4 Round Challahs Made Easy

A quick search for challah will return beautiful images of long, braided bread. But you may notice a few round challot (plural of challah) as well. What’s up with that? Well, some people bake round challah for Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. Some go extra hard and bake round challah for a whole month beforehand. But why? Ask different Jews and you’ll get different answers, but most say that round challah is meant to represent the circular nature of our year, or the seasons. Another explanation I like is that a round challah (especially a spiral challah, see below), turns in on itself, just as we’re encouraged to spend this season reflecting on who we are and who we want to become. So whether you’re a regular baker or trying your hand at it the first time, enjoy these tips on how to make your very own round challah. And while you’re at it, consider making a sweet challah — symbolic good luck for a sweet new year.

What you need:

  • 2 big bowls
  • 1 cup
  • 1 wooden spoon
  • 1-2 baking  sheets, pie dishes, casserole dishes, etc. (or whatever floats your boat)
  • Parchment paper/silicone baking mat (optional, but very helpful)
  • 1.25 cups water
  • 1 tbsp active dry or instant yeast
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 3 eggs + 1 egg, whisked, for egg wash
  • 1/2 cup canola/vegetable oil
  • 6 cups flour + 1 cup just in case (bread flour if possible, but it’s still good if it’s regular)
  • 2 tsp salt
  • Topping(s) of choice (sesame or poppy seeds, everything bagel seasoning, large-grain salt, brown sugar, za’atar, whatever blows your hair back)

Make it happen:

Overhead shot of honey mixed with water in a metal mixing bowl
Honey has been mixed into water in a metal mixing bowl, turning the water light orange.

1. Place very warm (but not hot, let the faucet run for a bit) water in a mixing bowl.

2. Add honey, making sweet water. Add yeast, mixing lightly, so it all gets wet.

  • The yeast will eat the sugar in the honey water and produce carbon dioxide, which is what makes the bread fluffy.
  • If you don’t mind getting your hands dirty, you can gently and manually break up the bigger yeast bubbles at first, so that all the yeast is able to come into contact with the water.
Yeast in mixing bowl, converting honey water into carbon dioxide
Two photos showing before-and-after of yeast in a mixing bowl converting honey water into carbon dioxide. In the first photo, the yeast particles are visible on top of the water.
Overhead shot of yeast mixture causing a film of bubbles to form at the top
In the second, their activity has caused a film of bubbles to form over the water.

3. Allow to sit for 10 minutes or so, usually less… until you see little eruptions. 

  • If you’re not watching the yeast water, you might miss the “eruptions”, but you’ll see clearly that it’s all puffed up when you come back to it. That’s totally fine.
  • Once you see that it looks like it’s not puffing up much further, you’re ready for the next step.
Eggs and vegetable oil being mixed in white mixing bowl
Two photos showing before-and-after of eggs and vegetable oil being mixed together in a mug. In the first, three egg yolks rest submerged under translucent oil.
Photo shows eggs and vegetable oil mixed together in white mixing bowl creating a yellow liquid
In the second, blending has turned the liquid opaque.

4. While you’re waiting, mix eggs and vegetable oil together in a cup. Add the eggs and vegetable oil to the bowl and mix with a wooden spoon.

  • I don’t know why you need to use a wooden spoon. My recipe says wooden spoon, and it’s worked for me so far.
Mixing bowl halfway through adding flour to challah dough. Dough is liquidy with little clumps
Mixing bowl halfway through adding the flour. Dough is beginning to come together, still liquidy but starting to create clumps. This is the stage at which I usually add salt.

5. Add flour and salt.

  • Remember: salt and yeast are not friends, and mixing them will hurt your rise. Don’t put the salt in with the yeast right away. Wait until you’ve added some of the flour. 
  • (I put in half the flour, then add salt, then add the rest of the flour.)
Two pieces of dough rest on a floured countertop. The left dough has been kneaded, floured, and shaped, resulting in a neat and compact ball. The right dough is fresh from the mixing bowl, rough around the edges and with a great deal of flour still visible on the surface. The left dough is smaller than the right.

6. Mix

  • If the dough is not holding together as a ball, add a bit more oil or water. If the dough is very sticky, add more flour.
  • The dough is ready when it sticks together as a ball and is not sticky to the touch when you poke your finger in.
  • If I’m using a mixing machine/KitchenAid/etc., this usually takes 3-5 minutes. If I’m doing it by hand, it takes 6-10 minutes or until I get too tired and decide it’s ready.

7. Work it out

  • Take half the dough and put it onto a floured work surface.
  • Knead it out, and punch a few times until very smooth. 
  • Then do the same with the other half of the dough.
Two mixing bowls with a big ball of challah dough in each on granite counter with flour scattered on the counter and a silver measuring cup in the background
Both balls of dough, now neat, are placed in mixing bowls, one plastic and one glass. Each ball takes up about half (or a little less) of the bowl.

8. Place in oiled bowl(s) and cover in plastic wrap and/or towel. 

  • The oil makes it easy to take the dough out for braiding, without it sticking to the sides. Saves so much hassle!
Two mixing bowls covered with plastic wrap and hand towels sitting on the rack of an oven
The mixing bowls have been covered with plastic wrap and hand towels, and sit on the bottom rack of an oven. The oven door is open for the picture and the light is on. When the door is closed, the light will generate a small amount of heat, creating the perfect environment for rising dough.

9. Allow to rise at least one hour in a warm place, preferably more, until dough has risen.

  • Your oven, turned off but with the light turned on, is perfect for this. Before I learned this trick, I put it in the closet, though, and it turned out fine.
  • If you’re going to let it rise for more than two hours, split the dough into two separate bowls so there’s room for more rising. 
  • Now that I’m working from home, sometimes I let my challah rise for like five hours during the work day. It doesn’t rise much more after the two hour mark, but it doesn’t hurt it.
Mixing bowls covered with plastic wrap after being removed from the oven, dough has risen to the top of both bowls
Several hours later, the mixing bowls have been removed from the oven. The dough has grown immensely, now filling the space and, in one bowl, straining against the plastic wrap.

10. After an hour-plus, bring your bowls to the counter/table.  If the fates are in your favor, the dough will have doubled in size.

Close-up shot of one mixing bowl with raw challah dough and a fist has been pressed into the dough, creating an indent in the middle
Close-up of one mixing bowl. The plastic wrap has been removed and a fist has been pressed into the dough, leaving a visible indentation and causing the dough to begin peeling back from the sides of the bowl.

11. Punch gently into each bowl to deflate the dough, and remove it.

Challah dough removed from the bowl and resting on the granite counter
The dough has been removed from the bowl and kneaded out a bit to remove air bubbles. Now it sits on the counter in a rough rectangle shape, ready for braiding!

12. Knead out all the air bubbles, and get ready to braid! 

  • I set up my baking sheets with parchment paper before I start braiding. This way I can transfer my masterpieces as soon as they’re ready and don’t have to touch them after they do their second rise.
  • But, challah (like the Jewish people) is resilient and will rise wherever you need it to, so you do you.

Now there are lots of ways to make round challah, but I’ve picked out 4 easy-ish methods: the three-braid, the criss-cross, the classy clump, and the mixer dance. Scroll down past these methods to find the baking instructions.

The Three Braid

If you know how to braid hair/cord/rope, this is the same method. I like to start from the middle, but it’s the same concept. Once you have your long braid, you’ll just arrange it in a spiral pattern, and tuck the end underneath. That’s it! Ta-da!

Photo shows three ball-like pieces of dough resting on a counter.)
First, divide your dough into three roughly even portions. (Photo shows three ball-like pieces of dough resting on a counter.)
Photo shows three columns/rolls of dough resting on the counter, parallel to each other.
Next, roll the balls out into three strips and arrange them on top of each other in a kind of asterisk shape.
Photo shows the left and right rolls tilted and laid on top of the center roll.
Then, you’ll go ahead and braid the dough. You’ll braid first the bottom half of the asterisk, then the top half, so the whole thing looks like one long braid. If the asterisk method is confusing to you, just pinch one end of each of the strands together and braid it down like that. It’ll still turn out beautiful!
Photo shows a strand of braided dough twisted into a spiral, with gaps in between so the dough doesn’t touch itself.
Once you have your braid, twist it into a spiral shape.
Photo shows the spiral tightened to remove the gaps, creating a round braided shape.
Then close the gaps so the dough looks like one cohesive piece. Brush with egg and decorate as you like.
Photo shows a golden-brown round challah resting on a wooden cutting board. The braids have baked together, resulting in a textured pattern with bumps of various sizes. The challah is topped with everything bagel seasoning.
And here’s the final product, post-oven, with everything bagel seasoning! Scroll to the bottom of the page to find baking instructions.

The Criss-Cross

This looks so fancy, but it’s secretly just a bunch of three-braid challahs. Setting up the middle is the only complicated part, and then it’s just braiding and arranging. Super cute for little individual “challah knots”!

Photo shows six ball-like pieces of dough resting on a counter.
First, divide your dough into six roughly even portions.
Photo shows six rolls of dough arranged in the shape of a hashtag, resting on the counter.
Next, roll the balls out into six strips. They’ll probably be thinner than you’re expecting, which is totally fine. Arrange them in a hashtag/pound sign shape, with the top three perpendicular to the bottom three and a little space in between.
Photo shows the six strands woven together in the center, with three strands sticking out on each side.
Now begin weaving the strands together to create a lattice. You’ll have to pick up strands as you go, to get the right effect. Leave a little space between the strands — it’ll fill in as it rises and bakes — and be sure to leave long ends dangling on each side for the next step.

Now it’s time to braid! Using your three-strand braid skills, turn each “side” of the lattice square into a braid.

Photo shows a braided challah resting on the counter, with the lattice in the center and four small braids radiating out from the sides.
Once all four sides are braided, you should have an X-shaped challah, with the open-ish lattice in the center.
Photo shows the dough twisted into a spiral, with each braid bent to the left.
Next, twist each braid to the left, creating a shape like a spiral galaxy.
Photos show the spiral tightened to remove the gaps, creating a square braided shape.
Leave it as-is, or tuck the end of each braid under the centerpiece to complete your round challah. Brush with egg and decorate as you like.
Photo shows a golden-brown challah resting on a wooden cutting board. The braids have baked together, resulting in a textured pattern with similarly-sized bumps. The top left is a deep brown, where the bottom right is fairly pale. The challah is in the shape of a rounded square and topped lightly with everything bagel seasoning.
And here’s the final product, post-oven! Scroll to the bottom of the page to find baking instructions.

The Classy Clump

No braiding required! Truly one of my favorite challah styles, and ideal for groups with strong and varied preferences for challah toppings, since you can mix-and-match toppings on different clumps.

Photo shows a metal springform pan, with parchment paper lining the bottom, resting on a counter.
First, set up your pan. You don’t need a round pan for this, but if you have one, it’ll help ensure your dough stays round if it expands too much. I’m using a springform pan here, but truly anything oven-safe will work. Just be sure to line it with parchment paper so the bread doesn’t burn onto the bottom.
Photo shows ten smaller dough balls surrounding a larger central ball. In both cases, the dough rests on parchment paper placed inside a springform pan.
Then separate your dough into several clumps — at least six, but the more the merrier — and roll into balls. Arrange them nicely in your parchment-lined pan. I like the flower method, where you place one ball in the center, and the others around it like petals. Feel free to experiment with balls of different sizes, but too small and they’ll all just bake together.
Photo shows eight balls of rough arranged like petals around a white ramekin. The ramekin is significantly larger than any of the dough balls.
Or, if you like, you can put an oven-safe round dish in the center, and arrange the balls of challah around it. Once your challah is cool, you can fill the center dish with honey or the dip of your choice.
Photo shows one central ball of dough, drizzled with honey, surrounded by ten smaller balls, each topped with a seasoning.
Then brush with egg and decorate your challah as you like — with one topping, or several. Here, I used honey, za’atar, everything bagel seasoning, all-purpose seasoning, salt, and garlic + rosemary.
Photo shows a golden-brown challah resting on a wooden cutting board. The clumps have baked together, resulting in one cohesive challah with rolls that can be easily torn away.
And here’s the final product, post-oven! This challah was fun to share because the rolls tore away easily from the center. Scroll to the bottom of the page to find baking instructions. One special note: about halfway through baking, I saw that the outside balls had expanded so much that they needed more topping. I took the challah out for a moment, brushed it with a little water, and added more toppings, then put it back in.

The Mixer Dance

So-called because you twist each braid once, then “trade partners” and do it again and again, creating a beautifully entwined final challah. 

Photo shows four ball-like pieces of dough resting on a counter.
First, separate your dough into four roughly equal clumps.
Photo shows four strips of dough resting on a counter in parallel lines.
Then roll them out into four roughly even strips...
Photo shows four strips of dough arranged in the shape of a hashtag or lattice, resting on the counter.
… and arrange them in a woven hashtag/pound sign shape, with the top two perpendicular to the bottom two, but overlapping.

Place each lower strand over the higher strand next to it, going clockwise for the first round, counter-clockwise for the second round, clockwise again for the third, and so on until you run out of dough.

Photo shows a completed raw challah resting on a baking sheet, with overlapping braids created a round shape.
When everything is braided, it should look something like this. Top with egg wash and your topping of choice.
Photo shows a completed baked challah, a deep brown color with yellow folds, resting on a wooden cutting board. The challah has longer strips around the edges and the center looks more like braids or bubbles.
And here’s the final product, post-oven! Scroll to the bottom of the page to find baking instructions. I topped my challah with honey and salt, and broiled it right at the end to get deep color on top without burning it.

Baking Instructions

  1. Allow to rise another half hour or so, sitting on your counter/table/etc. while your oven pre-heats. 
  2. Once the oven is ready, paint with a whisked egg (yolk and white). You can use a brush if you have one, but your fingers will do just fine. Top as you like.
  3. Then cook at 350 for 25 minutes, checking every few minutes thereafter until the challah is to your liking (usually another 5-10 minutes).
  • Poke at the seams. If they seem doughy, give it more time. To be safe, poke a knife in. If it comes out cleanly, you’re ready to go.
  • If the top seems like it’s browning too fast, put pieces of foil around the brown parts to keep them from burning.
  • If you want more color, you can put your oven on broil for 2-5 minutes to get a nice golden brown color. Just be careful, because it can change color fast!

Annie is the OneTable DMV Field Manager who loves hosting people and has a passion for relationship-building and empowering folks to create their own vibrant expressions of modern Judaism.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *