Challah

For Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year, tradition calls for us to eat round challah vs. the typical braided loaves we enjoy the rest of the year. There are various reasons behind this tradition — the round loaf represents the cycle of life or the cyclical nature of the year, or a round loaf has no beginning or end and symbolizes our wish that the blessings of the new year have no end. There are other ideas out there as well and it’s interesting to look into the reasons, but for most of us, the tradition of eating round challah (or foigel) is something we did in our grandparents house or our family home and it’s part of the ritual of bringing in the new year. (This recipe can be shaped in a braid as well.)

This recipe makes two large loaves, but you can divide it into 3 or 4 if you’d prefer smaller challot. I’ve developed this recipe using quick-rise or instant yeast this year because the pandemic made it almost impossible to find anything else. A couple of tweaks to the ingredients and a method change has turned this into my favorite egg challah recipe ever. And the instant yeast means you can decide to bake fresh bread and have it on your table in a couple of hours.

Ingredients

  • 8 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (2 lbs 10 1/2 oz or 1.2 kg)
  • 4 tsp quick-rise or instant yeast
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 6 Tbsp sugar
  • 5 large eggs
  • 1/3 cup canola oil (or sunflower, safflower, grape seed or other light oil)
  • 2 cups tepid water

Glaze

  • 1 large egg
  • 1 Tbsp water

Add all of the dry ingredients to the bowl of a stand-mixer fit with a dough hook and mix briefly on low to mix together. Add the eggs, oil and water and mix on low until all of the ingredients are combined, then start kneading on medium for 6-8 minutes until the dough has formed a smooth ball that’s slightly tacky.

Scrape the dough out onto a lightly dusted counter. I typically cut the dough in half at this point, but you can leave it whole if you’d prefer.

Knead the dough for a minute or two, forming a smooth ball (or 2). Place each ball of dough into a lightly greased bowl, cover with plastic wrap or a damp towel and set aside for 10-15 minutes.

This is where the instant yeast is different from active dry yeast. Typically, I’d set the dough aside for about an hour, letting the dough double in size before shaping. With instant yeast, I set the dough aside for only 10-15 minutes, or until the dough has relaxed. It’s hard to shape yeast dough if it doesn’t sit and relax — acting like a rubber band and springing back when you roll it out or into ropes.

My way of testing the dough is to stick a finger right into the center:

When you pull your finger out, if the indentation remains in the dough without springing back, you’re good to go.

Cut the dough into 4 equal size pieces:

Roll each piece into a rope, trying to make them all the same length (or as close as possible):

Place two ropes on the counter next to each other, then fold one in half. Place a third rope of dough over the piece that is not folded over:

Unfold the rope so that it’s now OVER the third piece. Then fold back the first rope that had been straight in the first picture:

Unfold the rope so that all four are now flat and woven together:

Now braid every other rope over the rope to the right of it:

Then take each of the other four bottom pieces, and fold them over the piece to the left:

Do one more round, folding the bottom ropes over the pieces to the right of them and pinching the ends together:

Tuck each of the pinched sections underneath the challah and plump it up by gently pushing the sides in a bit. Transfer to a backing sheet lined with parchment paper and spray lightly with vegetable oil and cover loosely with plastic wrap.

I bake the challah at 350F, using convection. Without convection, you can bump up the temperature to 375F. Preheat the oven now.

Set the dough aside to rise. Depending on the temperature in the room, it may take 30-60 minutes to rise. It may not quite double in size, but it will be close and you’ll see that it’s puffed up quite a lot.

In a small bowl, whisk the glaze together and brush the glaze over the whole challah. You can bake it as it is or sprinkle it with sesame, poppy, pumpkin or sunflower seeds, course salt, everything bagel seasoning or any other topping you like.

Bake for 15 minutes, turn the pan and bake for another 15-25 minutes or until the challah is a dark, golden brown and when you tap the bottom of the loaf it sounds hollow.

Remove from the oven and cool.

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