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Challah troubleshooting - help!

hungry_i's picture

Challah troubleshooting - help!

Apologies if this isn't the best corner of the forum to post in.


Dear Fresh Loaf-ers.

Can anyone help me out with my challah questions? Or point me in the right direction of some resources?


I'm a super-newbie bread baker, so I'm a little overwhelmed by the variables involved, and I need some advice as to what may be going on.


Here's the deal:


I've tried a handful of times to bake challah, and each time things work perfectly, until the shaping stage. My dough is proofed nicely (by this, I mean that it has risen to about double its size, and a dent made by my finger doesn't bounce back), but when I got to shape the braids, there is WAY too much elasticity in the dough, and it can't keep a simple shape. Am I out to lunch on what I'm supposed to be doing?

Could it be that I'm over- or under-proofing my dough? Does it need to rise ONCE or TWICE before shaping? Some recipes say once and some forum posts say twice. Is there any sort of golden rule?

I've been frantically reading posts, and from what I can understand, I don't think it's a hydration issue. I live in the prairies of Western Canada, where it's very dry, so I add a tiny bit more water to my dough in order for it to absorb all the required flour.

The texture of the dough is quite soft (and awesome). It can be a little bit sticky when I'm deflating the dough, but I just add a bit of flour to my hands and that takes care of it.


I guess my main question is: Can someone outline the steps in making challah?! I know it sounds really lame, but I have no idea if I'm on the right track at all.


Thanks guys.


:: ira

mrfrost's picture

I think this guy makes it look so easy, and he seems to cover just about every thing.

If I understand you correctly, it seems like you just need to let your dough relax a few minutes when rolling out the ropes. The dough wanting to "snap back" after being rolled out is a common issue. Giving the gluten time to relax is the remedy. Sometimes you may have to let the dough relax more than once; whatever it takes. eventually you will learn how to work with your particular flour, conditions, etc.


Good luck.

hungry_i's picture

This video is helpful. Thanks for posting it!

I guess what I'm worried about is that my dough never seems to lose its "spring" - there is a lot of it. I'm currently trying to make this recipe

and I've just punched down my dough after the second, 1.5-hour rising. Since the recipe only calls for one rise, I'm getting a little paranoid. When I push my finger into the dough, there is still plenty of elasticity left. I can't even get the dough to hold the spiral shape without it unwinding and collapsing.

I'm wondering, when challah dough is fully proofed, is it free of elasiticity? Is it only at this point that it can hold a shape?

I know things vary with environmental conditions and ingredients, but I'm starting to get a little worried that it will take over 3 hours to proof my dough.

:: i

ps - I've used bread flour only for the recipe. Will this screw me over?

mrfrost's picture

I have yet to use that method of shaping, so am not familiar with what you are facing. Maybe someone else will chime in. The member that posted the recipe is very active here, so maybe he can give you more guidance.

Janknitz's picture

I think the coil shape is one of the hardest to get right. Not only is it hard to shape nicely, but the center is very dense and it's hard to bake all the way through while avoiding burning the crust (foil tenting helps). 

I prefer this shape, it looks hard but it's really very easy.  I make 4 smaller challahs out of a single recipe and freeze them for the month to come. 

Because I'm doing 4 small challot with 4 strands each, by the time I roll out the 16th rope the 1st rope has had plenty of time to relax.  I roll it out a little more along with its three "companions", then braiding is a cinch. 

Bread flour has more protien/gluten, so it's going to be a little more 'springy" than AP flour.  The crumb is also a bit tougher.  I prefer AP flour for challot.

My favorite challah recipe is KAF's "classic Challah".  It's just the right balance of sweetness (not too much) and the dough is a dream to work with.  A lot of people like the Sweet Vanilla Challah but I found it too sweet for my taste and (perhaps because of the vanilla I used) it had a bit of a chemical aftertaste. 

tempe's picture

Hi Ira, here's a recipe I came across online somewhere, unfortunately I don't have their web address, but I followed this to a tea and it worked perfectly. I even found that I could leave the dough in the fridge and four days later got a perfect challah, my braiding even got better, best of luck and I apologise to the original poster elsewhere on the web for not crediting them.  And it does make the very good french toast.  Hope this helps some how. 


Challah dough is sticky, but the high level of moisture (hydration) is what gives this bread its fantastic texture
Adapted from The Bread Baker's Apprentice, by Peter Reinhart
Makes 1 large loaf, or two smaller loaves

19 ounces (about 4 cups) unbleached bread flour
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 teaspoons instant yeast
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 whole large eggs, slightly beaten
1 large egg, yolk and white separated
1 cup water, at room temperature

1.  In the bowl of a stand mixer, whisk together the flour, sugar, salt, and yeast.  Add the oil, eggs, egg yolk, and 1 cup water.  Using the dough hook attachment, mix at low speed until a rough dough forms.

2.  Increase the speed to medium-low, and continue kneading until the dough becomes soft and supple, about 6 minutes.  The dough should not be sticky; add additional flour or water as needed to correct the consistency.

3.  Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface.  Shape the dough into a ball by pulling the outside edges into the center, and pressing gently.  Transfer the dough to a large, lightly oiled bowl, rolling it around to coat it with oil, leaving the dough smooth side up.  Cover tightly with plastic wrap, and let stand at room temperature for 1 hour.

4.  Using a large nonstick spatula, tri-fold the dough over itself, as you would fold a letter.  Fold the dough in half, perpendicular to the other folds, as though you were folding the letter in half crossways.  Cover again with plastic wrap, and let sit an additional hour at room temperature.  The dough should be not quite doubled in size.

5 aHere's another tip for working this dough. After it has risen, pour the dough onto a floured surface, but DO NOT punch it down. Instead, just take your bench scraper or a sharp knife and divide the dough into three equal pieces along the length of the dough, then gently shape the pieces into long strands. Then do your braiding on a sheet of parchment in a sheet pan, making sure to dust the parchment with cornmeal or semolina flour. Cover the braided dough with oiled plastic wrap and allow to rise until about doubled in size. This technique keeps the gluten strands oriented in the same direction and makes for a very soft, almost silky crumb, similar to strands of cotton candy when baked

5b.  Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface, and gently deflate.  Divide it into 3 equal pieces for 1 large loaf, or 6 pieces for 2 loaves.  Form each of the pieces into a rope as long as the dough will allow, cover loosely with plastic wrap, and let rest on the counter for 10 minutes.

6.  Lightly grease a large baking sheet, or line with parchment paper.  Roll each rope into a strand, all of the same length.  Braid three strands together.  Transfer the loaf (or loaves) to the prepared pan.

7.  Beat the remaining egg white with 1 tablespoon water to make an egg wash.  Brush the loaf (or loaves) with the egg wash (refrigerating the remainder).  Cover loosely with lightly oiled plastic wrap, and let sit at room temperature until nearly doubled in size, 60 to 75 minutes.  Thirty minutes before baking, preheat the oven to 350° F, placing an oven rack in the middle position.

8.  Gently brush the loaf (or loaves) again with the egg wash, taking care not to deflate.  Bake at 350º F for 20 minutes.  Rotate the pan 180º and continue baking for 20 to 45 minutes, depending on the size of the loaf (or loaves).  The bread should be a rich golden brown, and and instant-read thermometer should register around 190° F when inserted into the center.  Transfer the bread to a wire rack to cool for at least 1 hour before serving. The night before making French toast, put out the number of slices you want so they can dry overnight. Then put the dried challah slices in your custard and cook as usual. This is the best French taost you'll ever eat. Find a good French toast custard recipe to use.

  "If the place you poked doesn't fill back in, the dough is underproofed. 

  If it fills back in immediately, you have allowed the dough to overproof. 

  If, however, the poke hole fills in slowly, your dough is properly proofed and ready to bake."

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

"If the place you poked doesn't fill back in, you have allowed the dough to overproof. 

  If it fills back in immediately, the dough is underproofed. 

richkaimd's picture

I admire your spunk.  Learning to bake a good bread from recipes has its problems, all of which are overcome by having a local mentor who's already good at it.  If you're unable to do that, and if challah's your goal, I think you could benefit from learning the gluten window technique (see Reinhardt's Bread Baker's Apprentice) and reading Maggie Glezer's A Blessing of Bread to see the many different kinds of challah that are possible, the many different techniques there are for challah, and lots of pictures of braiding techniques.

I never stop adding flour until the dough is barely sticky at all and it forms a good gluten window unless I'm using a mixture of white flour and others.  I've made hundreds of challahs with all sorts of flours.  Stickiness never quite disappears if you're using whole grain flours, so don't expect it to.  When you move out of white flours (I now make a standard challah using only bread flour, but I didn't start that for the first 20 years!), start replacing a little of the white with stone ground whole wheat, white whole wheat, spelt, durum, and spelt.  Techniqures for making challahs, or other breads, with only whole wheat are possible but read about it first.  In the meantime make your all or mostly white flour challahs lots of times.  Learn from lots of mistakes.  No one you give your loaves to will complain; you're the only one who will know something went wrong.

I agree with those who recommend that you know that gluten relaxes if allowed simply to rest on your counter for several minutes if you're finding it too springy to roll out into strands.  When I'm making multi-stranded challahs (Glezer will show you forms for single stranded challahs) I roll them out one at a time, letting each one rest a few minutes, before returning to it to lengthen it.  Don't be in a hurry. 

The fellow in the videos recommends coating the dough with a little oil before rolling it out.  I've never ever done that. I also never coat a strand with flour to improve the appearance of separation of the braided strands.  In my hands, failure of separation has seemed to come from insufficient gluten formation as measured by a failed gluten window.  Again, learn about that.  It works.

Good luck!  Keep making those mistakes.



richkaimd's picture

I just wrote a lengthy note, but forgot to add this:  always think your goal with challah dough is tacky not sticky.  Sticky means that, when you touch the dough, it has a hard time coming off your finger.  Tacky means that your finger sticks just the littlest bit if at all.  My white flour doughs are barely tacky at all when a good gluten window forms.  When I make challahs with other flours (with the exception of spelt and durum) I never stop adding my white flour until the dough is tacky; I know I've not added enough if it's still sticky.

Oh, it may be too early to tell you this, but challah is simply one kind of northern European bread, meaning that techniques for making it are dramatically different from techniques from the southern European breads like baquettes and Italian breads, all of which are nearly liquid because their doughs require a much higher percentage of water.

The techniques for the breads with higher water percentage are quite different, but remember you've never met a baker who was a rocket scientist.  While there's much to learn, you can do it!


Janknitz's picture

Tacky feels like a Post-It note.  Sticky feels like  thick glue.  ;o)

flournwater's picture

Hey There hungri_i, let me offer you a suggestion for working on your Challah challange without using a truck load of flour with each effort.  My current formual for Challah uses 255 grams of flour (bread flour alone works well, half bread flour and half AP flour makes a lighter loaf) 15 grams of granulated sugar, 4 grams of instant yeast, 3 tsp canola oil, 12 tablespoons of water,1 egg plus 1 egg yolk beaten with whisk  -  80 strokes, 4 grams of salt. 

Mix it all in stand mixer with paddle attachment until well combined.  Oil the dough hook and knead 5 - 7 minutes until dough is smooth and shiny.  The dough may stick slightly to the bottom of the mixing bowl but pull away from the sides.  The dough should not be sticky.  If it seems somewhat dry, add another teaspoon of water and knead another minute.  Remove from mixing bowl to the counter  (if it's too sticky, sprinkle some flour onto the counter top and knead the dough with the flour to firm it up) and form into ball, then place into oiled bowl; rolling it around so that it's coated with the oil.  Cover with plastic wrap and allow to rest in warm area until about mass increase to 1 1/2 times its original size; a 50% increase in mass.  I do this because I have come to believe it builds better flavor in the finished bread.  If I'm imagining things here please don't pop my bubble.

Remove the dough to oiled counter top and degass the dough using your fingertips to repeatedly dimple it.  The dough will spread out, continue dimpling over the entire surface until the dough is about 1/2 inch thick.  Fold one edge over the center, then told the opposing edge over the first fold to make something akin to an envelope.  Place back into the oiled bowl, cover and allow to rest until the dough has almost but not quite doubled in mass.

Remove the dough, weigh it, and divide the dough into three equal pieces, each weighing an amount equal to 1/3 of the total weight. Roll each piece into long strand, thinner at the ends, thicker toward the center.  All strands should be equal in length.

Braid the loaf using either of these methods:

Be sure to press the ends of the braided strands together and tuck them under the finished braid.

Put a sheet of parchment paper on a baking sheet and dust it with corn meal (you can also simply oil the paper if you prefer) and gently place the braided loaf on the parchment.  Brush with 1 egg white mixed with 1 tsp water.  Spray or  brush a sheet of plastic wrap with oil and cover the loaf.  Allow it to rest until doubled in mass.  You can either spray/brush with more oil or brush it once more with the egg wash, then sprinkle on your choice of seeds, herbs, etc.  Be gentle, you don't want to deflate the dough.  Place in 350 degree oven for 10 minutes, then rotate and bake another 15 minutes until the bread is nicely browned and the center temperature of the loaf registers 195 degrees.

Cool one hour on baking rack before serving.

wally's picture

You've already got lots of good advice, Ira, but I'll add (or emphasize) one more thing: there's no need to let challah dough proof before dividing into braids and braiding.  I make anywhere from 30 - 50 challah's every Friday and as soon as the dough comes out of my mixer (it is a stiff dough, not quite so much as bagel dough, but not far removed), I begin dividing it into pieces.  Those get a short rest (maybe 15-20 minutes) and then I begin rolling them into braids.  I'll roll out 6 at a time, and then before assembling the braid I usually go back and give those that need it a little more stretching via rolling.

I can't image, however, trying to roll out a braid from a dough that's doubled in size.  Major trouble!

Hope you succeed.


ananda's picture

Hi Ira,

I posted on Chollah a while ago now.   You can find it here:    There are photos, diagrams and a video, as well as recipe/formula and method.

Larry is correct to advise on reduced "floor time".   I generally use bulk ferment of just 15 minutes, then scale and divide as he recommends.   However, I'm not sure a tight dough is the way to go.   However, I pre-suppose the use of good quality flour.   To me, the secret is that the dough has plenty of extra protein from the egg white to give strength.  A reasonable sugar content gives tenderness, and improves the dough, and the use of a ferment will encourage yeast activity in the face of adversity.   It is a real fun bread to make; my students always enjoy this one.

Best wishes


flournwater's picture

That eight strand video is the single best demonstration of the process I have seen to date.  Thanks for sharing that.  I've done three, four and six, now it's time for eight.  Wish me luck .....  without that video I would not have had the courage to try it.

breadmantalking's picture

My challah recipe always wins praise from family and friends. I am actually from Eastern Canada (Nova Scotia) where we had the opposite problem - it is frequently very wet! Still IMHO you could do a lot worse than this recipe. You can find it on my blog at:


Hope this helps,


hungry_i's picture

Oh my Gosh!

I really wasn't expecting so much great support and feedback from everyone. And so quickly! I'm really amazed and indebted to you all.


There are quite a few ideas and recipes here, so it will take me a while to try things out. But rest assured, I will definitely report back on the results. I've picked up King Arthur's Baker's Companion, and am looking for BBA as reference guides to have on hand in the process.



:: ira