  

TROUBLESHOOTING

WHY IS IT TAKING LONGER THAN DESCRIBED TO BAKE?

Over time, the thermostat on ovens gets a little off, causing some ovens to run hot and others to run cool.  This is why recipes tend to say things like “10 to 15 minutes or until golden brown.” 

So, if it takes you longer than expected that’s fine, don’t worry about it. Just keep baking until ready.

WHY DID MY RECIPE COME OUT TOO DRY?

Just like some ovens run cool, others run hot.  If your oven runs hot, bake these at a lower temperature.  Ideally, you should get an oven thermometer to know what temperature you’re really baking at.

HOW TO STORE Challah

DO NOT REFRIGERATE BREAD

Unlike commercial bread that has preservatives, homemade bread will become stale much faster in the fridge.  Instead, you want to leave it out on the counter.

STORING BREAD IN A BAG

Storing bread in a bag may seem like a good idea, and it’s not exactly a bad idea, but it will make the crust softer due to trapped moisture.  If you do this, it is best to use it for toast.

STORING BREAD IN A BREAD BOX

Storing bread in a bread box will create an environment with balanced humidity and the air circulation.  A large box is better because it will allow for maximum air circulation.

Make sure not to crowd your bread because the more bread you put in the bread box, the higher the humidity level. The downside of a breadbox is that bread is prone to molding, especially in hot weather.

HOW TO FREEZE

To freeze bread, place it in a sealed zip-top bag, pushing out as much air as possible, and place it in the freezer. It will keep for two to three months.  

If you plan on toasting the bread, slice it before freezing.

Reheating the bread in an oven or toaster actually brings the bread back to its former glory.

Yield: 2 challahs

Best Challah

Challah bread on marble counter

This challah is a water challah which is particularly popular in Israel. It does not call for any eggs (except for an egg wash), but is still light and fluffy.

Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 30 minutes
Additional Time 1 hour 30 minutes
Total Time 2 hours 10 minutes

Ingredients

  • 5 cups all-purpose flour (640 grams)
  • 3/4 cup white sugar (150 grams)
  • 1/3 cup oil* (80 milliliters)
  • 5 teaspoons instant dry yeast
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 and 1/2 cup water, warm (355 milliliters)

Wash

  • 1 egg, beaten

Optional Topping

  • 1 tablespoon sesame seeds

Instructions

  1. In the bowl of a stand mixer combine flour, sugar, oil, yeast, salt.
  2. Using a bread hook, knead, adding the water about a quarter cup at a time until the dough feels similar to play-doh. 
  3. Cover with a damp towel and set in a warm place. Let the dough rise until double in size (about 45 minutes).
  4. Remove the dough and divide it in half. Take one half and braid on a floured surface. Repeat with the remaining dough. 
  5. Place both on a parchment paper lined baking sheet and brush with egg wash. Let rise until double in size (about 45 minutes).  
  6. Preheat the oven to 350°F or 175°C.
  7. Bake for 30 to 40 minutes or until golden brown.

Notes

*Click here to jump to notes on oil

Recommended Products

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Nutrition Information:

Yield:

24

Serving Size:

1

Amount Per Serving: Calories: 153Total Fat: 4gSaturated Fat: 0gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 3gCholesterol: 8mgSodium: 180mgCarbohydrates: 27gFiber: 1gSugar: 6gProtein: 3g

Did you make this recipe?

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Maia

Friday 4th of September 2020

Hi!

My dough is currently rising for the first time and I am wondering about the water content. I don’t have a mixer so I do everything by hand. I added 1 c. water, the sugar, and 6.25 tsp active dry yeast. After it was activated I added all the flour and salt. I then kneaded in about 4.5 more tablespoons of water and after 10 minutes I didn’t want to knead any longer so I didn’t add the remaining 3.5 tbsp. I’ll be making the bread regardless but do you have any advice for the future?

ElissaBeth

Tuesday 8th of September 2020

I don't knead by hand but but what I would add the full amount of water and if more flour is needed I'd knead it in.

Elana

Monday 24th of August 2020

Hi! This recipe sounds great! I have rapid rise yeast- how would I substitute that into this recipe? Thanks!

Elana

Tuesday 25th of August 2020

@ElissaBeth, Thanks so much!

ElissaBeth

Monday 24th of August 2020

a 1:1 conversion rate should be fine :)

Chalyn

Saturday 18th of July 2020

This water challah is the BEST challah recipe I have made yet. I made a double patch and shared with my besties, now they want it every week! I will be using this recipe every week for shabbat. Thank you so much for sharing your wisdom :) Shabbat shalom

ElissaBeth

Sunday 19th of July 2020

I'm so glad to hear you and your besties enjoyed it as much as my family and I do :)

Debby

Sunday 5th of July 2020

Made the challah (without a mixer) and it was excellent. As you say, hard to keep everyone from eating it up if I wanted leftovers. My only question -- do you need to use that much yeast? It is a very large amount. Maybe that's the secret!!

ElissaBeth

Sunday 5th of July 2020

I'm glad to hear everyone enjoyed it so much! The amount of yeast is definitely one of the secretes to why this challah is so good. :)

Rachel

Sunday 31st of May 2020

Hi - I love this recipe. Thank you. At the moment I have active dry yeast so have been activating with water / sugar as you recommend. My question is whether I still add the water You call for in the recipe into the dough in addition to the water from the activated yeast? Thank you!

ElissaBeth

Sunday 31st of May 2020

Nope. Just use a total of the amount of water used in the recipe. You can bloom the active dry yeast in the same amount of warm water and then add the rest of the ingredients once it's frothy.

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