Yeah, I know, it’s too late for Rosh Hashanah. And yet, I made this beautiful challah for Rosh Hashanah and I wanted to share, because it was too delicious not to share. So l’shana tova anyway!
Let me just preface this by saying that I’m not Jewish, and I know very little about Judaism. However, I love celebrations and traditions, and any opportunity to celebrate is a good one in my book. I don’t want to take lightly anyone’s beliefs or traditions, though, so if I choose to celebrate, I try to learn why. In this case, for instance, I wondered why the challah we eat for Rosh Hashanah is round, whereas the rest of the year it’s a braided loaf. I’ve read that the braid symbolizes the creativity people practice before the Shabbat, the day of rest. It is often braided with six strands, representing the six days of the week before Shabbat. For Rosh Hashanah, though, the round challah represents the circle of life and the continuing cycle of the year. Traditionally I’ve seen it coiled, but I wanted to try a woven round challah instead based on this technique. I tweaked The Kitchn’s recipe for Challah Poppers to make this loaf. Actually, it was a guest post by Paula Shoyer, author of The Kosher Baker: 160 Dairy-Free Desserts From Traditional to Trendy.
Adapted from Paula Shoyer’s recipe on The Kitchn
Makes one large loaf
1/4 C canola or vegetable oil
1/2 Tbl. salt
1/2 C sugar
1/2 C boiling water
1/4 C cold water
2 tsp. dry yeast
1/6 C warm water (approximately; it doesn’t matter too much. Nobody has a 1/6 C measure)
2 large eggs, plus one yolk
4 C all purpose flour
Dissolve 1 tsp. sugar and 1 tsp. flour in the warm water, then mix in the yeast. Set aside until it’s thick and foamy. Mix the oil, salt, and sugar in your mixing bowl. Add 1/2 C boiling water and whisk to dissolve sugar and salt. Add 1/4 C cold water and mix again. Crack your eggs into another bowl (wha?? Jill use another bowl? There’s a reason in this case, so hold tight), mix well (I find a fork works best for this) and add the eggs to the oil mixture, reserving about a tablespoon for an egg wash. You can just stick that bowl with your reserved egg in the refrigerator until you’re ready to use it.
Hold on, before we go any further, a note on equipment. I made a lot of things before I had a stand mixer, and bread is obviously completely possible without one. However, I always, always use my Kitchenaid Professional 600 Series Bowl-Lift mixer to make yeast bread. I understand not everyone has one; I was lucky enough to receive one for a wedding gift, and I’ve never looked back. All of my recipes are written with that in mind, but don’t let that stop you. Any stand mixer will work (so long as the bowl is big enough and the engine is powerful enough), but people were baking before mixers ever came along. Use a bowl and spoon, and knead on a board the way your grandma did. I have, and still do sometimes, and it’s always delicious to have something homemade.
Okay, anyway. Add the yeast mixture to the oil/egg mixture and mix well. Add a cup of flour and beat to incorporate, then switch to the dough hook. Add three more cups of flour, scraping the dough off the sides with a spatula as you go. You may need to add more flour to get your dough to the right consistency – I did. By the way, knowing when your dough is just right takes practice, but even if it’s not just right, it’ll still probably be yummy. Knead with the dough hook, adding flour if necessary, until the dough forms a ball and doesn’t stick to your fingers like crazy when you touch it.
Oil another bowl (or wash and oil the mixing bowl you just used) and drop the dough in. You can lightly oil the dough itself, too, if you want. Sometimes I do, but I think this time I forgot. No big deal. Now let the dough rise for an hour however you see fit. You can read about my tried-and-true microwave method here.
After an hour, dump your nicely risen dough onto a floured board and cut it into four equal pieces (this is for a round woven challah like I made). I find a bench scraper like this one to be immensely helpful in situations like this. You’re going to form each of these pieces into a long tube, about 18-22 inches. And then you weave. Yeah, I didn’t get pictures of this part, and it’s impossible to explain. Luckily, Zahavah from Kosher Camembert has a delightful and clear tutorial. If you missed the first link, find it here. When you’ve finished weaving it, carefully move it to a parchment-paper lined baking sheet, cover it with plastic wrap, and set it aside to rise for another 45 minutes. At this point, it will look something like this:
So, preheat your oven to 375F. Remember the tablespoon of egg you saved? Add a teaspoon of water to that and mix it up. Now brush the egg wash all over your challah, making sure to get into every little nook and cranny. Sprinkle with sesame seeds if you like, pop that baby in the oven, and cook for 40 minutes or so until it’s golden and beautiful. Actually, next time I do this, I’ll bake it for 20 minutes at 375F, then probably 30 minutes more at 350F, just to make sure the inside of this big round loaf gets all the way done. Mine was just a teeny bit doughy in the very center. If you were making a long braided loaf, I’m sure it would be fine.
And there you have it, a beautiful burnished loaf of challah. And most important of all, it’s so good it’s ridiculous.