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Ethiopian Challah (Defo Dabo)

March 22, 2021
Photo: Justin CovingtonPhoto: Justin Covington

All Ethiopians eat injera, a spongy flat bread made from teff, an ancient (gluten-free) grain. For celebratory occasions like the Sabbath, Ethiopian Jews eat a more special wheat bread called defo dabo, often studded with nigella seeds, as their unbraided challah. This differs from village to village, family to family, depending on tastes and availability. Try making it next Shabbat (recipe here), knowing that this tradition goes back to antiquity.

Featured in: Challah Is Not the Only Bread


  • 1tablespoon yeast
  • 3tablespoons sugar
  • 3tablespoons honey
  • 2tablespoons sea salt
  • 1 ½teaspoons nigella seeds, plus more for sprinkling (optional)
  • ¼teaspoon turmeric
  • ¼teaspoon ground coriander
  • Scant 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 6 ½cups unbleached all-purpose flour, divided, plus more as needed
  • 1large egg (optional)
Yield: 1 large or 2 small challahs


  • Step 1

    In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the dough hook, stir together the yeast, sugar, honey, salt, nigella seeds, turmeric, ground coriander, and 2 1/2 cups of warm water. Add the oil and mix well.

  • Step 2

    Add 6 cups of the flour and mix until a very wet, sticky dough forms. Scrape the dough into a large greased bowl, cover with plastic wrap (spray plastic wrap with oil to prevent dough from sticking) and let rest for an hour.

  • Step 3

    Uncover the dough, let it breathe, and, if the dough seems too sticky, stir in 1/2 cup more flour with a wooden spoon. Cover the dough with the plastic wrap and let it rest for another 40 minutes.

  • Step 4

    Cover a baking sheet with parchment paper and preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

  • Step 5

    Lightly flour a work surface and your hands. Gently punch down the dough, then scrape it onto the work surface and shape it into a round loaf. Put the loaf on the parchment-lined baking sheet. If you want, beat the egg, then brush it on top of the bread and sprinkle with additional nigella seeds. Let rest, loosely covered with the plastic wrap, for 30 minutes.

  • Step 6

    Bake for about 1 hour and 15 minutes, or until the top is golden brown and the bottom sounds hollow when tapped.

  • If you prefer to make two smaller dabos (loaves), line two 8-inch round baking pans with parchment paper, then pour half the dough into each. The baking time will be reduced to about 30 to 40 minutes.

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