Janice and Michael’s Honey-Vanilla Challah


Preparation info

  • Difficulty


  • Makes 1 12-inch extremely beautiful loaf, which will serve

    8 to 10

Appears in

This golden bread, rich with eggs and sweet with honey, is one of the glories of Jewish baking. Sabbath dinner—indeed, any holiday except Passover—would seem downright impoverished without it. The following recipe comes from a family dear to my heart—the Freemans, Hasidic Jews who lived next door to my grandparents. Although they had four young children to care for, Janice and Michael looked after my grandparents in health and sickness. They were always there with a kind word, a helping hand, or a loaf of challah, and when my grandparents passed away, Michael’s prayers sped them on to heaven. This book wouldn’t be complete without a recipe from them. Janice’s challah owes its inviting sweetness to honey and one unexpected ingredient: vanilla extract. Janice forms her challah from six braids, which has symbolic significance in the Kabbalah. You can certainly use the traditional three braids. By the way, this recipe works great in a bread machine.

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Preparation Time: 30 Minutes, Plus 2 to 2½ Hours for Rising
Cooking Time: 40 Minutes


  • 1 package dry yeast
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 cup warm water
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten
  • ¼ cup honey
  • ¼ cup vegetable oil, plus oil for the bowl
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 4 to 4½ cups unbleached (all-purpose) flour
  • 2 tablespoons egg substitute or 1 egg white, lightly beaten with a fork
  • 1 tablespoon poppy seeds


  1. Place the yeast and sugar in a small bowl and add ¼ cup warm water. Stir to mix and let sit until the mixture becomes foamy, about 10 minutes.

  2. To make the dough by hand, place the yeast mixture, remaining water, eggs, honey, oil, and vanilla in a large, heavy mixing bowl. Stir in the salt and 4 cups flour with a wooden spoon to obtain a dough stiff enough to come away from the sides of the mixing bowl. Turn the mixture onto a work surface and knead until pliable and smooth, about 10 minutes. Add flour as needed; the dough should be soft but not sticky.

    To make the dough in a mixer, place the yeast mixture, remaining water, eggs, honey, oil, and vanilla in the mixing bowl. Using the dough hook, work in the salt and 4 cups flour, mixing at low speed to obtain a smooth, pliable dough that comes away from the sides of the mixing bowl. Add flour as needed; the dough should be soft but not sticky. You’ll need about 10 minutes of mixing.

    To make the dough in a food processor, place the salt and 4 cups flour in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a dough blade. With the machine running, add the yeast mixture, remaining water, eggs, honey, oil, and vanilla. Process until the dough comes together into a smooth ball, 1 to 2 minutes. (If the dough is too wet, add more flour.) Knead the dough in the processor until smooth and springy, 3 to 4 minutes, running the machine in spurts. Turn the dough onto a floured surface and knead it a little by hand.

  3. Transfer the dough to a large, clean, lightly oiled bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Let rise in a warm, draft-free spot until doubled in bulk, 1 to 2 hours.

  4. Punch down the dough and cut it into 3 or 6 even pieces. Roll each into a 14-inch rope. Arrange the ropes in front of you so that they join at the end away from you and spread out like the fingers of your hand toward you. Braid the ropes into a loaf.

  5. Transfer the loaf to a baking sheet and cover with a clean dishcloth. Let rise until soft and puffy, 30 to 60 minutes.

  6. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

  7. Brush the challah with egg substitute and sprinkle with poppy seeds. Place on the middle rack of the oven and bake until a deep golden brown, 30 to 40 minutes. When done, the loaf will sound hollow when tapped.

  8. Transfer the challah to a cake rack to cool and cut into slices or tear into chunks for serving.