Challah Part 2: How to Braid Challah

Me and challah on top of Masada in Israel – July 2010.

And now for my favorite part of baking challah– braiding!! Braiding challah is super fun. I know some of you are probably thinking “this is way too complicated for me.” But trust me, once you get a feel for the dough you’ll fall in love with the braiding process. I’ve listed every potential mistake I can think of in this blog to help you stay on track. So why not jump in and give it a try? All that work will result in a gorgeous challah that you can proudly display as the centerpiece for your dinner table. I feel such a sense of accomplishment when I create a beautifully braided challah– it makes my inner artist happy!

If you need a challah recipe, or want to learn more about the blessing of challah, click on the following link:

Challah Part 1: The Blessing and the Dough

There are many different ways to braid a challah. I’m going to share my favorite ways with you here, including two ways to make a round loaf for Rosh Hashanah.

First, you need to learn how to make a nice even strand from the dough. All the braids are made from strands, so it’s important to know how to make a fundamental strand shape.

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HOW TO MAKE STRANDS

Divide your dough into the number of strands you’ll need, making sure each portion is equal in volume. For example, if you’re making a three strand challah, divide your dough into three equal portions

Take one of the portions and roll it out with a rolling pin until it is flat and about 1/4 inch thick. Don’t worry about the shape of the dough, it doesn’t matter. Put the smaller part of the dough towards the top of your rolling surface, with the widest part towards the bottom.

Using both hands, put pressure on the rolling surface and pull the dough back towards you, rolling it back into a strand shape. Keep even pressure on the dough as you roll so that no air pockets collect in the strand.

Once your strand shape is created, roll it back and forth with both hands to erase the seams and smooth out the strand. As you roll, angle your hands outward and apply gentle pressure to taper the dough on the outer edges. By doing this, your strand should end up slightly thicker in the middle and thinner on the ends. This will help make your braided challah tapered at the ends, which creates a beautiful shape.

Further taper the strand by grasping one end between your two palms and gently rolling the dough back and forth. Repeat for the other end of the strand.

And that’s how you make a strand! Simple, right? Now, before we start braiding, I want to share a few tips with you that I’ve learned from trial and error over the years.

CHALLAH BRAIDING TIPS

1. Make sure your dough has completely risen using a two-rise process before you start to braid. If you don’t, your strands may rise and expand while you are braiding, leading to a misshapen and sloppy-looking braid. The challah will still taste good, but it won’t look as pretty.  :)

2. Once you start braiding, continue until you are finished. If you walk away from a half-braided challah, you might lose your place in the braid, which can make things a lot more complicated.

3. For braids that start with the strands being pinched together at the top (Four- and Six-Strand braids), pinch them somewhat loosely at the beginning of the braiding process. I’ve found that often I like to “unpinch” this top section when I’m finished braiding so I can re-braid the top of the challah into a tighter, neater braid. This gives a cleaner look to the challah overall.

4. If your dough is sticking to the board, keep your surface lightly floured as you braid.

5. Don’t get discouraged! Making even strands and pretty braids takes some practice. Follow the steps here carefully, be patient with yourself, and most importantly HAVE FUN!

Now, let’s start with the braiding! Here is the simplest way to braid a challah…

Three-Strand Challah

THREE-STRAND BRAID

This is the easiest way to braid a challah. For those of you who know how to braid hair, this should come naturally to you. I like to start the braid in the middle of the strands instead of the top because it gives the challah a more even, balanced shape.

The important thing to remember when braiding a Three-Strand Challah is to be aware of your middle strand. Each strand of dough will take a turn being the middle strand; keeping your eye on the middle strand will help you stay on track as you braid.

1. Create three equal-size strands. Lay the three strands side-by-side.

2. Grab the center of the right strand and cross it over the middle strand, drop it in the center. The right strand is now your middle strand.

3. Grab your left strand and cross it over the middle strand. The left strand becomes your middle strand.

4. Repeat steps 2 and 3 (right strand to middle, left strand to middle) until you have braided your challah to the very end. Pinch the three strands together at the end.

5. Grab the challah in the center…

and flip it towards you so the challah is now upside down and the unbraided strands are facing downward.

6. Continue braiding by grabbing the left strand and crossing it over the middle strand. The left strand becomes your middle strand.

7. Grab the right strand and cross it over the middle strand, drop it in the center. The right strand is now your middle strand.

8. Repeat steps 6 and 7 (left strand to middle, right strand to middle) until your challah is fully braided. Pinch the ends of the loose strands together and tuck both the top and bottom tips of the challah under to create a nice rounded shape.

Three-Strand Challah Braid

9. Brush with egg wash, top if desired, then allow challah to rise. Bake according to your challah recipe’s instructions.

Four-Strand Challah

FOUR-STRAND CHALLAH

The Four-Strand Challah is my favorite braid. I love the design it creates. When braiding a Four-Strand Challah it’s important to remember that you always start with the strand that is furthest to the right. Memorize the “over, under, over” pattern and say it out loud as you braid to keep you on track.

1. Create four equal-size strands. Lay the four strands side-by-side, then pinch them together so they are connected at the top.

2. Take the strand furthest to the right and weave it towards the left through the other strands using this pattern: over, under, over.

3. Take the strand furthest to the right and repeat the weaving pattern again: over, under, over. Repeat this pattern, always starting with the strand furthest to the right, until the whole loaf is braided.

4. Pinch the ends of the loose strands together and tuck them under on both ends of the challah loaf to create a nice shape.

Four-Strand Challah Braid

5. Brush with egg wash, top if desired, then allow challah to rise. Bake according to your challah recipe’s instructions.

Six-Strand Challah

SIX-STRAND CHALLAH

A Six-Strand Challah is somewhat more complex than the Three- and Four-Strand braids, but once you get the hang of it it’s actually pretty simple. This braid creates a thick, wide challah with a pretty design.

When braiding a Six-Strand Challah, like with the Four-Strand, it’s important to remember that you always start with the strand that is furthest to the right. Memorize the “over 2, under 1, over 2” pattern and say it out loud as you braid to keep you on track.

1. Create six equal-size strands. Lay the six strands side-by-side, then pinch them together so they are connected at the top.

2. Take the strand furthest to the right and weave it towards the left through the other strands using this pattern: over 2 strands, under 1 strand, over 2 strands.

3. Take the strand furthest to the right and repeat the weaving pattern again: over 2 strands, under 1 strand, over 2 strands. Repeat this pattern, always starting with the strand furthest to the right, until the whole loaf is braided.

4. Pinch the ends of the loose strands together and tuck them under on both ends of the challah loaf to create a nice shape.

Six-Strand Challah Braid

5. Brush with egg wash, top if desired, then allow challah to rise. Bake according to your challah recipe’s instructions.

Turban Challah

TURBAN CHALLAH

For the Rosh Hashanah holiday, challah is baked into a spiral shape– sometimes called a “Turban Challah.” The shape symbolizes the cycle of a year coming to a close, and a new cycle beginning. This type of challah is usually baked with raisins in the dough to signify a “sweet” new year. Concealing the raisins inside the dough creates a prettier, more uniform challah.

1. Knead and roll to flatten the dough into a rough rectangular shape, about a 1/2 inch thick.

2. If adding raisins, sprinkle them evenly across the center of the rectangle. Use either black or golden raisins, whichever you prefer.

3. Use your hands to rolls the dough from the bottom upward into one large, even strand, making sure to roll tightly to avoid air pockets. The raisins will be concealed inside the dough.

4. Roll the dough using both hands to smooth seams and create one large strand.

5. Taper the strand at the ends by rolling the dough between your palms.

6. Roll one end of the strand inward to create a spiral snail-shell shape.

7. Continue rolling the strand in the same direction until the spiral is complete. Tuck the loose end of the spiral underneath the challah and pinch it tightly into the bottom, securing it.

Turban Challah

8. Brush with egg wash and top, if desired. Allow challah to rise for at least 45 minutes until you can press your finger into the dough and it doesn’t bounce back. The last rise is very important with this challah shape, since it is prone to splitting. Bake according to your challah recipe’s instructions. Note that this shape may require more baking time than a normal challah due to its bulk.

Linked Loops Challah

LINKED LOOPS CHALLAH

This is my favorite way to make a round challah loaf, and will give you another option for your round Rosh Hashanah challah. The chain shape represents unity, strength, and togetherness. While the pattern looks intricate, it’s actually quite simple to make.

1.  Divide the dough into five thick equal-size strands. Don’t taper the strands as you would for a normal challah braid. Form one strand into a circle, pinching the ends together to create a ring of dough.

2.  Take another strand and connect it to the first circle as in a chain. Pinch the ends together to form a second circle.

3. Repeat the process until all the strands form a complete chain. The final circle links to the first one to create a round challah shape.

Linked Loops Challah

4. Brush with egg wash, top if desired, and allow challah to rise. Bake according to your challah recipe’s instructions. Note that this shape may require more baking time than a normal challah due to its bulk.

MINI CHALLAH ROLLS

Use your challah dough to make some pretty and delicious challah dinner rolls! They are so simple to make, and they’re sure to impress your dinner guests.

To save time, I often make these early in the morning and shape them into rolls, then cover the cookie sheet with plastic and place it in the refrigerator. I take it out of the refrigerator about 30 minutes before baking so the dough can return to room temperature.

1. Roll your dough into equal-sized strands that are about 9 inches long.

2. For each strand, start by tying a knot in the dough.

3. Pinch the two loose ends together to create a roll shape.

4. Place the seam side down on a greased cookie sheet. Brush with egg wash, top if desired, and allow to rise. Bake as you would a traditional challah braid. They may cook slightly faster than a braid, so keep an eye on them towards the end of the baking process.

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Category: Baked Goods and Brunch Fare, Cooking Tutorials, How To, In the Kitchen, Nut Free, Pareve, Recipes, Tomato Free, Vegetarian

Comments (97)Post a Comment

  1. Pingback: The Shiksa Blog

  2. Becky55 says:

    Gorgeous braids!

  3. Orly says:

    I usually make a six strand or a four strand, they are most elegant in my opinion. I’ve never tried the linked loops braid, will try that soon.

  4. anonymous says:

    you make it look so easy I will have to give this a try

  5. Rachel W. says:

    My fave is the 4 strand too, just like you Shiksa! LOL

  6. Rebecca says:

    I’ve always done a four-part braid, so thanks for the new ways to try! I can’t wait to try out your challah recipe this Shabbat.

  7. Mike says:

    Thank you so much for the tip on how to make the strands! I’ve been struggling since I started making challah to make even strands. I’ll definitely try this technique out next time I’m baking!

  8. Mike says:

    Thank you so much for the tip on how to make the strands! I’ve been struggling since I started making challah to make even strands. I’ll definitely try this technique out next time I’m baking!

  9. iEatDC says:

    I know another way for a round challah! I’ll be making more before RH, so maybe I’ll photograph and post it/send it to you. It has to do with making a tic-tac-toe board with 4 strands and then weaving them around.

  10. Jan says:

    Thanks for the Rosh Hashanah lesson. This will be my first year making challah. I appreciate the attention to detail. It helps to have a reference.

  11. Tori Avey says:

    Happy that the instructions are clear and helpful! Just wanted to let you all know that I made a slight adjustment to the braiding instructions today based on one blog reader’s experience. I’m now recommending that you put the egg wash on the challah braid BEFORE the final rise, rather than after (I changed the instructions in the blog). In some elevations and weather conditions the braid can become quite fragile after that final rise, and even something as soft as a pastry brush could lead the dough to become collapsed/misshapen. It’s never happened to me before, but it did happen to my blog reader– so better to be safe than sorry! ;)

    iEatDC please do send pics, I love the round woven challah– they’re beautiful!

  12. Krista says:

    I was wondering: if you’re making the linked chains challah for Rosh Hashanah, how do you add the raisins?

    • Tori Avey says:

      Krista, you should integrate the raisins the first time you knead the dough, just after you add the flour to the wet ingredients. If you are using my recipe, there are instructions for it there. Good luck! Let me know how it turns out for you. :)

  13. bekah rosenthal says:

    i was wanting ur how to make the dough or do you use any kind or from scratch????

  14. dena says:

    Thank you for the braiding lessons. I usually do the 4-strand version. I’ll try a 6-strand after the holidays.

  15. marie says:

    I have never made a challah bread, but I’m going to try it.

  16. Annie says:

    Love your site. I will be trying your round ‘woven’ challah for high holiday next week. Love your method for incorporating raisins too.

  17. Cathy says:

    Always made challah using 6 strands and got frustrated while braiding when I realize I forgot a step somewhere near the end by being distracted by a phone call or a visitor. I will have to unbraid until I find the mistake. Will be using 4 strands from now on.

  18. Tori Avey says:

    You’re welcome Dena… and thanks, Annie! Let me know how it turns out for you.

    Cathy, 4 strand is actually my favorite braid… for some reason I feel it’s the prettiest. It’s always best to stick with the braid uninterrupted if you can, so you don’t get lost! ;)

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  20. Thank you so much for these wonderful instructions! I’ve recently made a six braid loaf from instructions in the Jeffrey Hamelman book – am now going to try your linked chain shape. Thanks again! :)

    Celia

  21. Carol Esther says:

    Thank you for the great instructions. This Shiksa is learning so much from your wonderful blog. I used the braiding instructions today while making my pumpkin challah bread. Blessings to you,
    Carol

  22. Tori Avey says:

    Celia and Carol, glad the instructions were helpful for you! :) Carol, I posted my own pumpkin challah recipe today, here’s the link: link to theshiksa.com

  23. Jason says:

    I just went to about five different websites looking for instructions on how to braid a 4 strand challah, and your instructions and diagrams are by far the best. Over, under, over. Now I get it. Thanks.

  24. Jan says:

    I cannot wait to try this. Your instructions are so easy
    to follow. Thank you,…………I love your site. Jan

  25. Jessica says:

    Thank you SOOOO much Tori!

    I have been making challah with my gramdmother and mother since I was two and was never able to master to master the 4 or 6 braid. Thanks for your simple and easy directions. I now have 5 amazing challahs for Shabbat tonight!

    Thanks!

    Jessica

  26. Shari says:

    I just wanted to tell you, your instructions for the 4- and 6-strand braids are the clearest I’ve seen. How do others make it look so much more complex?
    And thank you for the linked loop challah, I had always wondered how the loaf came out looking like that. Out of curiosity, if you were to put the raisins in the middle of each strand, as is done with the turban loaf, would that still work ok? Thanks for the wonderful blog!

  27. Dorothy Welch says:

    A tip for Mike, who has difficulty getting even strands: Weigh your divided portions of dough on your kitchen scale before beginning to work with them, to make sure you have equal portions of dough. (Make sure to zero scale with container on it, then weigh portion of dough.) Adjust portion sizes as needed, then work with individual strands according to directions.

  28. Wendy says:

    Love the directions for the interesting braids! I have my own recipe but this will help with the Rosh Ha-Shannah breads and I’ve been trying to figure out challah knots, too. Can’t wait to try the 4 and 6 strand braids. Thanks for the great detail!

  29. Pingback: A Sweet 5772 | Green Plate Dinners

  30. Stacy Shepherd says:

    Hi! I just made my first Challah, it’s on its last rise before the oven right now. I was wondering how long the rolls are suppose to be before braiding? I did the 4-braid and it looks very pretty, but mine is shorter than what I see in your pictures. I guess I’ll know in about and hour or so if I need to make them longer next time :). Thanks for all of your directions, they were easy to follow and I had so much fun with my little challah dough today, almost a shame to eat it, almost. Even though I am not Jewish I intend to make Challah on a regular basis, I sent a lot of love into that dough :)

    • Tori Avey says:

      Hi Stacy, so happy you’re having fun with the challah tutorial! For the 4 strand, I’ve never measured the strands, but I’m ballparking that they’re usually around 18-20 inches each. So long. But a shorter braid will work just as well– in fact, sometimes I make those “mini challahs” on purpose! Just keep an eye on it as it bakes to make sure you don’t bake it too long, it may not take as long to cook as a full size challah.

  31. Pingback: Article Recommended: How to Braid Challah | Recipes Collected

  32. Faythe says:

    Thank you, Tori. After several failed attempts, I stopped trying for quite a while. Today, your post helped me with my first successful 4 strand challah. I’d like to tweak my loaf some, I’m still a beginner. I’d like to improve the top of the braid making it tighter, and have more uniformity in the result. Still, I am quite happy with how today’s loaf turned out. I’m excited to try this again. :)

  33. Pingback: Pretzel Challah | The Shiksa Blog

  34. Roma says:

    I actually just squealed, clapped my hands, and shouted, ” I could to that!” Embarrassing, but true….your photos showed every step clearly and for the first time, I GET IT!! Thank you!!

  35. Linda Wieringa says:

    I LOVE your recipes and use this braiding technique all the time..the best! I do seem to have problems with my dough separting while it bakes…any suggestions? not enough flour maybe…? Thanks , you’re adorable too I might add! Shabbot Shalom (It is Friday) Lyn

  36. Joyce says:

    Love the recipe for Challah! I was looking for an easier way to make it. Also, where did you get that rolling pin from! I love it! :)

  37. Thanks for the perfect braiding instructions. I finally found a good bread machine recipe for the dough. I posted it on my blog with a link to your page for the “how to” on braiding.
    link to donachyblog.wordpress.com
    Greetings from north of the Arctic Circle.

  38. Pingback: Challah French Toast - Fluffy, Light French Toast Recipe

  39. joseph minola says:

    why is it that i cannot print your pictures instructions? i can only print the text

    • Tori Avey says:

      Joseph, my print plugin only supports printing without pictures at this time. If you want to print with pictures, you can copy and paste the text with pictures into a word processing document (like Microsoft Word). Hope that helps!

  40. Cheryl says:

    Thank you so much for the braiding tips. I really struggled with a 6 braid challah previously but your instructions make it look so easy. I am definitely going to try it that way.

  41. Softa Malka says:

    Hi Tori, being left handed, I reversed your instructions, for the 4 and 6 strand braids, and viola. Your directions were so simple to follow. Thank you.
    By the way, would you happen to have a gluten free challah recipe? My son (who will be visiting with his family) is gluten intolerent.
    Best wishes,
    Softa Malka

  42. Michal says:

    This is the only place I’ve found that gives such clear and easy instructions on braiding challah! The step-by-step pictures are amazing!
    Thanks so much!

  43. Frieda says:

    Hey Tori!

    Thank you so much for this simple guide – especially the 6 braid! I’ve come across the most complicated directions elsewhere, but your guide is so easy to follow. Sharing with all the challah bakers I know :)

    Shabbat Shalom!

  44. Ibor says:

    Hi Tori
    Let me understand this well, you let your dough rise TWICE before braiding. This would mean that after the first rise you make your strands, let them rise and then braid?
    1. Make sure your dough has completely risen using a two-rise process before you start to braid. If you don’t, your strands may rise and expand while you are braiding, leading to a misshapen and sloppy-looking braid. The challah will still taste good, but it won’t look as pretty.

    thank you
    Ibor

    • Tori Avey says:

      Hi Ibor– no, you want to let the dough rise twice (in unshaped dough form) before making the strands. After the first two rises, make the strands, then braid. After the dough is braided, let it rise once more– that makes a total of three rises. Does that make sense?

  45. Angel28 says:

    Dear The Shiksa, Thank you so much for you recipe and detailed instructions. I almost give up… I tried so much recipes, and non of them worked, till today, when I tried yours. You are the Best!

  46. Toni says:

    This is the best tutorial I have found yet :) Thank you!! “Over 2, under 1, over 2″ <—makes it so easy!

  47. Rivka says:

    Thanks for these fantastic tips. I have never seen a linked challah recipe before. I teach a monthly challah class and will suggest this new design to my students. Also I use your idea for the “turbin challah” in what I call a “surprise challah” but I suggest doing the same hidden ingredients (raisins, chocolate chips etc.) in each strand. For a 6 braid I usually teach my students the mantra “2nd over all, 1st to the middle, alternate”. I’ll suggest your mantra “over 2, under 1, over 2″ and see if this helps some of them master 6 braiding.

  48. This looks great! I’ve always wanted to learn to make challah bread but was scared of the braiding process – now I’m excited about it!! Thanks for the tutorial! :)

  49. julia says:

    Seriously gal, I have been baking challah for 20 years and I’ve never seen such innovative technique. You have just made it easy for me to try something new–it’s a happy day! Your blog is so user friendly with the pictures and the very clear descriptions, it is a joy to use and I am telling EVERYONE. Again many thanks for sharing your passion!

  50. Mike Bowers says:

    Hi Shiksa!

    Love the braiding technique! The photos are very well thought out, showing JUST what I need to see. Thanks so much. I used the roll method tonight for Thanksgiving tomorrow. I split the lump of dough in halves, halves, halves etc, until I had 32, nice and even. The knots look great. The trays are chilling on the porch. (It’s 34F in New England tonight.) They need their final rise and an egg wash before the bird comes out and I can’t wait to see how they turn out. I’m sure I’ll end up with irresistable dinner rolls!

    To those looking for a dough recepie (someone asked), I use a Challah recepie from epicurious called “almost grandmothers Challah”. I love it. I use the same dough for my cinnamon rolls!

    Anyway, I’ve saved the site and will be back when I make my next Challah to do a 4-strand braid!

    Thanks A Lot from Mike.

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