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Mastering Challah: Avoid These 12 Common Mistakes for Perfect Bread

Common mistakes in making challah bread and how to avoid them

Challah bread, with its rich flavor and beautiful braided appearance, holds a special place in Jewish tradition and has gained popularity worldwide. While it may seem like a daunting task to bake the perfect challah, understanding and avoiding some common mistakes can help you achieve excellent results every time. In this article, we’ll explore twelve mistakes that everyone makes when making challah bread and provide valuable tips to help you overcome them.

Mistake 1: Problems with flour

Flour plays a crucial role in breadmaking, and using the right type and amount is essential for challah success. Different types of flour, such as bread flour, all-purpose flour, and cake flour, have different levels of protein and gluten. For a heartier and more elastic dough, choose a flour with a higher protein content. However, all-purpose flour also works well for challah. The key is to focus on buying the highest quality flour rather than worrying too much about specific types.
Another mistake is to add too much flour to the dough. Challah dough is meant to be sticky, so resist the temptation to keep adding flour to make it easier to knead. Start with half the amount of flour called for in the recipe and gradually add more until the dough forms a ball. Remember, the texture of the challah should be fluffy and airy, not dense like a brick.

Mistake 2: Insufficient rising

Proper rising is critical to achieving a perfect loaf of challah. Improper rising can result in a cracked, flat, or spreadable loaf. While most recipes call for two rises, some bakers prefer a third rise overnight in the refrigerator to improve the loaf’s texture. Factors such as temperature, humidity, and time of day can affect rising time. To accurately estimate the time, consider taking pictures of the dough before it rises rather than blindly following the recipe. Use an oiled bowl and cover the dough with a clean, damp towel to prevent it from drying out during the rising process.

Mistake 3: Neglecting the importance of proofing

Proofing is a critical step in bread making, and it refers to two different aspects. The first is to check that the yeast is alive before mixing the dough. Sprinkle the yeast and a teaspoon of sugar into warm water and wait for the mixture to bubble, indicating that the yeast is alive and ready to act. Second, proofing also refers to the second rise of the dough after it has been punched and shaped. This stage allows the dough to develop the desired structure and flavor. Timing is critical during proofing, as overproofed dough will result in flat bread. Use your finger to test the readiness of the dough; if it springs back immediately, let it rest longer. If it slowly returns to shape, it’s ready to bake.

Mistake 4: Forgetting to add salt

Salt is an essential ingredient in baking bread, including challah. It plays an important role in the rising process, making the dough stronger and preventing it from rising too quickly. Salt also enhances the flavor and sweetness of challah. Omitting salt can result in bread that lacks flavor. If you accidentally forget to add salt, you can repurpose the bread by making croutons, bread pudding, or toasting it and sprinkling salt on top after buttering.

Mistake 5: Not kneading enough

Kneading is a critical step in bread making that develops gluten and strengthens the proteins in the dough. Proper kneading ensures that the bread rises properly and has an elastic texture. However, both overkneading and underkneading can affect the consistency of the challah. If using a stand mixer with a dough hook, knead until the dough comes together around the hook and forms a soft, elastic ball. Avoid overkneading, as this can introduce too much air and warm the dough, negatively affecting the color and texture of the final loaf. If kneading by hand, be patient and knead for up to 25 minutes, paying attention to the dough’s cues.

Mistake 6: Ignoring Intuition

While recipes provide valuable guidance, it’s important to trust your intuition when making challah. Factors such as heat, humidity, and other daily variables can affect the rise and texture of the dough. Recipes serve as suggestions, and it’s important to adapt them to the specific conditions you encounter. For example, you can use ice water in small increments to slow the rise in warm conditions, or adjust the rising and baking times based on your judgment and the dough’s cues. Understanding the variables and making intuitive adjustments will help you achieve excellent results.

Mistake 7: Rushing the process

Baking bread, including challah, takes time and patience, and it’s important not to rush the process. Allowing the dough to rest and rise properly is critical to developing flavor and texture. Follow the recipe’s instructions for resting and rising times, and resist the temptation to cut corners. Rushing the process can result in bread that is underdeveloped, dense, or lacking in flavor. Embrace the slow and deliberate nature of breadmaking, and you’ll be rewarded with a delicious loaf of challah.

Mistake 8: Improper braiding

Braiding challah is a beautiful and traditional technique that adds to its visual appeal. However, improper braiding can result in unevenly baked bread or braids that unravel during baking. Take the time to learn and practice different braiding techniques before attempting to make challah. Start with simpler braids and work your way up to more intricate designs as you gain confidence. Follow step-by-step instructions or watch video tutorials to master the art of challah braiding and create stunning loaves.

Mistake 9: Over or under baking

Achieving the perfect level of doneness when baking challah can be challenging. Overbaking can result in a dry and chewy loaf, while underbaking can leave the bread raw in the middle. To avoid these mistakes, follow the recipe’s recommended baking time and temperature. Keep a close eye on the loaf during the final minutes of baking and use visual cues to determine when it is done. The crust should be golden brown and tapping the bottom of the loaf should produce a hollow sound. If necessary, use an instant-read thermometer to check the internal temperature, which should be around 190°F (88°C) when fully baked.

Mistake 10: Neglecting to wash the eggs

Egg washing is an essential step in achieving the characteristic shiny, golden appearance of challah. Neglecting the egg wash can result in a lackluster and dull crust. Before baking, brush the molded dough with a beaten egg or egg wash (egg yolk mixed with a little water). This simple step adds a nice shine and improves the overall appearance of the finished loaf. You can also sprinkle seeds, such as sesame or poppy seeds, on top of the egg wash for added flavor and texture.

Mistake 11: Storing challah improperly

Proper storage is essential to maintaining the freshness and quality of challah. After the bread has cooled completely, store it in a breathable bag or wrap it loosely in foil or plastic wrap to prevent it from drying out. Avoid storing challah in the refrigerator, as this can accelerate staling. Instead, store it at room temperature for up to two days. If you have leftovers, consider freezing them in airtight containers or freezer bags for longer-term storage. For the best texture and flavor, thaw frozen challah at room temperature before reheating or eating.

Mistake 12: Not experimenting with variations

Challah is a versatile bread that can be customized to your liking. Don’t be afraid to experiment with different flavors, such as adding herbs, cheeses, spices, chocolate, fruit, or nuts to the dough. These variations can enhance the flavor and make each loaf unique. In addition, try shaping challah into different shapes, such as rolls or knots, to add visual interest to your bread. Explore and enjoy the creative process of making challah, and you’ll discover endless possibilities.
In conclusion, making challah bread can be a rewarding and enjoyable experience. By avoiding these common mistakes and following the tips provided, you’ll be well on your way to baking beautiful, flavorful, and perfectly textured challah loaves. Embrace the process, trust your intuition, and don’t be afraid to experiment. With practice, you’ll become a master challah baker and create delicious breads that will be treasured at your table and shared with loved ones.


Why is my challah dense and heavy?

Challah bread can be dense and heavy for several reasons, including using too much flour, not allowing enough time for the dough to rise, or not kneading the dough enough. Make sure you measure your ingredients accurately, allow the dough to rise properly, and knead it until it reaches the desired elasticity.

Can I use whole grain flour to make challah bread?

Yes, you can use whole grain flour to make challah bread. However, keep in mind that whole wheat flour has a higher fiber content, which can affect the texture and rise of the bread. It is recommended that whole wheat flour be mixed with all-purpose or bread flour for a lighter and more balanced loaf.

How do I keep my challah bread from drying out?

To prevent your challah bread from drying out, be sure to store it properly. Once the bread is completely cooled, store it in a breathable bag or wrap it loosely in foil or plastic wrap. Avoid storing it in the refrigerator, as this can accelerate staling. Keeping bread at room temperature for up to two days will help it retain its moisture.

Can I freeze challah bread?

Yes, you can freeze challah bread. Once the bread has cooled completely, wrap it tightly in plastic wrap or place it in an airtight container. Properly stored, challah bread can be frozen for up to three months. To defrost, allow to thaw at room temperature until completely defrosted before reheating or eating.

Can I make challah without eggs?

Traditional challah bread is made with eggs, which contribute to its rich flavor and soft texture. However, if you have dietary restrictions or prefer an egg-free version, there are recipes that use substitutes such as applesauce, mashed bananas, or yogurt to achieve a similar texture. Experiment with different recipes to find a variation that suits your needs and preferences.

How long will challah bread stay fresh?

Challah bread is best enjoyed within a day or two of baking when it is at its freshest. Properly stored at room temperature, it can maintain its quality for up to two days. However, like most breads, challah will become stale over time. To prolong its freshness, consider freezing leftover bread and thawing it as needed.

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