Challah is a Sabbath and holiday staple. It is so important to the Sabbath ritual, that if a family cannot afford both wine and challah, the challah is considered the more important. Perhaps this idea carries through to the holidays also, but even in the least observant homes of friends I had as a teen, I always observed that there was a challah present for all holidays. And I remember that friends had sandwiches made on challah for lunch on Mondays!
The word challah actually means the piece of dough taken before the bread is baked. In Numbers 15:17-21, G-d commands Moses to tell the Israelites to set aside a piece of dough as a gift for the L-rd. Observant Jews take a small piece of raw challah dough and, before baking the loaves, burn it to represent the biblical offerings. Also, we place two challot on the Sabbath and holiday tables to remind us of the double portion of manna which was given to the Jews in the desert on the Sabbath. Challah has a long and storied history, to be sure.
Traditional challot usually come in two shapes —the traditional three braid challah and, on the High Holidays, round challot to symbolize the seamlessness of time. But challah can be intricately woven from as many as ten strands, and before the pre-fast meal on Yom Kippur, many people eat a bird-shaped challah to symbolize the belief that a bird will carry away our sins.
People also make challot in the shapes of ladders, dreidels, and even fish. I have seen box challot, challot braided around different containers to hold salt or honey, and challot that are worthy of paintings they are so beautiful!
With summer waning and the holidays arriving — Rosh Hashana this weekend, but Simchat Torah not arriving until Oct. 18 — we are thinking about what dishes we can make ahead to save some time. For me, the first thing that comes to mind is chicken stock for soup, brisket, and, of course, challot.
Challah does not freeze as well long term as some other foods, but for a week or two, challot will freeze and be unscathed, your creative braiding in tack. YouTube has tons of videos that explain everything from three braids to 10 and will also give you step-by-step directions for making all kinds of challot shapes.
While we can buy challah in bakeries, there is nothing like homemade challah. Making challah is not difficult and can be a wonderful family activity to help usher in the New Year.
And remember: There is no absolute shape that challah must be, so encourage your children and grandchildren to make some special challot shapes for the New Year.
I hope you enjoy these challah recipes and that you have a wonderful Shanah Tovah.
Honey Whole Wheat Challah
This wonderful challah needs to rise 3 times, but the results are a light and delicious challah.
1-1/2 cups warm water
2 packages dry yeast
1/4 cup plus 1 Tbsp. sugar
1-1/2 tsp. salt
1/3 cup honey
1/3 cup canola oil
4 extra-large eggs
3 to 4 cups whole wheat flour
3 to 4 cups unbleached flour
Golden raisins (optional)
1 beaten egg mixed with 1 Tbsp. cold water
Sesame or poppy seeds
Put the yeast, water, and tablespoon of sugar in a large bowl. Mix well and let stand for 5 minutes, until the yeast starts to bubble. Add the honey, remaining sugar, salt, oil, and eggs. Whisk until blended. Add the whole wheat flour and most of the white flour and mix well. Knead for 10 to 15 minutes until the dough is smooth and elastic, add flour as needed. Add the raisins and knead them in well. I spread the dough and add the raisin, roll up the dough and then start to knead it. This holds the raisins in place while you incorporate them into the dough.
Lightly grease a large bowl. Form the dough into a ball and place smooth side down. Flip so the oiled side is up. Cover with a towel or plastic. Set in a warm place to rise for 1-1/2 to 2 hours or until doubled in bulk. Gently deflate the dough and divide it into three long strands. Braid the challah and place on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper or cornmeal. Cover and let rise for 1 hour or until just about doubled in size.
Gently brush the loaf with the egg wash and sprinkle with poppy or sesame seeds if desired. Cover and allow to rise once more for about 30 minutes. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Bake for 25 to 35 minutes until golden brown and internal temp reaches 190 degrees.
Jenny’s Favorite Challah
This is still my daughter’s favorite challah recipe decades after I first developed it. It is moist and light and makes wonderful French toast!
2 envelopes yeast
1-1/3 cups warm water (between 99 and 115 degrees)
4 jumbo eggs (5 extra-large, 6 large)
1/2 cup sugar
2 tsp. salt
1/2 cup canola oil
8 cups unbleached flour (more or less as needed)
1 egg yolk
1 Tbsp. water
Poppy seeds, Everything topping, sesame seeds (optional)
In the bowl of an electric mixer, dissolve the yeast in warm water with 1 teaspoon of the sugar. As soon as the yeast begins to bubble, in 5 to 10 minutes, add the eggs, sugar, salt and oil. Beat with the paddle attachment just until blended. Add the flour, 1 cup at a time until you have added 3 cups. Switch to a dough hook and continue to add the flour, 1 cup at a time, mixing until just blended after each addition.
Remove the dough from the bowl and place on a floured surface. Knead for 10 to 15 minutes until the dough is smooth and elastic. Form into a ball and place in a lightly oiled bowl. Turn the dough so that the oiled side is up and cover with a dishtowel.
Place the bowl in a warm place. I like to set the oven for 200 degrees, turn it off, open the door and place the bowl inside. Let the dough rise for two hours. Knead the dough very gently for 3 minutes, (at this point, add raisins, if you like), return it to the bowl, add a bit more oil to the bowl, if needed) cover and let rise for another hour.
Divide the dough into thirds and then each ball into thirds again. Roll out the pieces into ropes 12 to 14 inches long and braid each challah using three strands. Place the loaves on a separate parchment-lined cookie sheets Cover with plastic wrap (a towel is too heavy at this point) and let rise for 1 to 2 hours.
Mix the egg yolk and water and gently brush each challah. Sprinkle with poppy seeds, if desired.
Bake at 350 degrees 20 to 35 minutes (depends on size of challot) or until golden brown and 190 degrees in the middle of the loaf. Let cool a bit before cutting. Makes 3 loaves.
Whole Wheat Honey and Maple Challah
Makes the best French toast.
1/2 cup warm (110 degrees) water
2 packages or 2 Tbsp. yeast
2 Tbsp. dark brown sugar
3 to 4 cups whole wheat flour
1 to 2 cups white flour (flours should equal 5 cups total)
4 extra-large eggs PLUS 1 egg yolk
1/2 cup pure maple syrup
1/4 cup honey
1/2 cup Canola oil
1/8 to 1/4 cup light brown sugar
1 Tbsp. kosher salt, scant
1/4 tsp. pure vanilla extract
1-1/4 cups water
OPTIONAL: 1 cup raisins
Oatmeal, sesame or poppy seeds
Preheat the oven to barely 200 degrees, turn it off and leave the door closed.
Place the water, sugar and yeast in a small bowl. Stir and set aside to proof. Place the flours, using the lesser amounts to begin with, in the bowl of an electric mixer.
In another small bowl, mix the eggs, maple syrup, honey, oil, sugar, salt and vanilla. Add the water and mix. Slowly pour the liquid into the flours. Add the yeast mixture. Mix on low, using a dough hook. Increase speed and knead for 3 to 7 minutes, until smooth. Add more flour if the dough is too sticky or wet.
Turn out on a floured surface and knead until smooth, 7 to 15 minutes. Continue to add flour, a little at a time, if the dough is too sticky. Once it is smooth and elastic, form into a large ball. Oil the inside of a large bowl and place the dough in the bowl, seam side up. Turn, oiled side up, cover with a cloth and set in the warmed oven, with the door partially opened, to rise for 2 hours.
Deflate the dough, knead for 2 to 3 minutes and divide into 1 to 3 equal sized balls. Divide the balls into strands and braid as desired. Set on cookie sheets lined with parchment paper or sprinkled with corn meal or flour. Cover lightly with plastic wrap. Let rise in the warm oven for two hours.
Beat the egg yolk and add one teaspoon of water or honey. Brush the tops of the loaves and sprinkle with either oatmeal, poppy or sesame seeds. Bake at 350 degrees for 40 to 55 minutes or until golden and the internal temperature is 190 degrees. Makes 1 to 3 loaves, depending on the size you make.
6 to 7 cups flour
1/3 to 1/2 cup sugar
2 to 2-1/2 tsp. salt
2 envelopes yeast
1/4 cup Canola Oil
2 cups warm water, 110 degrees
2 extra-large or jumbo eggs or 3 large eggs
OPTIONAL: 1 egg for brushing on top; Sesame or poppy seeds
In the bowl of an electric mixer, mix 2 cups flour, sugar, salt and yeast. Gradually add the oil and water. Beat 2 minutes. Add the eggs and 1/2 cup of flour. Beat at high speed for two minutes. Change to a dough hook and add remaining flour, one half cup at a time, adding more as each is incorporated. Beat on low speed the whole time. Make sure dough is not sticky, but also not dry. You may need more or less flour.
Grease a large bowl. Form the dough into a ball and place in the bowl. Turn the oiled side up, cover with a damp towel, and refrigerate for 24 hours. Remove the dough, punch it down, cover again and return to the refrigerator for another 24 hours or up to 2 days more.
When ready to use, divide the dough into two loaves, divide each loaf into three strands, braid and place on a lightly greased baking sheet. Cover and let stand at room temperature for one hour. Brush with an additional beaten egg, sprinkle with poppy or sesame seeds and bake at 400 degrees for 20 to 30 minutes or until golden and 190 degrees internally. Makes two very large loaves.
Bread Machine Challah
This is a conglomerate of three machine recipes I tried. I liked some things from one and some things from the others, so this is what I came up with. So far, so good. Best with lots of Everything topping!
1 cup very warm water (110) degrees
1/2 cup Canola oil
3 extra-large eggs, plus 1 egg yolk
2 Tbsp. honey (generous)
4-1/2 to 5 cups bread flour
1-1/2 to 2 tsp. salt or sea salt
1/4 cup sugar
1 Tbsp. (scant) instant or bread machine yeast
1 egg yolk mixed with 1 Tbsp. cold water
Sesame seeds, poppy seeds or Everything topping
Place the water, oil, eggs, yolk, and honey, in the bread machine’s bread pan. Mix with a fork to break the yolks and mix a bit.
Add the flour, salt, sugar, and yeast and place the pan into the machine.
Set machine on “dough” setting. Let it rest for 15 minutes, knead for 20 minutes, and rise for 1-1/2 to 2 hours until doubled at least.
Remove the dough from the machine and place on a parchment lined, large rimmed baking sheet. Cover with plastic wrap and let rest /rise for 30 minutes.
Divide the dough and braid each half as desired, or make one large challah. Cover, and let rise in a warm place for 30 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Beat the remaining egg with 1 tsp. ice water in a small bowl. Brush gently over challah and sprinkle immediately with any topping of your choice. You can also leave this plain.
Bake on the parchment lined baking sheet for 30-35 minutes until deep golden brown. Makes 1 large or two smaller challot.
NOTE: You can substitute 1 cup of bread flour with one cup of whole wheat, white whole wheat, or regular flour. You can also use unbleached regular flour for this.
NOTE: You can make this a cinnamon raisin challah. Mix 1/3 cup sugar with 1 tsp. cinnamon (I love Vietnamese Cinnamon for its heat and sweetness). Gently stretch or roll out the dough into a large rectangle after the rise.
Sprinkle the surface (leave a 1-inch margin) with the cinnamon raison and roll up into a log. Let rest for 30 to 40 minutes. Cut into 3 to 6 pieces and the roll each piece into a strand for braiding. Braid as desired. Let rise for 40 minutes and brush with egg wash. Sprinkle with more cinnamon and sugar if desired. Bake according to directions above. Makes 1 or 2 loaves.