Challah with Za’atar and Whipped Honey Butter

David Bazirgan

Bambara, Cambridge, MA

A riff on the traditional challah recipe, this version is laced with the Middle Eastern spice blend za'atar and served with honey and sea salt–whipped butter.



  • 1/4 cup (1/2 stick) margarine
  • 1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
  • 1/4 cup whole milk
  • 1/4 cup plus 1/2 teaspoon white sugar, divided
  • 2 tablespoons lukewarm water
  • 1/2 teaspoon active dry yeast
  • 2 eggs, divided
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more as needed
  • 1 1/8 teaspoons za’atar 
  • 3/8 teaspoon baking powder
  • 3/8 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 teaspoon sesame seeds

To serve:

  • 1/2 cup soft butter
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt


In a saucepan over medium heat, combine the margarine, butter, and milk. Heat until the butter and margarine are melted, but do not let the mixture boil, about 1 minute. Stir in 1/4 cup sugar and cook until the sugar dissolves. Set aside to cool until it’s lukewarm.

Meanwhile, in a small bowl, dissolve the remaining 1/2 teaspoon sugar in the lukewarm water. Sprinkle the yeast over the surface and let it stand until frothy, about 10 minutes.

Crack 1 egg into a large bowl and stir a little to break up the yolks. Slowly pour in the lukewarm milk mixture whisking constantly to temper the eggs and not cook them. Add the yeast mixture and stir just until blended.

In a large bowl, combine the flour, za’atar, baking powder, and salt. Make a well in the center, and pour in the wet egg–milk mixture. Stir with a wooden spoon until it forms a sticky dough. Transfer the dough to a floured surface and knead in additional flour as needed to make a more substantial dough. You may need up to 1 additional cup of flour. Knead for about 10 minutes. Place the dough in a large oiled bowl and set in a warm place to rise for about 2 hours, or until doubled in size.

When the dough has doubled, punch it down and let it rise until doubled. It will only take about half as long this time, about 1 hour.

Divide the dough into 3 even portions. Roll each piece into a rope about 12 inches long. Braid the 3 ropes together, pinching the ends to seal them and tucking the ends under for a better presentation. 

Place the loaf onto a parchment paper–lined baking sheet. Set the baking sheet in a warm place to rise until your finger leaves an impression behind when you poke the loaves gently, about 1 hour.

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Brush the loaf with the remaining beaten egg and sprinkle with sesame seeds. Bake the loaf for 25 to 30 minutes or until nicely golden brown all over.

While the loaf bakes, mix together the butter, honey, and sea salt in a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment until well combined and fluffy. Set aside. 

Serve with the softened honey–sea salt butter.


1 large loaf