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Joan Nathan’s Chosen Challah

June 17, 2021
Joan Nathan’s Chosen Challah

The word “challah” once meant the portion of bread that was tossed into the oven as an offering in memory of the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem. Today, challah refers to the particular bread (or lechem) we eat on the Sabbath or holidays. Regular challahs are braided into a long loaf. For Rosh Hashanah, and for each new month, however, the challah is shaped into a circle, symbolizing the cycle of life.

Featured in: How To Bake the Ultimate Challah—for Rosh Hashanah or Anytime


  • 1 ¾cups water
  • 1 ½tablespoons active dry yeast
  • ½cup sugar
  • ½cup vegetable or canola oil
  • 3large eggs
  • 1tablespoon salt
  • 8cups all-purpose flour
  • Poppy or sesame seeds for sprinkling
Yield: Makes 2 challahs


  • Step 1

    Put water, yeast, and sugar in the bowl of a standing mixer and blend, using a paddle.

  • Step 2

    Add oil, then add 2 of the eggs, one at a time, using the paddle to mix. Then switch to the dough hook and gradually add the flour and salt, then knead with the dough hook. Roll dough onto floured board and knead by hand.

  • Step 3

    Grease a bowl with nonstick spray, put the dough in the bowl and cover with greased plastic wrap and let the dough rise in a warm place for 1 hour.

  • Step 4

    After an hour, when the dough has almost doubled in volume, punch it down, cover, and let rise again in a warm place for another half-hour.

  • Step 5

    To make a six-braided challah, take half the dough and form into 6 balls. With your hands, roll each ball into a strand tapered at the ends, about 12 inches long and 1 1/2 inches wide. Pinch the strands together at one end, then gently spread them apart. Next, move the outside right strand over 2 strands. Then, take the second strand from the left and move it to the far right. Regroup to 3 on each side. Take the outside left strand and move it over 2 to the middle, then move the second strand from the right over to the far left. Regroup and start over with the outside right strand. Continue until all the strands are braided, tucking the ends underneath the loaf. The key is always to have 3 strands on each side, so you can keep your braid balanced. Make a second loaf the same way. When you are finished you can either keep a long braided challah or twist it into a round challah for Rosh Hashanah.

  • Step 6

    Place the braided loaves on parchment paper on cookie sheets.

  • Step 7

    Beat the remaining egg and brush it on the loaves, then sprinkle with seeds—or put the seeds in a small bowl, brush the loaves with egg again, then, dipping your fingers first in the egg, then the seeds, gently touch the humps of the braids with the seeds. Repeat until your challah is well decorated. Let rise another half hour.

  • Step 8

    Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and bake for 30 minutes or until golden. When the bread sounds hollow when tapped with a cake spatula, the challahs are done. Cool the loaves on a rack.