Challah is the braided egg-rich loaf of bread that we traditionally eat on the Sabbath and holidays — two loaves of challah at each of the three Shabbat meals.
Challah in Israel is classified as sweet, semi-sweet and “regular.” (My personal favorite is what is called baguette challah, which I have yet to duplicate at home.) But for Rosh Hashanah, almost everyone opts for sweet, round challah, symbolizing the yearly cycle and our prayers for a sweet new year. Raisins are often added; dipping in honey is de rigueur.
Challah can be mixed by hand or in a mixer; you can use whole wheat or white flour or a combination of the two. Regardless of which you chose, your home will be filled with a heavenly aroma.
1⁄2 cup sugar
1⁄4 cup canola oil
1 and 1⁄4 cups warm water (110˚)
2 packages (.25 oz. each) active dry yeast
6 cups all-purpose flour
1 Tbsp. salt
1 Tbsp. poppy seeds
Place the sugar and oil in an electric mixer with a dough hook. Add warm water and stir to dissolve sugar.
Stir in yeast, and let stand about 10 minutes until mixture becomes bubbly. Add 3 slightly beaten eggs.
Mix 4 and 1⁄2 cups of flour into the yeast mixture. Stir in salt. Continue to mix until dough becomes stringy. Continue to add remaining flour while mixing. Let hook continue to knead for several minutes until dough is smooth and elastic.
Place dough into a lightly greased bowl and turn to coat. Cover with a damp cloth and let rise until doubled in bulk, about 1 to 1 and 1⁄2 hours. Punch down and let rise a second time for about 45 minutes.
Divide dough in half and divide each half into three or four equal parts. Form two braids. Place both breads on a greased baking sheet. Cover and allow to rise until doubled. Brush with beaten egg and sprinkle with poppy seeds.
Preheat oven to 350˚. Bake for about 35 minutes to an internal temperature of 190˚ or until golden brown and bottom taps hollow. Allow loaves to cool on a wire rack.
Honey Round Challah
Also known as “pull-apart” challah, this loaf is perfect for those of us who are not exactly proficient in the braiding department.
1 package (.25 oz.) instant yeast
1 cup warm water (110˚)
2⁄3 cup canola oil
2⁄3 cup honey
2 tsps. salt
6 and 1⁄2 cups all-purpose flour
1⁄2 cup raisins, plumped in hot water and drained
1 egg white
1 Tbsp. water
Sesame and/or poppy seeds
In a large bowl, dissolve yeast in warm water. Let stand until bubbly, about 10 minutes.
Stir oil, honey, eggs, salt and three cups of flour into the yeast mixture. Mix well. Stir in remaining flour, 1⁄2 cup at a time, mixing well after each addition. When dough has pulled together, turn out onto a lightly floured surface. Knead until smooth about 10 minutes.
Lightly oil a large bowl, place dough in the bowl and turn to coat with oil. Cover with a damp cloth and let rise in a warm place until doubled in volume, about 1 to 1 and 1⁄2 hours.
Prepare two 9-inch round pans by spraying with nonstick spray.
Punch middle of dough with your fist and fold in sides.
Knead in raisins.
Divide dough in half. Form one 3 and 1⁄2-inch ball and place in center of pan. Surround with 8 smaller balls, filling pan. Repeat with remaining dough in second pan.
Cover with a damp cloth and let rise until doubled in size, about 40 minutes.
Preheat oven to 350˚.
In a small bowl, combine egg white and water in a small bowl; beat lightly. Brush challah with this egg wash. Sprinkle with sesame and/or poppy seeds.
Bake for 30 to 40 minutes, to an internal temperature of 190˚ or until golden brown and bottom taps hollow. For a crunchier crust, brush challah with egg yolk, mist the oven with water and leave challah in the turned-off oven for 10 or so minutes. Gently remove challahs from their pans and cool on a wire rack.
Sweet Whole-Wheat Challah
2 and 1⁄2 Tbsps. dry yeast
2 and 1⁄2 cups warm water
1⁄3 cup oil
1⁄3 cup honey
7-8 cups whole-wheat flour
1⁄2 Tbsp. salt
1 Tbsp. water
Combine yeast with water in a large bowl. Add the oil, honey and 3 eggs. Mix in 3 cups of flour. Cover with a damp cloth and let rise in a warm place for about an hour, until dough doubles in size.
Add salt and 4 cups of flour. Mix and then knead for about 10 minutes, adding additional flour if needed.
Braid loaves, cover and let rise in a warm place until doubled in bulk.
Preheat oven to 350˚.
Beat the last egg with water and brush the loaves. Sprinkle with poppy seeds.
Bake for 30 to 40 minutes, to an internal temperature of 190˚ or until golden brown and bottom taps hollow.
Rivka Tal is a former Minnesotan who has lived in Jerusalem for the past 45 years. She is a food writer and translator. Email her at: [email protected] .