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Turkey Challah Bread

This easy Thanksgiving idea uses one of my classic challah recipes to make a loaf of bread shaped like a turkey! It’s super simple to do and makes a fluffy loaf of challah that’s as fun to eat as it is to make.

A loaf of turkey challah bread on a wood board

Remember that time I used my honey-vanilla challah recipe to make teddy bear challah? (Which some of you suggested should be called “Koala Challah” if only for the alliteration. Clever!) Well, today I’m going to share with you another way to have fun with challah. It just so happens to be one of our Thanksgiving traditions, where we take challah dough and bake it into bread shaped like a turkey. 🦃

Sound complicated? It’s not. Making challah into animal shapes was one of my favorite activities to do when I had littles running around the house, which means the process was simple enough for a toddler to do. Really it all just boils down to dividing your challah dough into balls of various sizes, then using your imagination to put them together into a shape.

Side view of turkey challah bread on a wood board

Why You’ll Love This Turkey Challah Recipe

  • Fun. This is perhaps the most important thing about this recipe. It’s easy to get anxious and aim for perfection when baking. But in my opinion that is not the goal. The goal is to get some feel-good vibes flowing and make something delectable to eat.
  • Easy. My challah recipe is incredibly simple and once the dough is made, the rest is just rolling balls of various shapes and putting them together to make a larger shape. If you have ever fiddled around with Play-Doh you can make this recipe.
  • Tasty. The finished bread is slightly sweet, but not sweet enough to count as a dessert bread. The thing I love about this challah recipe is that it can be enjoyed on its own (a warm slice is heaven!) or served with any kind of savory dish.
  • Impressive. If you make this bread for Thanksgiving, I can pretty much promise that folks will be impressed. They’re going to wonder how you did it and exclaim how clever you are. Go on, just soak up all the adoration. You deserve it.
Side view of turkey challah bread with a piece taken out

What You’ll Need

Here’s a quick rundown of what you’ll need to make this turkey-shaped challah for Thanksgiving. Be sure to scroll down to the recipe card for specific amounts.

  • 1 batch challah dough – I like to use my honey vanilla challah, but you could also use my sourdough challah recipe.
  • Raisins – For adding the turkey eyes. You can also use dried blueberries or cranberries. Any kind of dried fruit will work.
  • Egg and Olive Oil – We’ll use one egg and some olive oil to make an egg wash. This will give the finished bread a lovely shine and extra color.
A loaf of turkey challah bread on a wood board

How to Make Turkey Challah

Ok, let’s make some animal-shaped Thanksgiving bread! Here’s how to do it. Make sure you have FUN. That is the most important ingredient.

  • Make the challah dough. First, you are going to make a batch of my Honey Vanilla Challah. Then after the first rise, you’re going to assemble the turkey.
  • Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Assemble the Turkey

  • Get a sharp knife. To assemble the turkey you’ll need to cut the dough using a sharp knife (so divide the dough before working with a toddler or young child if that is what you are doing).
  • Cut the dough in half.
  • One half of the dough is going to be the turkey’s body. Shape it into a large ball and place it in the center of your lined baking sheet.
  • Cut the remaining piece of dough into 4 pieces. One piece is going to be the turkey’s head. Shape it into a ball and place it just above the body, using a little bit of water to help the two pieces stick together if necessary.
  • Cut off about 1 tablespoon of the remaining dough. Roll into a ball and affix to the turkey’s “face” with a touch of water to make the dough stick together.
  • Cut the rest of the dough into about 30 equally sized pieces. Roll them into a ball, then arrange them around the turkey like feathers.

Second Rise, Then Bake Your Challah

  • Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F.
  • Let the dough do a second rise. Cover the turkey loosely with plastic wrap and let rise until almost doubled in bulk, 30 to 40 minutes.
  • Add the eyes. With a sharp knife cut small slits where the eyes will be, then insert raisins.
  • Add the egg glaze. 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.
  • Bake. 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 gently thump it with your hands.
  • 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!
Close up of the inside of a turkey challah bread loaf

Tips for Success

While this challah recipe is fairly simple, it never hurts to have some tips. Here are my top ones:

  • Have FUN. You’ll notice I keep saying this. Having taught many people to make bread over the years, I’ve noticed that it’s fairly common to get “in your head” about the process. Don’t aim for perfection, aim for enjoying what you’re doing and having fun with making this recipe. Use your imagination and add your own flourishes if you want!
  • Be patient. Don’t skip the rises times and make sure you give your turkey challah a chance to cool before serving it.
  • Testing for doneness. The easiest way to tell that your challah is done is by color and sound. The bread will be golden brown in color, and when you gently thumb it with your fingers the body of the turkey will sound hollow. Test the body of the turkey for doneness because that is the biggest piece of dough.
  • Browning too fast? If your turkey’s “feathers” are browning faster than the middle, you can lay aluminum foil on top of those parts of the bread. This way the middle can continue baking without the feathers over-browning.
A piece of challah bread next to a larger loaf

Ways to Eat It

When I serve this Thanksgiving bread, I usually let people pull off “feathers” to serve themselves. The feathers will be about the size of a dinner roll. Once all the feathers are gone, then I cut the body and head into thick slices using a serrated knife.

This challah recipe goes with pretty much any savory dish, so it will go wonderfully with your Thanksgiving turkey, mashed potatoes, and stuffing.

It’s also delightful on its own, or with something sweet slathered on top. My personal favorites are apricot jam, whipped honey, or maple cream.

How to Store Your Challah

Let your bread cool to room temperature, then cover it with saran wrap or place pieces into airtight containers. The challah will keep on the counter for up to 4 days.

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Turkey Challah Bread

A loaf of turkey challah bread on a wood board
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This easy Thanksgiving idea uses one of my classic challah recipes to make a loaf of bread shaped like a turkey! It’s super simple to do and makes a fluffy loaf of challah that’s as fun to eat as it is to make.

  • Author: Rustic Family Recipes
  • Prep Time: 30 minutes
  • Rise Time: 2 hours 40 minutes
  • Cook Time: 30 minutes
  • Total Time: 3 hours 40 minutes
  • Yield: 1 loaf
  • Category: Bread
  • Method: Oven
  • Cuisine: American

Ingredients

Instructions

Make the challah dough. First, you are going to make a batch of my Honey Vanilla Challah. Then after the first rise, you’re going to assemble the turkey.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. You are going to assemble the turkey on this baking sheet.

Assemble the Turkey

Get a sharp knife. To assemble the turkey you’ll need to cut the dough using a sharp knife.

Cut the dough in half. If young children are helping you, do all the dividing of the dough separately and just give them the pre-cut pieces to work with.

One half of the dough is going to be the turkey’s body. Shape it into a large ball and place it in the center of your lined baking sheet.

Cut the remaining piece of dough into 4 pieces. One piece is going to be the turkey’s head. Shape it into a ball and place it just above the body, using a little bit of water to help the two pieces stick together if necessary.

Cut off about 1 tablespoon of the remaining dough. Roll into a ball and affix to the turkey’s “face” with a touch of water to make the dough stick together.

Cut the rest of the dough into about 30 equally sized pieces. Roll them into a ball, then arrange them around the turkey like feathers.

Second Rise, Then Bake

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F. Your bread will rise on the counter while the oven heats up.

Let the dough do a second rise. Cover the turkey loosely with plastic wrap and let rise until almost doubled in bulk, 30 to 40 minutes.

Add the eyes. With a sharp knife cut small slits where the eyes will be, then insert raisins.

Add the egg glaze. 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.

Bake. 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.

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: thanksgiving bread, animal shaped bread, challah recipe

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    1. Rustic Family Recipes

      Yes, you could freeze the baked loaf the same way you would freeze a regular loaf of challah – though it will require more room in your freezer! The turkey is quite wide so you need to be able to fit the width (not the length) of a baking sheet into your freezer.

      So let it cool completely, then wrap the loaf in a couple of layers of saran wrap, then a couple layers of foil. Place it in the freezer for up to 3 months and thaw on the counter for a few hours when you’re ready to eat it. If possible I recommend freezing it on a flat surface so that the turkey doesn’t break.