Gallery: Sweet Technique: Braiding Challah

Beautiful braids
Beautiful braids

There are many options for braiding challah, ranging from beginner to advanced. Click through this slideshow to learn the patterns for braiding challah with three, four, and six strands.

Divide the dough
Divide the dough

Start with dough that has proofed and come to room temperature. Deflate the dough by pressing it flat before dividing it. Decide how many strands you will need, then divide the pieces evenly using a scale.

Roll the dough into long ropes
Roll the dough into long ropes

Once you've divided the dough, allow it to relax for a few minutes, then roll the dough into ropes that taper at the ends. Aim to make all the ropes uniform, and approximately 18-20 inches in length. Allow the ropes to sit for 10 minutes. This rest will help the gluten relax and reduce the stretchy texture, making it easier to work.

Pinch the ends together
Pinch the ends together

No matter how many strands you work with, begin by pinching the ends together.

Three-strand braiding pattern
Three-strand braiding pattern

The three-strand braid begins with the outer left strand being brought into the center, crossing over the strand in the center.

Three-strand braiding pattern
Three-strand braiding pattern

Then, the outer right strand is brought into the middle, crossing over the middle strand.

Three-strand braiding pattern
Three-strand braiding pattern

And then the pattern repeats, with the outer left strand crossing over the middle strand, until you run out of strands to braid.

Three-strand braiding pattern
Three-strand braiding pattern

Outer left crosses into center, outer right crosses into center, outer left crosses into center, outer right crosses into center... as you follow the pattern handle the dough gently and make sure the braid is a little loose to leave room for it to proof up. If it's stretched tight it won't rise properly.

Four-strand braiding pattern
Four-strand braiding pattern

Begin a four-strand braid by pinching the ends together.

Four-strand braiding pattern
Four-strand braiding pattern

Begin by crossing the outer right strand over the one directly next to it.

Four-strand braiding pattern
Four-strand braiding pattern

Next, cross the second strand from the left over the two strands to it's right. It helps to keep the strands well separated to avoid confusion.

Four-strand braiding pattern
Four-strand braiding pattern

Then, cross the outer left strand over the strand to its right.

Four-strand braiding pattern
Four-strand braiding pattern

Cross the third strand over the two to its left.

Four-strand braiding pattern
Four-strand braiding pattern

Then bring the strand on the far right down between the two strands to its left. Then repeat the pattern. This is much easier to understand by watching a video. Here's a great one.

Four-strand braiding pattern
Four-strand braiding pattern

First strand over the second, third over the first two. First strand over the second, third over the first two... and so on.

Six-strand braiding pattern
Six-strand braiding pattern

Begin, once again, by pinching all six strands together at one end.

Six-strand braiding pattern
Six-strand braiding pattern

Start by bringing the rightmost strand all the way across the other five strands.

Six-strand braiding pattern
Six-strand braiding pattern

Next, bring the second strand on the left over all of the strands to its right.

Six-strand braiding pattern
Six-strand braiding pattern

Bring the outermost left strand down over the two strands to its right.

Six-strand braiding pattern
Six-strand braiding pattern

This is another technique that is best demonstrated in video. Here's a very helpful one. You need to watch this a few times before you get the hang of it. I recommend practicing with string before using dough.

Six-strand braiding pattern
Six-strand braiding pattern

Once you get the hang of it, you'll begin to be able to visualize the pattern. The more you can keep the strands spread apart the better.

Six strand braiding pattern
Six strand braiding pattern

The six strand pattern is a bit difficult to explan in still pictures. Click here to see a great video demonstration of the pattern. Start the video at 2:10, and watch it a few times, practicing with string. Once you get the rhythm in your head, it's not as difficult as it looks.

Six-strand braiding pattern
Six-strand braiding pattern

After a little practice, the loaf comes together. Once the entire loaf is braided, tuck the pinched ends underneath for rounded, clean looking ends. Place the loaf onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and allow it to proof. A great way to do this is to preheat your oven to 150 degrees Fahrenheit, then turn it off and place the loaf inside. Allow it to proof with the door closed for at least 1 hour. The dough will feel full of air and the volume will increase when it's ready.

Brush with egg wash twice
Brush with egg wash twice

Challah's trademark finish is a very dark, glossy crust. This is achieved by brushing it liberally with egg wash, allowing it to sit for 10 minutes, and then brushing it liberally again.

Bake to golden brown perfection
Bake to golden brown perfection

Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for approximately 45 minutes, or until the thermometer inserted in the center reads 190 degrees. Rotate the loaf halfway through.

Cool completely
Cool completely

When the bread is done, allow it to cool completely on a cooling rack before serving. Challah will keep wrapped tightly in plastic wrap for up to two days.