"Yom Tov" Challah
Updated: Nov 3, 2021
During the days of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, challah is traditionally round instead of braided. The roundness symbolizes a universal wish for well-rounded, full and wholesome year. We also dip our challah into honey in hope of a sweet year to come. The following is an amalgam of a sweet egg bread recipe from both Ashkenazic and Sephardic cultures. The bread is eaten on Rosh Hashanah and for break fast on Yom Kippur. The original challah recipe has been tweaked to our liking and traditionally I have made this recipe for the past 30 years! I make multiple challahs for the high holidays for our large family dinners and recommend making beforehand, freezing and reheating in oven before serving.
As mentioned above, my recipe originated as a special occasion challah for Rosh Hashanah as the dough has a slightly sweeter aroma from the honey flavor. Many challah recipe variations exist and each recipe can be very personal, a family tradition, but all are definitely gratifying, no doubt! As mentioned, my recipe evolved for the high holidays, but the challah was too good to enjoy only once a year, and easily transformed into my weekly Shabbat challah. The added honey does not stop me, only encouraged me to adapt this recipe year round as my weekly go-to recipe for my Shabbat challahs.
Making challah every week requires planning and patience, but after several attempts the process becomes routine and can be pleasantly calming. The steps involved are not challenging or time consuming, only in the sense of the waiting, and the reason for patience. The preparation steps are spread over many hours; kneading, rising, kneading, braiding, rising and finally baking! Finally, the magical smell throughout the house of challah baking in the oven is incredible and makes the process worthwhile!
I was baking traditional challahs for years until my adult children began adapting their own braiding and filling versions to my recipe. I traditionally favored a 3-strand braid and would sprinkle with sesame or poppy seeds. Really nothing fancy or unique, very simple. As seen above in the recent pictures posted from my children, we regularly have a variety of rainbow challahs, herb stuffed challahs, variety of seeded challahs, 3-8 stranded challahs and the list goes on! The recipe is very forgiving and won't disappoint, be creative and give it a try!
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Serves: 1 x-large, 2 large or 3 medium loaves...
2 packets active dry yeast, (4½ teaspoons)
1⅔ cups warm water, (105 to 115 degrees)
⅓ cup cane sugar or ¼ cup honey
½ cup olive oil
¼ cup honey
3 large eggs
2 teaspoons salt
7 - 7½ cups bread flour
½ cup raisins, dark or light, optional
1 tablespoon sesame seeds, optional
Shabbat challah: choose from white or black sesame seeds, poppy seeds, everything bagel seasoning, or favorite herbs
1 egg yolk, beaten with 1 teaspoon water
1. In a large mixing bowl, combine the yeast with ⅔ cup of the water and 1 teaspoon of the sugar. Let the mixture rest for 5 to 10 minutes, or until it begins to foam. Add the remaining water, sugar, honey, oil, eggs, salt and about 4 cups of the flour. Beat the loose dough with an electric mixer or a wooden spoon for about 3 minutes. Mix in raisins, if desired. Slowly stir in remaining flour to form a soft, slightly sticky dough. Cover dough with a plastic wrap and let it rest for 5 minutes.
2. Turn the dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead it, adding small sprinkles of flour if necessary to keep it from sticking, for about 10 minutes, or until it is very smooth and satiny. Put the dough into an oiled bowl and turn the dough so that all sides are covered. Place plastic wrap loosely over the bowl and then a dish towel, to keep the dough moist and dark. Let the dough rise until doubled in bulk, about 1 to 2 hours (depending on the temperature of the room). Hint: a cool oven has a consistent temperature allowing the dough to rise.
3. Punch down the dough and knead it a few times to remove any air bubbles. Divide the dough in half, for 2 loaves. Cover the dough pieces loosely with plastic wrap and let them rest for 10 minutes. Be careful not to stretch or tear the dough as you shape it, or the surface of the loaf may develop holes when it rises and bakes. Follow the chosen method for shaping each loaf:
Method 1, round loaf: On a lightly floured surface, roll the dough into a very smooth 24-inch long "snake" of even thickness. Start from the center and work your hands outward. Keep even pressure on the dough as you roll so that no air pockets collect in the strand. Bring one end around to form a circle that is about 5 inches in diameter. Continue winding the rest of the snake on top of the circle so that it spirals inward and upward, finishing in the center. Tuck the end of the "snake" into the center.
Method 2, braided loaf: Divide the dough, per challah (for 2 ), into 3 pieces and on a lightly floured surface. Roll each piece into a smooth narrow strand about 18 inches long. Start from the center and work your hands outward. Keep even pressure on the dough as you roll so that no air pockets collect in the strand. Continue until you achieve your length, but make sure all strands are equal lengths. To braid the strands, pinch them somewhat loosely at the beginning of the braiding process and then at the end of braiding attach the ends tightly together, and tuck under challah. Glaze with egg, sprinkle with sesame seeds, if desired, and bake.
4. When each loaf has been shaped, carefully transfer it to a small, greased or non-stick coated baking sheet and gently rub a little oil over the exterior surface of the loaf to keep the dough from drying out. Cover the loaves loosely with wax paper and let them rise at room temperature until doubled in bulk, 45 minutes to 1 hour or longer.
5. Gently brush the loaves with the egg glaze, sprinkle with sesame seeds, if desired; then bake them in a pre-heated 350-degree oven for 30-40 minutes (2 challahs), or until the crust is browned and the bottom of each loaf sounds hallow when tapped. If the loaves are browning too rapidly, loosely cover each one with a tent of aluminum foil. Remove the loaves from the baking sheet and cool them completely.