I wouldn’t call myself a practicing Jew, probably more of an out of practice one, if anything, but I do love Jewish food and a while ago I started following What Jew Wanna Eat’s blog. She has some terrific recipes (Manischewitz Red Wine Slushies, for example). Recently she affectionately referred to her readers as ‘Jewnicorns’, which was definitely one of the greatest things I’d heard in a while. As tonight marks the start of the Jewish New Year celebration I decided to try baking challah. A couple weeks ago I was having a hard time sleeping and I found myself awake at 2:00am watching hot-to-make-challah videos on YouTube (normal, I think). Baking challah can be a very involved day-long process. There is much kneading and rising and endless techniques. I found Handle the Heat’s recipe, which is relatively straightforward. I was very pleased with the bread, however in the excitement of making my first challah, I baked a straight braid, which would be fine, if we weren’t celebrating Rosh Hashanah. Seems I made a bit of a L’shanah Tovah faux pas. Rosh Hashanah challahs are intended to be round. I read quite a few explanations as to why challah is formed into a round for Rosh Hashanah, as opposed to a traditional braided loaf for Shabbat dinners. The one I liked best is that the ring or linking loops symbolize unity and strength at the start of the Jewish New Year. So, I’m going with that – I’m all for unity and strength.
Well, I was afraid my Bat Mitzvah card might get revoked if I didn’t right this challah wrong, so I made a second loaf using Molly Yeh’s Scallion Pancake Challah recipe and formed the dough into a circle before baking. In addition to the scallions, I added some Lars’ Own Crispy Onions, which are delicious (you can find them at Whole Foods).
I think the recipe below is a great way to start. It makes one large loaf and if you don’t eat it all for dinner, this Challah Bruschetta with Lemon Ricotta and Honey looks like an amazing brunch appetizer.
My First Challah
Adapted from Handle the Heat
3 to 3 1/4 cups (15 to 16 1/4 ounces) all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
1 envelope (2 1/4 teaspoons) instant yeast
1/4 cup (1 3/4 ounces) sugar
1 1/4 teaspoons salt
4 large eggs, reserving one for egg wash
4 tablespoons (2 ounces) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1/2 cup water, room temperature
Sesame seeds, for garnish (optional)
In a medium bowl whisk together the flour, yeast, sugar, and salt. Set aside.
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook, mix together 3 eggs, melted butter and water until combined. Gradually add the flour mixture. Increase the speed to medium and mix until the dough comes together. Knead for about 4 – 5 minutes or until the dough is smooth and elastic, adding up to a 1/4 cup more flour if the dough is too wet and sticky.
Shape the dough into an even ball and place in a lightly oiled ball (I coated a bowl with non-stick spray). Cover with plastic wrap and let rise until doubled in size, about 1 1/2 to 2 hours. Gently press down on the dough to deflate it then cover with plastic and let rise until doubled again, about 40 to 60 minutes.
Transfer the dough to a lightly floured work surface. Divide the dough into 2 pieces, one about half the size of the other (if you have a kitchen scale, the small piece should weigh about 9 ounces, the larger should weigh about 18 ounces). Divide the large piece into 3 equal portions. Roll each portion into an approximately 16-inch long rope. Line up the ropes and pinch them together at one end. Braid the rope pieces, pinching the other end together to seal the braid. Place the braid on a parchment or silicone mat-lined baking sheet. Repeat the exact steps with the remaining 3 smaller pieces of dough. Mix egg wash and brush onto the large braid then carefully place the smaller braid on top. Loosely drape the loaf with plastic wrap and let rise until puffy, 30 to 45 minutes.
Meanwhile, adjust an oven rack to the lower-middle position and preheat to 375°F. Brush the loaf with the remaining egg wash. If using, either sprinkle sesame seeds directly onto the loaf, or dip one finger in the egg wash, then in the seeds, and apply directly to the loaf. This looks really pretty after baking. Bake for 30 to 40 minutes, or until the loaf is golden brown and registers an internal temperature of 190 degrees with an instant read thermometer. Keep an eye on the challah as it bakes; both times, I found the bread was getting too dark and needed to cover it with aluminum foil for the last 8 – 10 minutes of baking.
If you want to slice the bread, allow it to cool first. If you want to tear it apart and slather butter all over it, no need to wait – it is delectable right out of the oven.
I’m kind of obsessed with challah now. I found so many fantastic recipes and have listed a few below. It’s a bit of a process, but it’s not difficult, it’s just a little time consuming because you have to let the dough rise several times. Challah is a very forgiving dough, however and your braids and your rounds do not have to look perfect!
Joan Nathan’s Chosen Challah (Joan is my new challah guru, by the way – love her.)