Oct 24

The Great Challah Bake

This Thursday, October 25, is the annual Great Challah Bake, when thousands of Jewish women from around the world unite in their respective communities to bake this special bread.

Note: You don’t have to be Jewish to love challah. If you love baking or trying new recipes, this bread is for you!

Challah is the name of the loaves of braided bread that are served on the Sabbath and Jewish festivals. Each Sabbath and festival—with the exception of Passover—two whole loaves are placed on the table at every meal. These double loaves remind us of the double portion of manna that the Jews received every Friday in the desert so that they would not have to gather this “bread from heaven” on the Sabbath. And indeed, whoever has tasted challah has tasted heaven here on earth.

The loaves come in all sizes and all shapes. The most traditional Sabbath shape is the six braid, using six strands of dough. When the double loaves are placed on the table, they symbolize the 12 showbreads that were placed on the altar each week in the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. It is brought down in the Gemara that the 12 showbreads stayed warm and fresh all week.

Six-braid spelt challah

Most challah contains seven ingredients, paralleling the seven days of the week: eggs, oil, water, yeast, sugar, salt, and flour. Most weekday bread is made without eggs, but the Sabbath challah usually has eggs—the seventh ingredient.

Today, with good kosher bakeries readily available, many Jewish women have given up the practice of baking challah. But there is nothing more heavenly tasting than a good, homemade challah. And challah is surprisingly quick and easy to make, as well as being a great afternoon project with your kids.

The following recipe is one of the best and easiest I’ve discovered. I have made it using different types of flours and they all turn out well: regular wheat, whole wheat, white spelt, spelt pastry, whole spelt, and a mixture of different flours. I use demerara sugar instead of white, and sometimes add honey for extra sweetness. My children are now so “spoiled” by my homemade challah that they complain when I purchase challah from the store.

Note: The amount of flour required in this recipe if you are measuring in pounds was calculated at 7-1/4 cups to the kilo (2.2 lb.), or 3.3 cups to the pound for white flour. Whole-grain flours are heavier and you may need to weigh the flour out. Generally, if you are using 100-percent whole wheat flour, you will need to reduce the total amount of flour somewhat. For spelt flour, reduce the liquid instead.

No matter the flour you use, make sure that you have additional flour on hand, as the actual amount required may also vary according to climatic and other conditions. Mix the dough in a large tub or oversized bowl. There’s enough flour in it to make the blessing when taking challah.


2 kg. plus 4 cups (5.6 lb. or 18-1/2 cups) sifted flour (more, if needed)
3 Tbsp. instant dried yeast
1 cup sugar (demerara or raw cane recommended)
1/8 to 1/4 cup honey for Rosh Hashanah or extra sweetness any time (optional)
2-3 Tbsp. salt, depending on taste
3 eggs at room temperature
1 cup oil, such as canola
5-1/2 to 6 cups warm water (for spelt, use 5 cups)


Add dry ingredients to flour one at a time in the order they are listed, mixing well after each addition. In a separate bowl, measure out water. Add eggs and oil mix well. Pour liquid into dry ingredients and stir well (wooden spoon recommended). When you are unable to stir in the ingredients anymore with a spoon, start kneading the rest of the flour into the dough with your bare hands. You can do the kneading right in the bowl. As dough becomes sticky, dust the top of it with flour and continue kneading until all the flour is mixed in and the dough becomes elastic and springs back after each fold. Knead for about 5 minutes.

Lift the dough and oil the sides of the bowl well. Place dough back in bowl. You should take challah with a blessing at this point. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap (I recommend using half a plastic table cloth cover) and let the dough rise away from cold or drafts for at least a few hours until double in bulk. The amount of time it takes the dough to rise will depend on the temperature of the room and the water you used in the dough. Punch down dough and let it double in bulk again.

Cover the kitchen table in clean, heavy plastic (heavy disposable plastic table cloths recommended) to create a work surface. Divide the dough into quarters. Working with one quarter at a time, divide the dough in half, and then divide each half into six equal balls. Using a rolling pin, roll each ball out lengthwise on a lightly floured surface, and then roll jellyroll style to form a strand.

Braid strands to form challahs or twist into rolls, and place them several inches apart on baking sheets lined with baking paper. Brush with egg mixed with a little water so that the tops will be brown and shiny, and let rise for another 10 to 20 minutes. Bake in preheated 350° F (180° C) oven for 20-30 minutes, or until nicely brown on top.

Challahs will rise further while baking. Once they have risen most of the way in the oven and are slightly browned (about 12-15 minutes of baking), you may want to brush them with more egg mixture to give them a proper shine.

Remove challahs from oven and cover with clean, dry cloth while they cool.

Makes 8 large challahs or 48 medium challah rolls. These challahs freeze well for future enjoyment.