Joan Nathan’s favorite Recipe

This is the first recipe and the first post on New Jew Kitchen. It had to be Joan. I asked the legendary Joan Nathan what the recipe that every new Jew should know, and she very kindly provided: Multi-Seeded Fennel-flavored Challa from her fantastic cookbook King Solomon’s TableIt had to be Challah.

Joan Nathan is a journalist, television host of PBS’s Jewish Cooking in America with Joan Nathan, award-winning author of ten cookbooks on Jewish food, intrepid historian and food anthropologist, and a major inspiration for me since I a kid. Behold the Queen. 

Thanks for the recipe, Joan!

Joan Nathan’s Multi-Seeded Fennel-flavored Challah


  • 1 1/2 tablespoons (2 packages) active dry yeast 
  • 1 tablespoon, plus 1/3 cup (70 grams) sugar 
  • 1/3 cup (80 ml) vegetable or canola oil 
  • 3 large eggs, plus 1 egg yolk  
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon fennel seeds divided
  • 6 to 7 1/2 cups (810 to 1012) unbleached, all-purpose flour, plus more as needed 
  • 2 teaspoons poppy seeds 
  • 2 teaspoons roasted sesame seeds


1) In a bowl of a standing mixer, dissolve the yeast and 1 tablespoon sugar in 1 1/2 cups (360 ml) lukewarm water. 

2) Using the paddle attachment, stir the oil into the yeast mixture, then add 2 eggs, one at a time, the remaining sugar, the salt, and 2 teaspoons if the fennel. Switch to the dough hook and gradually add 6 cups (810 grams) of flour, kneading for about five minutes and adding more flour as needed to make a slightly sticky, smooth and elastic dough.   

3) Grease a large bowl, turn dough into it, and put the greased side up. Cover with plastic wrap, and let rise in a warm place for 1 hour, or refrigerate for a few hours or overnight.  

4) When the has almost doubled, punch it down, remove it to a  lightly floured counter, knead it briefly until smooth, and divide it in half. Roll each piece into a cylinder about 27 inches long, making sure there are no seams in the dough, and cut each in 3 pieces. Braid each loaf, and put on a parchment-lined baking sheet at least 4 inches apart. You can also twist the loaves into a circle if you like; the dough is very malleable.    

5) Beat the remaining eggs and egg yolk and brush about half the mixture on the loaves, reserving the rest. Let the dough rise uncovered another half an hour or overnight in a refrigerator.   

6) If dough has been refrigerated, bring to room temperature.

7) Heat oven to 350 degrees and either combine in a small bowl or keep separate the remaining fennel seeds and the poppy and sesame seeds. Brush the loaves with egg again and sprinkle with seeds, making your own design.

8) Bake for 35 to 40 minutes or until golden and firm when tapped with a spatula. Cool on a rack. 

Yield: 2 challahs


The following advice is not from King Solomon’s Table cookbook, but it is advice from Joan on how to make a 6-braid challah, either straight or circular: take half the dough and form it into 6 balls. With your hands, roll each ball into a strand about 12 inches long and 1 1/2 inches wide. Place the 6 in a row, parallel to one another. Pinch the tops of the strands together. Move the outside right strand over 2 strands. Then take the second strand from the left and move it to the far right. Take the outside left strand and move it over 2. Move second strand from the right over to the far left. Start over with the outside right strand. Continue this until all strands are braided. For a straight loaf, tuck ends underneath. For a circular loaf, twist into a circle, pinching ends together. Make a second loaf the same way. Place braided loaves on a greased cookie sheet with at least 2 inches in between. 

Another tip from Joan: If freezing, remove from freezer 5 hours before baking. Then dip your index finger in the egg wash, then into poppy or sesame seeds and then onto a mound of bread. Continue until bread is decorated with seeds. 

“Joan Nathan. Legend. Go get all her cookbooks, watch all her videos on Youtube, then meet Me back here. They’ll be lots more Joan Nathan here.”