Honey Vanilla Challah Bread

This Honey Vanilla Challah Bread is light and fluffy with the perfect amount of sweetness. I’ve been making this recipe for 20 years!

If you ask me, a good challah recipe is something every home cook needs to have. A loaf of freshly baked bread can elevate even the simplest meal to a feast, plus there are so many delightful ways to use up extras. (French toast anyone?)

I’ve been making this recipe for almost two decades and it never lasts more than a day – everyone in my house gobbles it up! You can choose to braid challah with three strands of dough, four, or even six, but I think three is perfect. It’s quick, it’s easy and I can pretty much do it in my sleep. If you have never braided challah below be sure to check out my step-by-step photos later in this post.

What is Challah and How Do You Pronounce It?

Challah is a traditional Jewish bread made with yeast and eggs. It is similar to brioche bread, except brioche is made with butter while challah is made with oil. The bread is braided and sometimes even shaped into a round, braided loaf. In English “c” in “challah” is silent, so it is pronounced, “hallah.”

A bowl of flour next to eggs, vanilla, milk and sugar.

What You’ll Need

Here’s what you’ll need to make a loaf of this challah:

  • Active dry yeast – This isn’t the same as instant yeast, so be sure to use the right kind!
  • Granulated sugar
  • Kosher salt
  • All-purpose flour
  • Milk – The milk adds richness to the recipe, so it’s best to use whole or reduced fat, not skim.
  • Eggs
  • Olive oil
  • Vanilla extract – Splurge on the good stuff for this recipe—it really shines through!
  • Honey

How to Make Honey Vanilla Challah Bread

Making challah is easier than you think. You just need to make sure you have the time for it. Here’s what to do:

Make the dough. Whisk together the yeast, sugar, salt, and a cup of flour in a large bowl. Add in the milk, 2 eggs, 4 tablespoons of olive oil, the honey, and the vanilla. Mix until smooth, then add the rest of the flour a half cup at a time. When the dough becomes too thick to whisk, switch to a wooden spoon and continue to mix until the dough is too stiff to stir.

Knead the dough. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and knead it until it’s soft and springy, dusting with a tablespoon of flour at a time if it’s sticky. The dough is done when you see small air bubbles just under the skin and when you can press your thumb into it and it bounces back—this takes about 4 minutes.

Let the dough rise. Place the dough in a deep container greased with a teaspoon of olive oil. Turn it to coat the dough in oil, then cover the bowl with plastic wrap and set it in a warm place away from drafts so it can double in bulk for 1 1/2 to 2 hours.

Braid the bread. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or grease it with non-stick cooking spray. Press your fingers into the dough to deflate it, then turn it out onto your work surface again. Divide it into 3 equal portions and roll each into a smooth, thick strip. Follow the challah braiding instructions below.

Let the dough rise (again). Place the braided loaf on the prepared baking sheet and cover it loosely with plastic wrap. Let it rise again for 30 to 40 minutes until it doubles in bulk. Preheat your oven to 350ºF and whisk together an egg and a teaspoon of olive oil; brush this mixture onto the dough.

Bake the bread. Place the Honey Vanilla Challah in the oven and bake it for 30 to 35 minutes, or until it’s golden brown and sounds hollow when you thump the bottom. Cool on a wire rack, then serve.

How to Braid Challah Bread

Braiding challah bread isn’t quite like braiding hair, so I put together a quick tutorial!

  • Start with three 20-inch ropes of dough with the ends a little bit thinner than the middles. Lay them side-by-side on your work surface—don’t let them touch, or they’ll stick.
  • You’ll begin in the middle of the bread, not at the top! Braid the lower half of the three ropes by moving the outside ropes over the center. (Left over, right over, left over, etc.)
  • Once you’ve reached the end, rotate your board and braid the other side, but move the outside ropes under the center.
  • Crimp the ends on each side, then tuck them under the loaf.
How to Braid Challah step-by-step tutorial

Serving Suggestions

What should you do with your Honey Vanilla Challah? Well, I’m glad you asked!

  • Toast. Oh, the toast possibilities! Because challah is so pillowy soft, you’ll want to start with a thick slice. Try topping it with ricotta, fresh peach slices, a drizzle of honey, and finely chopped pistachios. Or just slather it with your favorite jam. That’s good too! A challah-toast-and-gingerbread-latte breakfast is perfect for this time of year.
  • French toast. Whether you make single slices or a French toast casserole, stale challah makes for a divine French toast.
  • Bread pudding. A totally under-appreciated dessert that’s delicious with challah. 
Two slices of Honey Vanilla Challah on plate with dipper drizzling honey over the top

How to Store

Store your challah on the counter in an airtight container. I prefer to store the loaf whole and only slice off pieces when I need them, which helps prevent the bread from drying out too quickly. It will last for 2-3 days on the counter.

Can I Freeze It?

Yes! Wrap your baked challah tightly in a couple of layers of saran wrap, then place it in an airtight, freezer-safe container. It will keep in the freezer for up to 3 months. Thaw overnight in the fridge or on the counter for a few hours when you’re ready to eat it.

Slices of Honey Vanilla Challah on cutting board
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Honey Vanilla Challah Bread

Closeup of Honey Vanilla Challah slices
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Making homemade challah bread is easier than you think – learn how to make the best loaf of fluffy challah ever!

  • Author: Rustic Family Recipes
  • Prep Time: 3 hours 10 minutes
  • Cook Time: 35 minutes
  • Total Time: 3 hours 45 minutes
  • Yield: 1 loaf
  • Category: Bread
  • Method: Oven
  • Cuisine: American

Ingredients

  • 1/2 tablespoon active dry yeast
  • 4 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 4 1/4 to 4 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup of warm milk (whole is best, low-fat is ok too)
  • 2 eggs + 1 for the glaze
  • 4 tablespoons of olive oil + 1 teaspoon for greasing the bowl and another for the glaze
  • 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 tablespoon honey

Instructions

Make the Dough

  1. In a large bowl using a whisk combine the yeast, sugar, salt and 1 cup of the flour.
  2. Add the warm milk, 2 eggs, 4 tablespoons of olive oil, then the honey and vanilla. (Add the olive oil first, then use the same measuring spoon to add the honey – residual oil on the spoon will make the honey slide right out.)
  3. Vigorously mix the ingredients until smooth, scraping the sides of the bowl halfway through, about 3 minutes.
  4. Add the remaining flour, 1/2 cup at a time, switching to a wooden spoon when the dough becomes too thick for the whisk. Continue mixing the dough until it is too stiff to stir.
  5. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead until soft and springy, about 4 minutes. If the dough is sticky, dust with flour 1 tablespoon at a time – just enough to prevent it from sticking to the surface. The dough is done when it’s smooth and small air bubbles show under the skin. If you press your thumb into it the impression should bounce back. This is a slightly firm dough, which is exactly what you want for easy braiding later on.
  6. Place the dough in a deep container greased with 1 tsp of olive oil. Turn the dough once to coat the top and cover with plastic wrap. Allow it to rise at room temperature until doubled in bulk, about 1 1/2 to 2 hours.
  7. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or lightly grease it with non-stick spray. Gently deflate the dough by pressing your fingers into it, then turn it out onto a lightly floured surface.

Braid the Dough

  1. Divide into 3 equal portions, and roll each portion out into a smooth, thick strip about 20 inches long, with the ends slightly thinner than the middle. Lay these ropes side-by-side, not quite touching.
  2. Beginning in the middle and working towards you, braid the lower half of the three ropes. To braid, alternately move the outside ropes over the one in the center – left over, right over, left over -until you come to the end.
  3. Now go to the other side of your working space (or rotate your cutting board) and braid the other half, this time moving the outside ropes under the center one.
  4. Braid tightly – you don’t want any gaps. When you finish braiding each side crimp the tapered ends together, then tuck them under.

Second Rise, Add Egg Wash and Bake

  1. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F and place the braided dough on your baking sheet, cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rise until almost doubled in bulk, 30 to 40 minutes.
  2. Just before the rising time has finished whisk together 1 egg and 1 teaspoon of olive oil, this is going to be the glaze for your bread. Gently brush the dough with a thick layer of it.
  3. Place the dough in the oven and bake for 30 to 35 minutes, or until the bread is a deep golden brown and sounds hollow when you thump it on the bottom.
  4. Transfer to a baking rack to cool. Allow to cool completely before slicing – or at least wait until it’s warm, not hot – then enjoy!

Keywords: challah bread, challah recipe, homemade bread

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Reader Questions and Reviews

  1. Keep in mind if you are making this recipe for Shabbat that everyone knows it has milk in it and should therefore not be eaten with a meat meal. Most challah isn’t made with dairy in order to keep it pareve. Nothing wrong with having a loaf made this way, just avoid having meat with it!

    1. Rustic Family Recipes

      Yes for sure, if there is someone who keeps kosher that would be an important thing to let them know. When we have had guests over who keep kosher and I make this challah, I usually just serve a vegetarian meal. 🙂

    1. Rustic Family Recipes

      I’m not sure, I’ve never used a bread machine before. If you give it a try please do let me know how it turns out!

      I have made the braided challah in a springform pan in the oven before, so you could also try that method if you are going for a more tightly shaped loaf of challah.