Depending on your background and geography, you are either looking at the picture above and A) craving french toast or B)suddenly breaking out into a panic because you realize we are entering that crazy September/October period known as “The Jewish Holidays”! Or maybe it’s C) “what in the world is that crazy, spirally bread thing? Whichever it is, or maybe none of the above, it’s a happy day—how can it not be when we’re talking challah, holiday challah to be specific?!!
Now, maybe you’re not exactly sure what challah is and that’s ok, although if you haven’t experienced the joy of this special bread, I’m very sad for you! But all that will soon be remedied. Challah is a slightly sweet eggy Jewish bread that’s a lot like brioche except that instead of butter, there is oil and the proportions of fat to carbs are different too. It’s delicious eaten just as is, spread with a little butter and jam or as the most wonderful french toast in the world!
Traditionally, it’s served as a braided loaf but for the Jewish New Year or Rosh Hashanah, you’re supposed to serve round ones, symbolizing the continuity of the seasons and yearly cycle. Either way it’s yummy and you’re going to love it, no matter what religion you celebrate!
You’re also going to love how easy it is to make! Seriously, without the braiding part (no matter how many times I do it, it’s always a challenge—I’ve got zero spatial relations) making challah is a snap and this particular dough is very forgiving and easy to work with. I’ve got another challah recipe on the site which I love, but this one handles a lot better.
Other than waiting for it to rise two separate times, there’s not really much effort involved. After the first rise, all you do is deflate the dough and roll it into a 3 foot long rope—
Then coil it into a neat little spiral—
Place it into a round cake pan and let it rise again till it’s very puffy!
When it emerges, all golden and shiny and gorgeous, you’ll find yourself breaking into a hora (if you need to ask, you should probably watch Fiddler!) But don’t let that stop you from baking this challah. There is nothing like the satisfaction of pulling one of these babies out of the oven and knowing that you made the magic happen all with your own two hands!
Have a great weekend everyone!
Holiday Challah (aka the round one)
Makes 1 large round challah
Prep Time: 15 minutes (if you are using a stand mixer with dough hook—longer if you do the whole thing by hand) plus about 4 hours of rising time; Bake Time: 40-45 minutes
1/2 cup lukewarm water
6 tablespoons vegetable oil
1/4 cup honey
2 tablespoons sugar (optional—only add if you want a sweeter challah)
2 large eggs
4 cups unbleached, all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon instant yeast
For the glaze
1 large egg, beaten with 1 tablespoon cold water
1. I always make this in the stand mixer using the dough hook and it’s super easy. You can totally do it by hand—it will just take longer that way. If you are using the mixer, just place all the ingredients except for the glaze in the bowl of the mixer. Use the paddle attachment to mix everything together. Then, switch to the dough hook to knead it until the dough is soft and smooth, not sticky. If you’re doing it by hand, mix all the ingredients together very well in a large bowl until you have a sticky dough ball. Then, turn it out onto a lightly floured board and knead for about 7-8 minutes, or until the dough is soft and smooth and no longer sticky.
2. Put a tiny amount of oil in a large bowl and add the dough, turning to coat. Cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place for about 2 hours. The dough should look puffy but it might not double in size the way other bread doughs do.
3. Lightly oil a 9-inch round cake pan and set aside.
4. Gently deflate the dough in the bowl and blot with a paper towel if it seems oily. Then, turn out the dough onto a long stretch of clean counter and use your hands to roll it into a 36-inch long rope. I actually measure it. Now, coil it into a tight spiral and place in the cake pan.
5. Loosely cover it with a piece of lightly greased plastic wrap and allow to rise in a warm place until very puffy—this can take anywhere from 1 1/2-2 hours. As the dough nears the end of its rising time, adjust the oven rack to the lower third and preheat to 375ºF.
6. Place the risen dough pan on a rimmed baking sheet (this is to help stop the bottom from getting too dark) and brush the glaze all over it. Bake the challah for 20 minutes. If it looks dark golden brown, tent it with aluminum foil. If not, let it cook uncovered for another 5-10 minutes. In either case, once you’ve tented the challah, cook it for another 10-15 minutes, until the loaf looks deep golden brown and feels set. If you have a candy thermometer, you can insert it into the center and see if registers at least 190ºF.
7. Let the bread cool completely in the pan on a wire rack. Then slice and serve.
Note: Recipe adapted from King Arthur Flour. I add a little extra sugar and oil the rising bowl a bit too.