I’ve made challah baking a weekly tradition for more than a decade. Lately, I’ve begun experimenting with all kinds of toppings, including my specialty: onion, garlic, sesame seeds, poppy seeds and salt (yes, an everything challah). But the loaves I make for the High Holidays are special: simple and sweet — and filled with memories.
Yield: 2-3 loves
¾ cups sugar
2 cups lukewarm water
¾ cup canola oil
1 tablespoon salt (I use kosher salt)
3 large eggs (plus 1 for egg wash)
3 envelopes yeast (each envelope is equal to 2 ¼ teaspoons, so three envelopes is approximately 2 tablespoons plus ¾ teaspoon yeast)
¼ cup lukewarm water
8-10 cups bread flour
Heat oven to 350 degrees.
Combine sugar, 2 cups water, oil and salt. In a separate bowl, beat the eggs. Then add the eggs to the sugar mixture.
In a separate cup (I use a measuring cup), mix the yeast in ¼ cup water. Make sure the water is warm—not cold or hot. This allows the yeast to work properly — you’ll know it’s working if you see little bubbles on the surface. Then add the yeast mixture to the first mixture.
Add 4 or 5 cups of flour and mix well (I use a spoon for this part as it is too wet to mix by hand.) and gradually add 4 or 5 more cups of flour. By judging the feel, you will know how much more to add — if the mixture is sticky, add more flour; if it is dry and stringy, add a little water. At this point, it may be easier to mix with your hands than with a spoon.
Knead dough until fully incorporated (dough should form a ball and pull away from the sides of the bowl.
Take a clean bowl. Pour a little bit of oil on a paper towel and wipe it around the inside of the bowl. Place dough in the oiled bowl. Cover with a piece of wax paper and then a dish towel. Allow to sit and rise for 1 hour.
After the hour, punch down the dough, knead a little, cover it again and allow to rest for an additional ½ hour. This is the second rise.
After the second rise, remove the dough. Divide into two or three equal sections (depending on how many loaves you wish to bake.) Take one section and roll it into a rope.
There are many ways to shape the dough into a circle for the traditional High Holiday loaf. The easiest is to simply take the rope and coil it around and around, like you would a rag rug. Repeat with the remaining dough.
When you have finished shaping the loaves, place them onto a cookie sheet (allowing sufficient room for them to “grow” in the oven. Beat an egg into a small bowl. Take a pastry brush and brush the tops of the loaves. Then take honey and drizzle on top of the loaves.
Bake for 45-55 minutes. Warning: you may smell burning if the honey drips off of the loaf and onto the pan while the challah is baking. Just check it to make certain that the bread isn’t burning — just the honey. Don’t worry, the bread will still be amazing (and next time you bake it, don’t use as much honey).
Variation: For the holidays, I like to add raisins or cranberries into the challah. Once, I even found a dried cranberry and pomegranate mix.! To add fruit, simply press down the rope of dough to flatten. Add the mix-ins along the middle of the dough and then “close” the dough around the fruit so that it is fully encased in the dough. This prevents the raisins (or whatever you are using) from burning.
Meredith Jacobs is the vice president of communications for Jewish Women International (JWI). Used with permission from The Modern Jewish Mom’s Guide to Shabbat (HarperColllins).