Challah is a light and fluffy egg bread. It's a tradition to make a long braid of challah for the Jewish Sabbath meal. But for the Jewish New Year of Rosh Hashanah, the challah loaf is round, to symbolize the circular nature of the seasons. The bread is usually served apple slices that are dipped in honey, for a sweet New Year.
Making challah – or any yeast bread – isn’t hard. The hardest part of making a challah loaf is the braiding, and the circular braid can be somewhat confusing. So this Instructable will take you through the steps of making a round braided challah bread. It's simple once you know how!
This recipe makes two very large loaves or four medium sized ones. I usually make a variety of sizes to share with friends and relatives.
Step 1: Make the Challah Dough
There are many ways to make challah, but I always use my version of a recipe shared by Rabbi Jonathan Rubenstein, who makes and sells challah and other treats in the kitchen of Temple Sinai in Saratoga Springs, NY, under the name Bread & Torah. Rabbi Jonathan has welcomed my family and our homeschool group to come help make the weekly challah and learn about the traditions behind it.
I like to add some whole wheat flour into my challah. The result is a little more chewy than fluffy, but nowhere near as heavy as regular whole wheat bread, and a bit tastier than all white flour, in my opinion. However, you can use all white or vary the proportions, according to your taste. Also note, if you keep kosher, that this version contains dairy. You can easily substitute vegetable oil instead of butter.
What You'll Need
2 cups water
5 teaspoons yeast
1/3 cup honey
1/3 cup melted butter
1 teaspoon salt
2 cups whole wheat flour
4-6 cups white flour
- Heat up the water in the microwave or on the stove. It should be very warm to the touch but not scalding. Pour into a large bowl. Mix in the yeast and let sit for a few minutes. You should see the yeast start to bubble up -- this is called proofing the yeast.
- Beat three of the eggs and add them to the bowl, along with the honey, butter, and salt.
- Add the whole wheat flour and mix well with a large spoon. Then begin adding the white flour, one cup at a time, and mixing well. Keep adding flour until the dough is "just beyond sticky." It can be tempting to add just a little more flour to keep your hands clean, but resist the urge.
- When you're done adding flour -- or when the dough becomes too hard to mix in the bowl -- turn it out onto large cutting board or countertop dusted with flour. Knead the dough for several minutes until smooth. (To knead dough, press it into a flat disk, fold the disk over towards you, and give it a quarter turn. Press it flat again, fold it again, and rotate it again.) End by forming the dough into a ball.
- Grease the inside of a large bowl with a little more butter or oil. Place the ball of dough inside and roll it around until it is covered with butter. Then cover the bowl with a piece of plastic wrap or a damp dish towel and place in a warm spot. Let the dough rise until it is doubled in bulk, about an hour.
Step 2: Divide the Dough
When the dough is done rising, punch it down (literally!) in the bowl to get the air out. Then take it out of the bowl and put it on your cutting board or counter. With a large knife, divide the dough into two or more lumps, depending on how many loaves you want to make.
Take one lump of dough and flatten it out into a rough rectangle shape. With the knife, cut it into four long strands. Roll each strand out to the desired length and thickness. (The larger the loaf, the thicker and longer the strand.)
Step 3: Braid the Loaves
Now it's time to braid the round loaves. This part can be tricky, so check out the video to see how it's done!
- Arrange the strands like a tic-tac-toe board. Weave the strands so that they go over-under each other.
- Starting with the two strands pointing towards you, take the strand that is “under” and put it over the strand next to it. Continue around the loaf in the same direction.
- There are now two new strands sticking out from each side of your loaf. Take the new “under” strand and go around in the opposite direction, putting the “under” strand over its neighbor.
- Keep going, reversing direction each time, until the strands are two short to braid.
- Take one pair of strands that are pointing towards each other. Stretch them until they touch, then pinch them together. Do the same with the rest of the strands.
- Now take all the pinched-together ends and pull them up to form a bowl shape. Hold onto to them as you flip the loaf over, turning it inside out. You should have a perfect round dome of braided dough.
Step 4: Baking the Loaves
Take your braided loaves and place them on baking pans, leaving plenty of room around each one. Cover them with plastic wrap or dishcloths, place them in a warm spot, and let them rise a second time until doubled, about 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, heat the oven to 350 degrees.
When the loaves are done rising, beat the remaining egg with about a tablespoon of water. Using a pastry brush or wadded up piece of paper towel, paint the loaves with the egg glaze.
Place the baking pans with the loaves in the oven and bake for 30 to 35 minutes until golden brown. The loaves should sound hollow when you tap the bottom -- if not, pop them back in for another few minutes.
Let cool on cooling racks. Then slice or tear off a section of bread, spread with butter or honey, and enjoy!
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