One of Judaism’s holiest days, Rosh Hashanah, is the celebration of the Jewish New Year. This sacred holiday is celebrated with customs steeped in history and tradition, including, of course, special foods. While Jewish cuisine offers an abundance of our favorites- bagels and lox, matzo ball soup, knishes, and babka (to name just a few), one of the most well-known, iconic, and symbolic foods is challah.
Challah is a celebratory yeast bread, enriched with eggs and oil, and braided into a stunningly beautiful loaf. It is enjoyed on most Jewish holidays and has many possible representations. One is that the braids, resembling intertwined arms in an embrace, represent love. Another interpretation is that the three strands of the braid represent truth, peace, and justice. There are many takes on this, each deeply meaningful.
One would think that something so important and beautiful, not to mention absolutely delicious, would be terribly complex and complicated to create. The good news is that you can make your own challah at home quite easily. If you’re worried about the design, it’s truly not as intimidating as it looks. If you’ve ever braided hair (or even if you haven’t), you should get the hang of it pretty quickly.
(From Once Upon a Chef)
This recipe truly creates a delicious and gorgeously impressive challah. If you’re of the Jewish faith, make it to serve at your own Rosh Hashanah celebration this year. If not, make and enjoy it simply as a delicious loaf of bread, and an acknowledgement and appreciation of a wonderful culture.
- 4 1/4 cups all purpose flour, plus more for dusting
- 1 tablespoon rapid-rise yeast
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 3/4 cup lukewarm water
- 6 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 6 tablespoons honey
- 3 eggs, at room temperature
- 1 egg yolk, at room temperature
In a stand mixer bowl, combine the flour, yeast, and salt. Mix with the dough hook attachment on low speed for 30 seconds to combine.
In a separate bowl, whisk together the lukewarm water, oil, honey, 2 of the eggs, and the egg yolk.
Add honey mixture to the dry ingredients and knead on medium-low speed until dough forms and becomes sticky. This should take about 5 to 7 minutes.
- Coat hands in flour and transfer the dough to a lightly floured work surface. Dust the top of the dough with flour and knead briefly into a smooth ball.
- Transfer dough into a large bowl that has been greased with cooking spray, flipping once so all of the dough is oiled. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap, and allow to rise in a warm space until it has doubled in size. This should take from 2 to 3 hours.
- Transfer the dough onto a lightly floured surface and dust with flour to deflate. Cut the dough into four even 9-oz pieces, and then shape the pieces into ropes about 20-inches long. Lay the ropes side by side vertically. Pinch them tightly together at the top, and then fan them out.
- Begin by taking the strand farthest to the right and weave it toward the left through the other strands using this pattern: over, under, over. Repeat this pattern, always starting with the strand farthest to the right, until the whole loaf is braided. Tuck the ends under to give the loaf to complete braid.
- Carefully transfer the loaf to a 13 x 18-inch baking sheet, lined with parchment. Cover gently with plastic wrap and let it rise in a warm space until it has expanded about 1.5 times in size. This will take 1 to 2 hours. Nearing the end of this time, preheat the oven to 350°F and place the oven rack in the middle position.
- In a small bowl, beat the remaining egg and brush over the risen dough.
- Stack the baking sheet onto another baking sheet before placing into the oven; this will prevent the challah’s bottom crust from overcooking.
- Bake for 25 to 35 minutes, until the crust is a deep golden color and the internal temperature is between 190°F and 200°F on an instant-read thermometer.
- Remove the bread from the oven and place it on a rack to cool before serving.
Notes on making challah
- The recipe calls for instant or rapid-rise yeast. This is different from active dry yeast, which you may have in your pantry. Rapid rise yeast has smaller granules that dissolve, and therefore rise, more quickly than active dry yeast. You may see rapid-rise yeast labeled and sold as “Bread Machine Yeast.” Rest assured, this is the same product.
- Be sure to bring your eggs to room temperature. Because challah is a slow-rising dough, the chill from eggs can really hinder the rising process.
- The bottom of challah can burn quite easily if steps are not taken to prevent it. We like the double baking sheet method mentioned in the recipe above, but silicone mats are good for this as well, if you have one.
- While this is a very sticky dough that requires flour to handle properly, be careful not to use more than necessary. Too much added flour can create an unappetizingly tough and dense challah.
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