Margo’s Challah with Elaine’s Topping

Challah at the table 4

This is the most delicious challah I have ever eaten.  Anytime I am invited anywhere for Shabbat dinner, I offer to bring my challah.  It’s amazing how often I am invited back.  This recipe is actually a marriage of two different recipes.  The challah recipe comes from my friend Margo.  The topping part of the recipe comes from my sister’s cousin’s friend, Elaine.  Elaine and Margo have never met, as fas as I know.  My sister would like to introduce them.  She thinks they’s like each other.  In my little cyber world, they are already great friends!

What you need:

1 package or 1 tablespoon traditional yeast
1 teaspoon sugar
1 cup warm water (115 –120 degrees F)
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
1/3 cup sugar
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup raisins (optional)

1/2 cup all purpose flour
1/2 cup granulated sugar
4 tablespoons unsalted butter or margarine

1 egg, lightly beaten


What you do:

1.  In a 2 cup liquid measuring cup, dissolve 1 teaspoon sugar in 1 cup warm water.  Sprinkle yeast on top and let stand for about 4 minutes, until yeast gets all bubbly.

2a.  To make the dough in a stand mixer:  Place 1 cup white bread flour, sugar and salt in the stand mixer bowl, fitted with the dough hook.  Mix briefly to combine.  Pour dissolved yeast mixture into machine and mix for about 1 minute.  Add egg and oil and mix again for about 30 seconds.  Add remaining 1 cup white bread flour and 1 cup whole wheat bread flour and mix on low speed for about 10 minutes.  If dough seems too sticky, add a bit more white bread flour.  Dough should be soft and smooth but not sticky.

2b.  To make dough by hand:  Stir together both types of flour, sugar and salt in a large mixing bowl.  In a separate bowl, whisk egg and oil together.  Add dissolved yeast and egg/oil mixture to flour mixture.  Using a wooden spoon, mix until all the ingredients come together and form a ball.  Sprinkle a bit of white bread flour on the counter and dump out the contents of the bowl.  Knead by hand for about 10 minutes.  As you are kneading, if the dough seems too sticky, knead in a bit more flour.  You want a soft but not sticky dough.

3. If using raisins, use your fingers to poke the raisins deep into the center of the dough. Knead for a minute and then form the dough into a ball and transfer it to a large oiled mixing bowl. Turn dough until all sides are coated. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let sit on counter until almost doubled in bulk, about 90 minutes, or you can cover and put it in the fridge overnight and continue the next day.

4.  After the dough has risen , gently knead again, to punch the dough down.  If you have a scale, weigh dough and divide into 5 equal pieces (or you can do 3 pieces for a simple 3 rope braid).  Roll our each piece into a rope about 12 inches in length, making sure the ropes are slightly thicker in the middle and tapered at the ends.  Lay the ropes out on the counter and attach them by pinching together at the top.

5 strand numbered

5.  I learned how to do the 5 strand braiding method from Peter Reinhart’s book  “The Bread Baker’s Apprentice.”  I consider myself to have poor  fine motor skills, so if I could master this, you can too!  Here is the pattern to follow:

Strand 1 over Strand 3, Strand 2 over Strand 3, Strand 5 over Strand 2

5 strand braid 2

5 strand braid 3

6.  Just keep repeating this pattern until you get to the end.  Gently pinch tip together when you get to the end.

7.  Place braid on a parchment lined baking sheet.  Spray loaf with spray oil and cover lightly with plastic wrap.  Let sit at room temperature until the loaf has almost doubled in size, about 60-90 minutes.

8. While loaf is proofing, make topping.  In a bowl, using your fingertips, mix butter or margarine into flour and sugar until you have coarse crumbs.  I usually make a double batch of this and keep it in the freezer in a zip-loc bag.

9.  After challah has finished proofing, brush gently with beaten egg and then sprinkle topping all over top and sides of bread.  Set aside about 1/2 cup of topping to use later.  Don’t worry about any topping that doesn’t make it onto the loaf and falls on the parchment paper.  Just use your fingers to sweep the excess topping under the loaf.  When it bakes, it forms little sweet crusty bits on the bottom that you can pick off and eat before anyone comes home.

with topping before baking 2

10.  Bake challah at  350 degrees for about 20 minutes.  Remove challah from oven and brush with egg and sprinkle with reserved topping at the seams where the challah has swelled and newly exposed dough is showing.  Turn down temperature to 325 degrees F.  If challah is getting too dark, tent with foil.  Return challah to oven and bake for an additional 15-20 minutes, or until an instant read thermometer, inserted into the brerad registers 190 degrees F.

In oven after 20 minutes

11.  Remove challah to a wire rack and let cool at least one hour before serving.

My Challah sliced open

27 thoughts on “Margo’s Challah with Elaine’s Topping

  1. Oggi

    I’ll definitely make this recipe. It sounds really good with whole wheat, and it’s sweeter too. Thanks for sharing.

    The more challah recipes the better.:)

    1. saltandserenity

      Ok, now I know we can be friends. I make those cookies all the time. They are one of my favourite. Other than my family , no one else seems to have heard of Torrie cookies. They are addictive. I once tried to put them in the freezer to stop myself from eating them but I discovered that I liked them just as much frozen.

      You’ll have to let me know if you make the challah.


  2. Maris

    I love the idea of whole wheat – I need to start incorporating more whole wheat breads into this unbleached bread flour bonanza 🙂

  3. ladyche41

    The only problem I see with your challah recipe is the addition of butter. As I was told by a Jewish friend, the addition of butter will prevent Orthodox Jews from being able to eat it with meat…… I’m sure the butter can be replaced with margarine and not make any significant changes in flavor or texture.

    1. saltandserenity

      Whoops! Thanks Lady Chef. You are correct. If I was making this challah to serve with a meat meal I would indeed use margarine instead of butter in the topping. I often make it with margarine and it is still great. I will make that change in the recipe. Thanks.

  4. Sara

    WOW! I am going to make this dough tonight, B”H, and shape and bake tomorrow afternoon so that we have it fresh for Erev Shabbat!

    Thanks so much for putting this recipe out there! I have been looking to make my challah more flavorful!

    Shabbat Shalom!

  5. Sara

    Okay, I must’ve done something wrong! My bread came out WAY too sweet and heavy! It did not rise properly, but that could be because I tried the overnight-in-the-refrigerator method, and I have never done that before. The dough was soft and satiny before I put it in the fridge.

    Also, my topping was not like yours. It was very gummy and sticky and did not “sprinkle” but I had to drop little globs onto my bead.


    1. saltandserenity

      Sorry to hear that Sara. When you took the dough out of the fridge the next morning, had it risen at all? The dough should have at least doubled overnight in the fridge. If it didn’t I suspect your yeast has expired.

      Check the date on the package. To test your jar of yeast, measure out about a cup of hot water (120º F). Mix in a teaspoon of sugar and then add 1 tablespoon active dry yeast. It should bubble up in a few minutes. If not, the yeast is old. Throw it out and buy some fresh yeast.

      Do you have an instant read thermometer? The best way to test if your challah is fully baked is to take it’s temperature in the center of the bread. It should measure 190º – 200º F.

      For the topping, make sure your margarine is cold or even frozen when you put it in the food processor. Store topping in the freezer.

      Good luck.

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  7. Shari

    I love love love your blog. I was looking for the peruvian chicken recipe and stumbled upon your blog. I’ve been reading and looking at your recipes for 3 straight hours. I’m addicted. I decided to make a saltandserenity cookbook. So I printed all the recipes I was interested in, 3 hold punched them and put them in a binder. I’m in love Thank you!!

  8. Pingback: Week # 6 Peter Reinhart’s Challah | Salt and Serenity

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  10. Amy

    It looks like there are raisins in your challah but I don’t see them in the recipe. At what stage do you add them and when?

    1. saltandserenity Post author

      Hi Amy, thanks for catching that error! I could hire you to be my editor. I have fixed the post and the instructions now include a step outlining when and how to add the raisins.

  11. Cindy


    I was looking for a nice challah recipe that was slightly sweet, and came across your site. I love it!

    I’m excited to try the recipe, we always really enjoy challah when it comes our way… But I was hoping to make it in a 9×5 loaf pan. Do you think I should use all the dough for one pan or is this recipe large enough that it should be divided into two? Does it change the baking times at all? I’m notorious for either under or over bakingy bread.. And I poke so many holes in the loaf 🙁



    1. saltandserenity Post author

      Hi Cindy. Glad you found me. If you want to bake it in a 9×5 loaf pan, I would divide the dough into 2, so you can make 2 loaves. You can braid the dough, in a 3 strand braid and then put it into the loaf pan to do the second rise. (cover with a towel and let sit at room temperature for the rising).
      You could also do one big round loaf in a 9 inch cake pan. Here is a post showing how to do that. It is quite impressive:
      Regarding how to tell when your bread is done, buy yourself an instant read thermometer. It will change your life! (well your baking and cooking life anyways!) Challah, or other enriched breads (with eggs or butter) are done when they reach an internal temperature of 200°F, measured in the center of the loaf. Other breads, without eggs or butter are done at 190°F.

  12. leoramie

    Looking forward to making this recipe at the end of the week!

    Does the recipe call for bread flour or all-purpose flour? The ingredients list and the recipe’s instructions mention both.

    Thank you so much!

    1. saltandserenity Post author

      Hi Leoramie, The recipe uses 2 cups all-purpose flour and 1 cup whole wheat flour. Feel free to use only all purpose flour and no whole wheat if you wish. I just really like the nutty taste the whole wheat flour adds. There is no bread flour in this challah. I find that all-purpose flour makes a more tender bread, which is what you want for challah. The topping uses all purpose-flour. Hope you enjoy the challah.


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