Challah Bread Substitutes

Breadventures: Discovering Challah’s Flavorful Substitutes

Challah bread, a staple of Jewish culinary tradition, holds a special place at the heart of many celebrations, most notably the Shabbat (Sabbath) meals. Its roots can be traced back to ancient Israel, where it emerged not only as a delicious bread but also as a symbol of religious observance.

Challah’s rich, golden crust and soft, slightly sweet crumb make it perfect for a variety of culinary uses. Beyond the religious table, it’s found its way into the mainstream, where it’s frequently used for French toast, sandwiches, or simply enjoyed with a spread of butter.

However, there are times when finding or making traditional Challah isn’t feasible due to dietary restrictions, ingredient availability, or personal preferences. In such cases, having a variety of substitutes for Challah bread can open up a world of delicious possibilities without sacrificing the essence of this cherished bread.

List of Substitutes for Challah Bread


Brioche is a classic French bread, known for its luxurious richness and tender crumb. Like challah, brioche is a bread that relies heavily on eggs and fat (often butter) to achieve its characteristic texture and flavor. The histories of both breads, while originating from different cultures, share an emphasis on celebration and indulgence.

Key Differences in Flavor, Texture, and Ingredients

While challah and brioche share some striking resemblances, they have distinct differences:

Flavor: Brioche has a more pronounced buttery flavor, thanks to the generous amounts of butter used in most recipes. This makes it richer than challah, which often relies on oil as its primary fat.

Texture: Both breads are soft and slightly chewy, but brioche tends to be a bit more tender due to the higher fat content. Its crust is also usually softer and less crispy than challah’s.

Ingredients: The most significant difference lies in the choice of fat. While challah often uses oil (and occasionally butter in some non-traditional recipes), brioche prominently features butter. This not only impacts the flavor but also the texture and mouthfeel of the bread.

Best Uses as a Challah Substitute

Brioche can seamlessly replace challah in many culinary applications:

  • French Toast: Brioche soaks up custard splendidly, making it a perfect candidate for French toast. Its inherent richness elevates the dish to new heights.
  • Bread Pudding: Just like with French toast, the buttery richness of brioche adds an extra layer of flavor to bread pudding, making it even more indulgent.
  • Sandwiches: For those looking for a more luxurious sandwich experience, brioche offers a soft, rich counterpoint to both savory and sweet fillings.
  • Bread Bowls for Soup: The soft and tender crumb of brioche can enhance the experience of enjoying a thick soup or chowder served in a bread bowl.

Pull-Apart Bread

Pull-apart bread, as the name suggests, is a type of bread that’s designed to be easily torn into individual servings. It’s often baked in layers or clusters, allowing for the easy “pulling apart” effect. This bread’s texture is remarkably similar to challah, as it has a soft and slightly elastic crumb, paired with a tender crust. The layers or clusters in pull-apart bread create pockets of softness and moisture, echoing the plushness of challah’s interior.

Recipe Variations and Customization

Pull-apart bread is versatile and can be easily customized to match the flavor profile of challah or to introduce new flavors:

  • Sweet Pull-Apart: Incorporating ingredients like cinnamon, sugar, raisins, or even chocolate can turn the bread into a delightful dessert or breakfast treat.
  • Savory Pull-Apart: Infusing the dough with herbs, cheese, or garlic can create a bread that’s perfect for pairing with soups or as a standalone snack.
  • Toppings: Like challah, pull-apart bread can benefit from toppings such as sesame seeds, poppy seeds, or even a sprinkle of coarse salt.

Situations Where Pull-Apart Bread Is an Ideal Substitute

Pull-apart bread’s unique structure and texture make it suitable for various situations where one might traditionally use challah:

  • Group Gatherings: The ease of tearing apart sections makes this bread a hit at communal meals or gatherings, eliminating the need for slicing.
  • Dipping Bread: Its soft texture absorbs sauces and dips efficiently, making it a prime choice for dishes like fondue or accompanying creamy soups.
  • Bread Baskets: For restaurants or dinners aiming to impress, a basket of pull-apart bread can offer a delightful tactile experience to guests.
  • Stuffed Variations: Due to its layered nature, pull-apart bread can be easily stuffed, introducing flavors between the layers for an added surprise.

Portuguese Sweet Bread (Massa Sovada)

Portuguese Sweet Bread, commonly known as Massa Sovada or Pão Doce, hails from the beautiful regions of Portugal and its islands, particularly the Azores and Madeira. Rooted in celebrations and feasts, this bread is traditionally associated with Christmas and Easter, often featuring a decorative hard-boiled egg in the center during the latter.

At first glance, one might notice its golden-brown crust, often achieved with a brush of egg wash or milk, reminiscent of challah’s lustrous exterior. The bread itself is characterized by a delicate sweetness, soft crumb, and slight hint of citrus or vanilla, depending on the recipe.

Comparing Its Sweetness Level to Challah

While both challah and Massa Sovada have an inherent sweetness, the Portuguese Sweet Bread is generally a tad sweeter. This is often due to the inclusion of a bit more sugar and sometimes the addition of flavors like vanilla or lemon zest. The sweetness level is, however, balanced, ensuring that it doesn’t overpower the bread’s other attributes.

When to Choose Portuguese Sweet Bread over Challah

Given its characteristics, there are several scenarios where Portuguese Sweet Bread can stand in for challah:

  • Breakfast Delight: Toasted slices of Massa Sovada with a spread of butter or jam offer a delectable start to the morning, harnessing its sweet undertones.
  • Dessert Transformations: Given its slightly higher sweetness, it makes an exceptional base for bread pudding or French toast, especially when aiming for a dessert variant.
  • Festive Gatherings: If you’re looking to introduce a cultural twist to celebrations, replacing challah with Portuguese Sweet Bread can be an exciting choice, nodding to the traditions of Portugal.
  • Sandwiches with a Twist: For those who enjoy sweeter sandwich bases, this bread pairs exceptionally well with creamy fillings or even grilled cheese.

Sourdough Bread

Originating from ancient civilizations, sourdough bread boasts a rich history that traces back thousands of years. Its name alludes to its signature tangy flavor, achieved through natural fermentation.

Instead of commercial yeast, sourdough relies on a mixture of wild yeast and lactic acid bacteria (often maintained as a “starter”) to rise. This fermentation not only gives the bread its distinctive sour taste but also contributes to a chewy texture and robust crust.

Comparing Textural Qualities to Challah

Sourdough and challah do share some textural similarities:

  • Inner Softness: While sourdough’s crust is more robust compared to challah’s, its interior remains soft and airy, somewhat mirroring challah’s plush crumb.
  • Chewiness: The natural fermentation of sourdough gives it a certain elasticity, which can be reminiscent of the slight chewiness found in challah.

However, it’s crucial to note that sourdough’s crust is often thicker and more rustic compared to the shiny, softer crust of challah.

Flavor Profile: A Contrast in Taste

One of the defining differences between the two is their flavor:

  • Tangy vs. Sweet: While challah leans towards a subtle sweetness, sourdough is known for its characteristic tang, a result of the lactic acid produced during fermentation.
  • Depth of Flavor: Due to its extended fermentation, sourdough often has a deeper, more complex flavor profile compared to the straightforward, balanced taste of challah.

When to Opt for Sourdough as a Challah Substitute

Given its distinct attributes, there are specific instances where sourdough might be chosen over challah:

  • Artisanal Sandwiches: The robust crust and tangy notes of sourdough can elevate sandwiches, adding a layer of complexity to the taste.
  • Dipping and Soups: The sturdy nature of sourdough makes it excellent for dipping into rich soups or sauces, absorbing them without becoming too soggy.
  • Toast and Brunch: For those who prefer a tangier base for their morning toast or brunch dishes, sourdough provides a flavorful alternative.
  • Cheese Boards: The sour notes of the bread pair beautifully with a variety of cheeses, complementing their flavors.

Hawaiian Sweet Rolls

Famous for their irresistible sweetness and pillowy texture, Hawaiian Sweet Rolls have become a favorite in many households beyond their native Hawaii. Originally influenced by Portuguese immigrants who brought their sweet bread recipes to the islands, these rolls underwent an evolution. The addition of local ingredients like pineapple juice gave them a unique tropical twist, making them distinctively Hawaiian.

What Makes Them Similar to Challah

At their core, Hawaiian Sweet Rolls share several qualities with challah:

  • Texture: These rolls are known for their soft, airy interior, which mirrors the tender crumb of challah.
  • Sweetness: Like challah, they have an inherent sweetness, although they tend to be slightly sweeter due to the addition of pineapple juice or honey in many recipes.
  • Golden Exterior: Much like challah’s iconic shiny crust, Hawaiian Sweet Rolls often have a beautiful golden-brown exterior, typically achieved with an egg wash or butter glaze.


Though similar, a few characteristics set these rolls apart from challah:

  • Flavor Profile: The most noticeable difference is the hint of tropical flavor, often coming from pineapple juice. This gives the rolls a unique taste that’s distinctively different from the balanced sweetness of challah.
  • Size and Shape: Unlike the braided form of challah, Hawaiian Sweet Rolls are typically baked in clusters, resulting in individual pull-apart rolls.
  • Buttery Note: Many recipes for Hawaiian rolls incorporate butter, imparting a rich buttery note that’s more pronounced than in most traditional challah recipes.

Ideal Scenarios for Choosing Hawaiian Sweet Rolls as a Substitute

Considering their attributes, there are several situations where these rolls can replace challah:

  • Slider Buns: Their sweetness and soft texture make them an excellent choice for sliders, adding a touch of unexpected flavor to savory fillings.
  • Dinner Rolls: When serving a feast or dinner, offering a basket of Hawaiian Sweet Rolls can be a delightful alternative to slices of challah.
  • Breakfast and Brunch: Their tropical hint makes them a fantastic base for breakfast dishes, whether it’s a creative French toast or a simple buttered roll with coffee.
  • Dessert Creations: With their added sweetness, they can be transformed into sumptuous bread puddings or other dessert dishes, adding a hint of the tropics to the finale of a meal.


Originating from Milan, Italy, Panettone is a type of sweet bread loaf traditionally associated with Christmas and New Year celebrations. Its history is rich with legends, with tales ranging from romantic gestures to accidental creations, but one thing remains consistent: its status as a festive treat. Over the years, this bread has not only won the hearts of Italians but has also found its way into global holiday traditions.

Similarities to Challah

Several attributes of Panettone echo those of challah:

  • Sweet Undertones: Like challah, Panettone boasts a subtle sweetness, making it suitable for both savory and sweet applications.
  • Soft Crumb: The interior of Panettone is airy and light, with a tender texture that parallels the plushness of challah.
  • Egg-enriched Dough: Both breads utilize eggs, which contribute to their richness and the golden hue of the baked product.


While Panettone shares some similarities with challah, there are notable differences:

  • Add-ins: Panettone traditionally contains candied fruits and raisins. These inclusions provide bursts of sweetness and texture that challah, in its basic form, doesn’t possess.
  • Tall Structure: Unlike the flat, braided shape of challah, Panettone is typically baked in tall, cylindrical molds, resulting in a dome-shaped loaf.
  • Flavorings: Many Panettone recipes incorporate flavors like vanilla or citrus zest, adding aromatic nuances that are less pronounced in typical challah recipes.

Situations Where Panettone Can Serve as a Substitute

Given its unique characteristics, there are specific scenarios where Panettone can shine as a challah alternative:

  • Festive Occasions: If you’re looking to switch up holiday traditions, Panettone can be a delightful substitute, carrying with it the festive spirit of Italian celebrations.
  • Toast with a Twist: Slices of Panettone, when toasted, crisp up beautifully while retaining their soft interiors, offering a fruity twist on morning toast.
  • Dessert Foundations: Its inherent sweetness and fruit inclusions make Panettone an excellent base for bread puddings or layered trifle desserts.
  • Cheese Pairings: Given its fruit content, Panettone pairs exceptionally well with a range of cheeses, especially those with creamy or tangy profiles.

Oat Bread (Gluten Free Substitute)

Oat bread has become a preferred choice for many, not only for its nutty and wholesome flavor but also due to its suitability for those with gluten sensitivity. Made primarily from oats, which are naturally gluten-free, this bread offers a delicious and more digestible alternative for those wary of gluten.

However, it’s important to note that while oats themselves do not contain gluten, they are often processed in facilities that handle gluten-containing grains. Hence, for those with celiac disease or extreme sensitivities, only oats labeled as “gluten-free” should be used.

Comparison of Texture and Flavor with Traditional Challah

  • Texture: Oat bread tends to have a more dense and moist texture compared to the airy and soft crumb of challah. Challah’s structure is largely due to gluten formation, which oat bread inherently lacks.
  • Flavor: While challah has a balanced sweetness, oat bread stands out with its hearty, slightly earthy, and nutty flavor profile. The natural sugars in oats give it a subtle sweetness that’s distinct from challah.

Tips for Making Oat Bread Mimic Challah’s Characteristics

Achieving the exact texture and flavor of challah using oat bread can be challenging due to the inherent differences in ingredients. However, there are some tricks to bring it closer:

  1. Eggs for Structure: Incorporating eggs into the oat bread recipe can lend it some of the fluffiness and richness associated with challah.
  2. Honey or Sugar: Adding a bit of honey or sugar can help mimic the subtle sweetness of challah.
  3. Achieving a Golden Crust: Brushing the top of the oat bread with an egg wash or a mixture of honey and water before baking can give it a shiny, golden appearance reminiscent of challah.
  4. Kneading and Rising: Even though oat bread won’t have the gluten network like wheat-based breads, allowing it to rest and rise properly can help achieve a lighter crumb.
  5. Additions for Texture: Incorporating soaked raisins, seeds, or even a mix of gluten-free flours can provide varied textures and flavors, bringing the bread closer to the multi-dimensional taste of challah.

Eggless Bread (For Vegan Diets)

Eggless bread, as the name implies, is baked without the use of eggs, making it suitable for vegan diets and those with egg allergies. Over the years, as veganism and plant-based diets have gained popularity, so has the demand for eggless variations of traditional bread, including challah.

Fortunately, there’s a plethora of variations available, from traditional white and whole wheat breads to specialty ones like focaccia or ciabatta, all made without the addition of eggs.

Benefits of Choosing an Eggless Substitute

  1. Suitable for Vegans: Naturally, eggless breads cater to the growing vegan population, allowing them to enjoy bread without compromising their dietary choices.
  2. Allergy-Friendly: For individuals allergic to eggs, this offers a safe and delightful alternative.
  3. Lower Cholesterol: Without eggs, the bread lacks cholesterol, making it a potentially healthier option for those monitoring their cholesterol levels.
  4. Versatility in Ingredients: The absence of eggs allows for a broader exploration of plant-based ingredients, each adding unique flavors and textures to the bread.
  5. Sustainability: Plant-based ingredients often have a smaller carbon footprint compared to animal-derived ones, making eggless bread a more environmentally-friendly choice.

Challah Bread Substitutes Quick Comparison Chart

Bread Type Sweetness Texture Best Use-Cases
Brioche High Soft, Buttery Desserts (e.g., French toast), Sandwiches
Sourdough Low Chewy, Airy Toasts, Sandwiches, Bread bowls
White Bread Low Soft, Light Sandwiches, Toasts, Bread pudding
Whole Wheat Bread Medium-Low Hearty, Denser Sandwiches, Strata, Bread Salad
Multigrain Bread Medium-Low Hearty, Textured Toasts, Sandwiches, Strata
Oat Bread Medium Soft, Moist Desserts (e.g., Bread pudding), Toasts
Eggless Bread Varies (Usually Low) Soft to Medium Vegan diets, Sandwiches, Toasts

Factors to Consider When Choosing a Substitute

When you’re replacing challah with another type of bread, the success largely depends on the specific use case and individual preferences. Here’s a guide to factors you might want to keep in mind:

Purpose of the Bread

  • Sandwiches and Toasts: If you’re making sandwiches or toasts, look for a substitute that has a sturdy crust and soft interior like challah. Brioche or sourdough might be ideal choices.
  • Festive Occasions: For events where challah’s religious or cultural significance is key, it might be best to stick to breads that resemble its appearance and taste closely, like eggless bread or oat bread for specific dietary needs.
  • Desserts: If you’re making a bread pudding or a similar dessert, a sweeter bread like brioche or even oat bread might be preferable.

Dietary Restrictions and Preferences

  • Those adhering to a vegan diet might gravitate towards eggless bread.
  • Individuals with gluten sensitivity might prefer oat bread (ensuring it’s certified gluten-free).
  • If cholesterol or saturated fat is a concern, breads like brioche which are high in butter might be less suitable compared to a whole wheat bread.

Texture and Flavor Desires

  • If you prefer a tangy flavor, sourdough is the way to go.
  • For a rich, buttery flavor, brioche stands out.
  • Whole wheat and multigrain breads offer a more hearty and nutty flavor compared to the mild sweetness of challah.

Availability and Convenience

While some breads are readily available in most grocery stores, others like specific gluten-free oat breads or specialty vegan loaves might require a trip to a health food store or bakery.

Cultural and Religious Significance

If the use of challah is tied to a religious ritual, such as the Jewish Shabbat, it’s important to understand the significance of the bread and whether a substitute would be appropriate. In some cases, modifying challah to meet dietary needs (like making it eggless) might be more suitable than replacing it entirely.

Price Point

Breads like brioche or artisanal sourdough might be on the pricier side compared to more standard breads. If budget is a concern, consider this when choosing your substitute.

Freshness and Shelf Life

Some breads, like commercial white or whole wheat loaves, might have preservatives that extend their shelf life, while freshly baked artisan breads may need to be consumed faster.

Tips for Storing and Using Challah Substitutes

Whether it’s a brioche, sourdough, or oat bread, taking proper care of your challah substitute ensures you can enjoy it for days. Moreover, these breads can be seamlessly incorporated into dishes that traditionally feature challah, offering delightful variations on classic recipes.

Ideas for Using These Substitutes in Traditional Dishes that Call for Challah

  1. French Toast: Almost any bread with a soft crumb can be used as a substitute for challah in French toast. Brioche or sourdough, soaked in a mixture of milk, eggs, and vanilla, can yield a sumptuous result. Vegan variations can use flax “eggs” and almond or soy milk.
  2. Bread Pudding: The dense texture of oat bread or multigrain variants can absorb the custard mixture well, leading to a rich and hearty bread pudding. Add in some nuts and dried fruits for extra flavor.
  3. Breadcrumbs: Leftover bread, when dried and pulsed in a food processor, can be used as breadcrumbs in various recipes, from meatballs to coatings for fried foods.
  4. Strata: This layered casserole, which typically involves bread, eggs, and cheese, can welcome any challah substitute. Consider a savory version with sourdough, veggies, and a sharp cheese.
  5. Bread Salad: Refresh slightly stale bread by tossing it in salads. A Mediterranean-inspired salad with tomatoes, cucumbers, and pieces of whole wheat or sourdough bread drizzled with olive oil can be a refreshing choice.
  6. Bread Bowls: Denser breads like sourdough can be hollowed out and used as bowls for soup, offering both a dish and a delectable side.

Proper Storage Techniques to Maintain Freshness

  1. Room Temperature Storage: For short-term storage (up to 2-3 days), keep the bread in a breadbox or inside a paper bag, which allows the bread to breathe and reduces the risk of mold development.
  2. Refrigerating: While refrigerating bread can prolong its shelf life, it might also make it stale faster. If you choose to refrigerate, wrap the bread in plastic wrap or foil, and consider toasting slices before consumption to revive freshness.
  3. Freezing for Long-Term: For longer shelf life (up to three months), consider freezing your challah bread. Slice it first for convenience, wrap tightly in plastic wrap or aluminum foil, and store inside a resealable freezer bag. Remember to thaw slices at room temperature or pop them directly into a toaster.
  4. Avoiding Moist Environments: Store bread away from areas with high humidity, like above a dishwasher or refrigerator, to prevent premature molding.
  5. Using Bread Bags: Specialized breathable bread bags, often made of linen or cotton, can be an effective way to store bread as they wick away moisture while still allowing the bread to breathe.

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