Learning to Braid Bread Dough: Peter Reinhart’s Challah

Challah

Bread #6 for the Bread Baker’s Apprentice Challenge is Challah.  This was my very first time making Challah and also the very first time braiding any type of bread dough!  Luckily, both the bread and the braid turned out pretty darn good.

Challah (listen to the pronunciaton) is a traditional Jewish bread that is eaten on the Sabbath and holidays.  The dough is enriched with eggs and lightly sweetened.  The bread itself is delicious, but the shaping is what makes it so spectacular.  The bread dough is divided, rolled into ropes and braided.  The braids can be really fancy, but I stuck to a standard three-strand braid since it was my first time.  After braiding, the loaf is brushed twice with an egg wash and sprinkled with seeds.  The resulting loaf is shiny, golden and absolutely beautiful!

Challah

The process for this bread is very straightforward.  First, you blend the dry ingredients: flour, sugar, salt and yeast.

Whisk together Flour, Salt, Sugar and Yeast

In a separate bowl, you whisk together the wet ingredients: eggs, egg yolks, water, and oil.

Whisk together Eggs, Water and Oil

Stir together the wet and dry ingredients either with a spoon or in a stand mixer and decide whether the dough needs more water or more flour.

Mix flour and liquids to form Challah dough

As you can see, mine was a pretty wet dough so I didn’t add any more water.  I switched to the dough hook and started kneading, adding little bits of flour until the dough reached the ‘tacky but not sticky’ point.

Challah dough before kneading

After kneading for 6 or 7 minutes in my stand mixer, I gave the dough the windowpane test.  Although it was hard to photograph, this was the best windowpane I’ve ever achieved!  Hooray for Challah!

Challah Dough Windowpane Test

According to the book, the dough temperature should be about 80 degrees after kneading.  I checked and it was about 3 degrees warmer.  Works for me!

Testing temperature of Challah dough

I lightly coated the ball of dough and let it ferment (rise) at room temperature for an hour.

Challah Dough Fully Kneaded

Mr. Reinhart says the dough should be at least 1 1/2 times it’s original size after an hour and it looked pretty close to me.

Challah dough after bulk fermentation

I dumped it out on my board and started kneading it to remove the bubbles.  The book says to knead it for a couple of minutes to degas.  But as I started kneading, I realized that my dough was really really stiff.

Kneading out the bubbles

It was almost impossible to knead it for two minutes.  The dough started tearing as I tried to wrestle the bubbles out of it.  I really started to wonder what I had done wrong.  This is how it looked after kneading (I gave up after about a minute and a half).  So much for my smooth and supple dough…

After kneading out the bubbles

But I returned it to the bowl and greased it up again for it’s second fermentation.

Ready for second rise

After another hour, the dough had risen nicely again.

After Second Rise

Now it was time to divide it into three pieces.  Luckily the dough had loosened up a bit and was much easier to deal with.  I measured out three equal pieces using my trusty digital scale.

Dividing the Challah Dough

I then formed the three pieces into nice smooth boules and let them rest for ten minutes.

Three Equal Pieces

It’s important to let the dough rest before shaping, because the gluten will relax and the dough will be much easier to work with.  Even after ten minutes, it was a little difficult to roll the balls out into long ropes.  If you find that the dough keeps springing back while you’re trying to form the ropes, just let it sit for a few minutes and then try again.  It will eventually work.

I made three ropes of equal length, making sure to leave them thicker in the middle and slightly tapered at the ends per Mr. Reinhart’s instructions.

Three Ropes

Next, I started the braid.  The only thing that was slightly confusing about the braiding process was that the book told me to start in the middle.  But it was easy enough to figure out.

Starting the Challah Braid

Starting from the middle, I braided down one side.  It really is just like braiding hair!

Braiding Challah

And then I finished the other side.  The ends were just pinched together and tucked under slightly.  Behold a succesfully braided loaf!

Braided Challah

I transferred the loaf to a silpat-lined baking sheet (parchment paper would be fine, too) and brushed it with an egg wash.

Brushing with Egg Wash

Next it was covered with plastic wrap and allowed to proof for another hour or so.

Ready for Final Proof

It really grew!

Challah after final proof

After proofing, it got brushed down with the egg wash once more and then I sprinkled it with poppy seeds.  Sesame seeds may also be used.

Challah with Poppyseeds

The challah was put into a preheated 350 degree oven and baked for about 40 minutes.  It had lots of oven spring and turned into a big and beautiful loaf!

Challah hot out of the oven

I thought the bottom of the bread was almost as pretty as the top, so I had to photograph it, too.

The Underside of Challah

And of course, you have to see the crumb.

Challah Crumb

I really enjoyed the challah toasted with butter and raspberry jam for breakfast this morning.  And tomorrow, I’m going to make some french toast.  But this is definitely not the type of bread to be hoarded and eaten alone (like I did with the Casatiello) so  I will be taking a large portion of the loaf to my sister and brother-in-law today.

I’m now six loaves into the BBA Challenge, and I’ve enjoyed every single bread I’ve made.  I would definitely call this another success and am proud that I finally braided a loaf of bread.  Since I have never made Challah before, I can’t compare this to other recipes, but I thought the flavor and texture of this bread was really nice and I would definitely make it again.

The Next Bread

This week we will be making Ciabatta.  This is another one I’m excited about, because I love to eat it, but have never made it at home before.  The ingredients are very simple: bread flour, yeast, salt and water, but this bread requires two days to make.  The bread instructions begin on page 135 of The Bread Baker’s Apprentice.  There are five different versions of Ciabatta in the book and you can choose any version you would like.  You can try as many as you like, but you’ll only need to make one of them for the purposes of this challenge.  Good luck and happy baking!

Want to Bake Along With Us?

There are several ways for you to join in the fun!  First of all, you need a copy of Peter Reinhart’s The Bread Baker’s Apprentice.  Read the first section of the book carefully, as this will prepare you for the bread recipes in the second section of the book.  Then just jump in and bake some Anadama Bread! But first, please visit The BBA Challenge Page for more details on how to participate in the group!

If you haven’t already, you might want to bookmark the BBA Challenge Page.  From there you can see which breads are coming up soon, find answers to Frequently Asked Questions, visit and/or add yourself to our World Map, see the BBA Challenge Blogroll, and check out the continually updated slideshow of BBA Bread photos from our ever-expanding group of bakers!

For those of you who are participating in The BBA Challenge, here are some questions:  How did you like the Challah?  Did you make one large braid or two smaller ones?  What type of braid did you choose?  Did you learn anything new while using this formula?

And remember, if you wrote a blog post about Challah, or have photos available online, please leave a comment and share your link!

Challah from other BBA Challenge members:

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51 Comments
  1. Susie

    WOW, your braid is perfectly awesome.
    I SO love your write ups and love all the photos you add in. Great job.
    Thanks for link to how you pronounce Challah and for adding my link as one of the ones that have done the Challah. :)
    THANK you O MIGHTY CHALLENGE LEADER. :o)
    Susie

    1:34 pm  Jun 29th, 2009
  2. Dianne

    I made a single braid too, though the bottom of my loaf didn’t look nearly as cool as the bottom of yours! I was very happy to learn Reinhart’s method of braiding (starting in the middle), as I’ve braided loaves before but they always turned out kind of lop-sided and uneven. Peter’s instruction, as usual, was spot-on. I ate most of my loaf with blackberry jam — was going to make French toast but the loaf disappeared too fast!
    http://stoveria.blogspot.com/2009/06/bread-bakers-apprentice-643-challah_22.html

    1:37 pm  Jun 29th, 2009
  3. chris

    It looks fantastic, great job!

    This was one of my favorite breads so far, and ended up making it quite a few times in one week. A sure fire hit! http://tinyurl.com/my288y

    1:42 pm  Jun 29th, 2009
  4. Ruby

    Wow, this bread turned out great! Looks yummy, nice job! :)

    1:54 pm  Jun 29th, 2009
  5. jennywenny

    That looks lovely! Maybe one day when I have a bit more time! I’m not quite sure when that will be though….

    Was really nice to meet you at the weekend, I hope you had as much fun as I did.

    2:07 pm  Jun 29th, 2009
  6. Siebzig

    I braided my Challah starting at one end and braiding to the other. I hadn’t given any though to trying it from the center but I like the results you were able to achieve. Looks like your loaf remained a little wider in the center and tapered toward the ends; looks better than the “end to end'” results I got. I love this bread and the family has asked that it be added to the list of various favorites. That’s a win’-win in anybody’s game.

    2:10 pm  Jun 29th, 2009
  7. LeeYong

    WOW! it’s beautiful as always! Thanks for sharing…

    2:13 pm  Jun 29th, 2009
  8. Barbara

    Your pictures of the process are excellent! It’s so helpful to be able to see how someone else does things. The bread looks wonderful!

    My post on my Challah (and Casatiello) experience is here: http://strangerkiss.wordpress.com/2009/06/28/casatiello-and-challah/

    2:29 pm  Jun 29th, 2009
  9. Ivete

    Looks great! What flour did you use? I’m asking because I was surprised at how stiff your dough seems in comparison to mine, I used King Arthur Bread flour . . . oh and as usual, I’m totally jealous of your photography skills!!

    2:35 pm  Jun 29th, 2009
  10. Laura

    Nicole, great job at braiding for a first timer! Wasn’t it a great bread to make and to eat?

    I would not have tried this recipe if it weren’t for you. So thanks for starting this great challenge.

    2:37 pm  Jun 29th, 2009
  11. Nicole

    Ivete: I used King Arthur Bread Flour, too. After I finished kneading, the dough wasn’t super stiff. It was sticking to my fingers when I did the windowpane. But after the first fermentation, it was REALLY stiff. Then it loosened up a bit after the second ferementation. I’m not sure what happened! But, the final result was good, so I stopped worrying about it :-)

    2:42 pm  Jun 29th, 2009
  12. Jodi

    Nicole!!! Wow so impressed! And my Jewish in-laws would be too!!! I will have to give this one a try and see if I can impress them myself. We eat a lot of Challah around here and YES, I can even pronounce it perfectly! Thanks for sharing!! Love this site!

    2:55 pm  Jun 29th, 2009
  13. Haley J.

    Wasn’t the challah wonderful? I enjoyed mine drizzled with honey, and it made great sandwiches, too! So good. It was also my first time out braiding bread, and I couldn’t have been more pleased with the results. Definitely a winner.

    My post is here: http://haleysuzanne.wordpress.com/2009/06/23/bba-6-challah/.

    3:06 pm  Jun 29th, 2009
  14. Joy

    Nicole, your bread is so beautiful! And so are your step-by-step photos. Great job again on the bread. Very inspiring.

    3:27 pm  Jun 29th, 2009
  15. Tammy

    Very impressive! Love all the pics…

    4:42 pm  Jun 29th, 2009
  16. Rebecca

    I’m so glad you liked it! And your braid turned out very pretty. I made this bread a week ago, but finally got around to writing up my post this evening:
    http://grongar.wordpress.com/2009/06/29/challah-bba-challenge-bread-6/
    Looking forward to ciabatta!

    5:11 pm  Jun 29th, 2009
  17. Kathie

    Great job! I have been lurking for a couple of weeks. This write up and beautiful photos has inspired me! Off to purchase the book and see if I can keep up with. Thank you!

    5:22 pm  Jun 29th, 2009
  18. Devany

    Thanks for giving me a week off too! LOL. I am on par with you for my posts. I hope you had fun at the cabin.

    I also noticed that this was a very stiff dough. I used an organic bread flour, but I think it is more the nature of the dough. The bread tasted great and looked beautiful, and that is what counts.

    Your Challah was lovely. I loved the bottom… never even thought to look at the bottom of mine. Oh well, it is gone now! While I did like the bread and it was relatively easy to make, I am not sure it is one I will make on a regular basis.

    As always, your pictures are great. I am thinking that if I were reading your blog as a “non-participant” and saw all of those step by step pictures, I would want the recipe along with them!

    5:33 pm  Jun 29th, 2009
  19. Caitlin

    Gorgeous! And seriously? Your first time braiding? Kudos!

    5:44 pm  Jun 29th, 2009
  20. Amy

    I need to get that book! I make challah every Friday with the sous chefs and it is by far the best tradition we have. I always braided from the center, which to most seemed odd, but it really does give you the best look. Lately I have taken the easy way out and used my bread machine to do most of the work, but as things slow down I’ll probably go back to the usual way.jhg

    Lead sous chef is sitting beside me and saw your photos. She had one word, “wow”.

    ;) amy

    5:59 pm  Jun 29th, 2009
  21. pam

    Beautiful challah! Really stellar!

    7:11 am  Jun 30th, 2009
  22. ATigerintheKitchen

    What a beautiful braid! The underside looked lovely, too. Congratulations…and thanks for linking to my challah post! My windowpane was nowhere near as perfect as yours … I still haven’t been able to get that part quite right in all the breads I’ve made. Someday …

    7:26 am  Jun 30th, 2009
  23. Wendy

    Your challah looks perfect. Great job!

    7:38 am  Jun 30th, 2009
  24. cheffresco

    I’ve never tried challah either – yours looks beautiful! I’m looking forward to seeing the ciabatta too. I may have to take on this challenge sometime this week :)

    7:41 am  Jun 30th, 2009
  25. Paula - bell'alimento

    As always, your bread looks perfetto! I REALLY loved this bread. I opted for 2 smaller loaves & did the single braid. I will def be making this one again. Here is the link to my post: http://www.bellalimento.com/2009/06/19/ah-challah

    8:16 am  Jun 30th, 2009
  26. Rebeca

    Your bread looks great! Here’s the link to mine:http://carriedonthewind.blogspot.com/2009/06/bba-challenge-6-challah-bread.html

    8:55 am  Jun 30th, 2009
  27. Challah French Toast — Pinch My Salt

    […] my friends heard that I would be making Challah for the Bread Baker’s Apprentice Challenge, everyone told me the same thing:  challah makes […]

    10:19 am  Jun 30th, 2009
  28. Katie

    Wow – yours is so much more beautiful than mine! I loved the braiding, too. My post about it is here:
    http://urbanpeasantry.blogspot.com/2009/06/dinnertime-distractions-and-challah.html

    10:21 am  Jun 30th, 2009
  29. Daniel

    Absolutely beautiful! I made the mistake of making the ropes too long. Here are mine: http://bit.ly/ITAuK

    12:07 pm  Jun 30th, 2009
  30. justine

    what a beautiful, well made (and delicious looking!) challah

    justine

    8:57 pm  Jun 30th, 2009
  31. SallyBR

    Loved this post! Your Challah turned out absolutely perfect!

    9:12 am  Jul 1st, 2009
  32. Cindy

    Hi Nicole,
    Beautiful challah. It’s so funny that you photographed the underside. i just sent a reply to Daniel in Germany (http://bit.ly/ITAuK) after reading his post and seeing that he shoots the undersides too. I also always shoot the bottom but never actually put the photos in my post because I figured who wants to see the bottom. But now there are three of us who find the bottom of a loaf interesting. Hmm, maybe there are moie of us out there!

    Although I didn’t love the BBA challah as much as others I have made, I still learned so much from the book, especially braiding techniques.

    10:29 am  Jul 1st, 2009
  33. nico

    very nice challah, mine was really good too.

    7:54 am  Jul 2nd, 2009
  34. JanH

    Here is an alternate shaping technique that is really much easier than the finished loaf looks like it should be. Scroll past the recipe to the shaping instructions at the end. http://www.tasteofchallah.com/sub_page.asp?cat=3&sub_cat=8

    It is similar to a braid, but makes a lovely round woven loaf.

    8:54 pm  Jul 2nd, 2009
  35. Avanika (Yumsilicious Bakes)

    Your challah looks great!! Amazing job!

    1:50 am  Jul 3rd, 2009
  36. Jon T.

    Nice work on your challah, but here’s a tip from someone who’s made lots of challah in his past: do you notice how your braids toward the center of your load look “torn”? What causes that is that your braids are too tight. The dough doesn’t have enough room to expand when proofing and during oven spring. The strands, having nowhere to expand, tear away from each other. Looking at the picture of your braid confirms this for me. When braiding any bread, braid loosely. I love following your blog and look forward to your later adventures. Peter’s recipe for cinnamon buns is one of my favorites!

    7:12 pm  Jul 6th, 2009
  37. Nicole

    Jon: Thanks for the tip! I was wondering about why the braid had that torn appearance towards the middle. Totally makes sense now that I think about it. I’ll definitely loosen up the next time :-)

    7:16 pm  Jul 6th, 2009
  38. Kathie

    @Jon. Thanks from a newbie to this challenge. My challah, while tasty, had the same issue. I also knit too tightly. :)

    7:56 pm  Jul 6th, 2009
  39. Barbara

    Jon: that’s a great tip. I was wondering why that happened.

    7:58 pm  Jul 6th, 2009
  40. Jon T.

    Hi Katie: as a matter of fact, when you braid bread, you should simply lay the strands over the others and not pull them very much at all. Don’t worry about slight gaps left between the braided stands, you actually want some to allow space to proof. The dough strands will grow together as you proof.

    OK–now a confession: I baked professionally for several years, baking 40-50 challah loves a day. I still love to bake bread at home and love to help beginners! Go for it!

    2:53 pm  Jul 7th, 2009
  41. Kathie

    @Jon- it is so nice to be in this connected world with people like yourself who are willing to share your knowledge. Thanks for that and your words of support!

    6:54 pm  Jul 7th, 2009
  42. AP269

    I just finished my post on the Challah: http://ap269.wordpress.com/2009/09/01/bba-challenge-6-challah/. I used your Challah French Toast recipe and it was heavenly. Thanks for sharing!

    2:23 pm  Sep 1st, 2009
  43. Abby

    Finished my challah today. You inspired me to look at the bottom – mine did not look anywhere near as great as yours! Thought it tasted more like sandwich bread than like traditional challah, but I figure it will still make great French toast tomorrow! Here is my post: http://mixitbakeit.blogspot.com/2009/09/housekidschallahworkfootball.html

    5:40 pm  Sep 26th, 2009
  44. Abby

    Oh, and thanks to Jon’s tip, my challah didn’t tear nearly as much as it did last time I made it! =)

    5:41 pm  Sep 26th, 2009
  45. Gina

    Finished my challah today! It’s delicious! Here’s my blog post on it: http://ravenwolflodge.blogspot.com/2009/10/bba-challenge-challah.html

    6:59 am  Oct 6th, 2009
  46. Challah Bread (??????) « Northwest Kitchen

    […] 8.????????????????????????????????????????????? […]

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  47. mmk

    Made the challah last weekend and it turned out wonderfully. I really enjoyed making this one – the dough had such a nice feel to it and the final product was delicious. I guess I also braided a bit tightly on one of my loaves. I’ll definitely make this one again.

    5:17 pm  Mar 19th, 2010
  48. Raincoats and Recipes » Blog Archive » challah!

    […] after seeing Nicole at Pinch My Salt write about making Challah. I further investigated the Peter Reinhart recipe and decided to give it […]

    10:13 am  Sep 2nd, 2010
  49. ????? ????, ???????, ??????? ???? ?????? | ??? ????????

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  50. » Holla for Challah »

    […] Pinch my Salt – Learning how to Braid Challah […]

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  51. Sandy

    This braiding bread dough is something that I have been trying to “perfect” since last fall/winter. I am still looking up whatever advice that I can find. I love yours – thank you so much!

    9:54 am  Sep 21st, 2012
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