I swore to myself that Challah bread could only be perfect if it came in a package. From a store.
When I baked it at home, I could never get it to resemble closely enough the texture and look these store brands consistently produced. It just wasn't possible. Nope. Nada.
Until now! This Challah Bread recipe is the absolute BEST. The bread bakes up the way it's supposed to with that airy, soft interior and golden brown crust. Hallelujah, my friends, hallelujah! I can report that another delicious bread, my Condensed Milk Bread recipe also fits into this category of fluffy, soft bread, and may be hard to eat just one slice.
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The Best Recipe Resource
You've most likely read my posts about how I trust only a select few resources for solid, go-to recipes. One of these sources is Cook's Illustrated Magazine which is also home to America's Test Kitchen.
I rave about their magazine, their website and cookbooks.
Not only does ATK produce amazing and consistently good recipes, the authors and test kitchen staff explain the multitudes of tests they ran to produce such results as well as in-depth explanations as to why certain methods or ingredients work so well and others do not.
They also provide us readers with the ultimate, best recipe after concluding their tests. Works for me!
I love reading about all their tests and methods, I usually learn something(s) new, and benefit from a perfectly crafted recipe. (This is not sponsored in any way, I just love this publication and all that they do)
In addition, I secretly (well, not so secretly anymore!) would love to be a member of the Test Kitchen. How freaking cool would it be to test recipes every day and get paid for it?!
I know this isn't everyone's cup of tea, but for me, this would be a dream job.
Holla for the Best Challah Bread recipe
Now, Cook's Illustrated has previously published a recipe for Challah that I've been using for years. I liked it. Didn't love it. But, it was the best one I could find.
Until.... they came out with their FAVORITE Challah recipe recently. And now it is definitely my favorite challah recipe, too!
I mean, look at it! The rich golden crust. The perfectly soft and airy inside. It's just like the store-bought versions, only better.
Why? Well, because it's homemade, that's why! It fills my house with the most tantalizing aroma while it's baking and it delights my tummy with it's satisfying texture and taste.
Until now, I did not think this was possible. Thank you, ATK and Cook's Illustrated!
As you'll see in the recipe, one of the critical methods that ATK employs to produce their new favorite challah is an Asian method of creating a flour paste out of cooked flour and water called tangzhong.
This technique produces softer yeast breads - exactly what we want in a challah. I linked a quick article from King Arthur Flour about this method, how it works in bread recipes and why it's becoming so popular in the US.
Basically, it rocks in every way, creating a superior texture in soft breads and helping them stay fresh longer. Win win!
Tips for Making Challah Bread
- Like most recipes for homemade bread, it's recommended that you weigh your dry ingredients. In this case, weigh the bread flour and the sugar (the other dry ingredients are in small measurements, too small to weigh). The cup measurements are provided in the recipe as well as the weights for convenience. However, a much better texture and chew will result from this challah bread recipe if you weigh your ingredients rather than measure them in cups. This is because weight is much more precise a measure so your proportions of dry to wet ingredients will be precise to produce the best result
- Most bread recipes call for you to knead your bread on a well-floured surface. For this challah bread recipe, it is not recommended that you flour your kneading surface. This is because friction is needed to roll and braid the ropes of bread dough. Also, this is a stiff and dry dough, so adding additional flour will increase the dryness, resulting in a much drier and denser loaf of bread. Nope, we do not want that
- When rolling out the 4 strands of dough for this challah recipe, taper the ends of all the ropes. This helps you create ends that are less bulky and more proportionate to the rest of the braid. Bulky ends may also require more baking time which could result in overbaking of the rest of your loaf
- Rather than baking your challah bread on a single baking sheet, then nest two bakign sheets inside of one another to keep the bottom of the loaf from getting too dark or burnt
- As difficult as it may be, follow the recipe instructions to allow the challah loaf to cool completely for at least 2 hours before slicing and eating. (Good luck with that one!)
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How to Braid 4-Strand Challah Video (<1 Minute)
Looking for more delicious bread recipes? Give these a try:
Flour Paste (Tangzhong)
- ½ cup water
- 3 tablespoons bread flour
- 1 large egg
- 2 large egg yolks
- ¼ cup water
- 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 2 ¾ cups bread flour
- 1 ¼ teaspoons instant yeast or rapid-rise yeast
- ¼ cup granulated sugar
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- vegetable oil spray
Make Flour Paste:
- Whisk water and flour in bowl until no lumps remain.
- Microwave, whisking every 20 seconds, until mixture thickens to stiff, smooth, pudding-like consistency that forms a mound when dropped from the end of a whisk into the bowl, about 40 to 80 seconds.
Make the Dough:
- In the bowl of a stand mixer, whisk the flour paste from Step 1, egg and yolks, water, and oil until well combined.
- Add flour and yeast. Fit mixer with dough hook and mix on low speed until all flour is moistened, 3 to 4 minutes. Let stand for 20 minutes.
- Add the sugar and salt to the bowl and mix on medium speed for 9 minutes (dough will be quite firm and dry).
- Transfer dough to counter and lightly spray now-empty mixer bowl with vegetable oil spray. Knead the dough briefly to form a ball and return it to the oiled bowl. Lightly spray the dough with vegetable oil spray and cover the bowl with plastic wrap. Let dough rise until about doubled in volume, about 1 ½ hours.
- Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper and nest in a second rimmed baking sheet to prevent the bottom of the bread from getting too browned or burnt.
- Transfer the dough to a clean counter and press into an 8-inch square, expelling as much air as possible.
- Cut the dough in half lengthwise to form 2 rectangles. Cut each rectangle in half lengthwise to form 4 equal strips of dough. Roll 1 strip of dough into a 16-inch rope. Continue rolling, tapering ends, until rope is 18 inches long. Repeat with remaining dough strips. Arrange ropes in plus-sign shape, with the end ends overlapping in the center by ½ inch. Firmly press the center of the plus sign in the center to seal the ropes to each other and to the counter.
Braid the Dough:
- Lift the rope at 12 o’clock, bring over the center, and place in the 5 o’clock position. Lift the rope at 6 o’clock, bring over the center, and place in the 12 o’clock position. Lift the rope at 9 o’clock, bring over the center, and place in the 4 o’clock position. Life the rope at 3 o’clock and, working toward yourself, bring over the braid and place in the 8 o’clock position. Adjust ropes so they are at 12, 3, 6, and 9 o’clock positions.
- Repeat these steps, working toward yourself, until you can no longer braid. The loaf will naturally list to one side. Pinch the ends of the rope together and tuck both ends under the braid. Carefully transfer the braid to the prepared baking sheet. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rise until the dough does not spring back fully when gently pressed with your knuckle, about 3 hours.
Make the Egg Wash:
- 30 Minutes before baking, adjust oven rack to the middle position and preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Whisk together egg and salt. Brush the loaf with egg wash and sprinkle with sesame or poppy seeds, if using.
- Bake until the loaf is deep golden brown and registers at least 195 degrees F, 35 to 40 minutes. Let cool on baking sheet for 20 minutes. Transfer baked loaf to a wire rack and let cool completely before slicing, about 2 hours.
- Bread can be stored at room temperature for 3-4 days. Refrigerate for up to 1 week
- Slice bread before freezing and wrap tightly in plastic wrap. Store in freezer for up to 3 months
- Recipe from Cook’s illustrated Magazine, May & June 2019
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