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Jewish Journal

All you knead for a bounty of challah

by Judy Zeidler

September 5, 2012 | 11:10 am

Photo by Dan Kacvinski

Photo by Dan Kacvinski

Dipping freshly baked challah in honey is a tradition observed during the holiday of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. This act combines the Shabbat bread with hopes for a sweet New Year.

The custom is to serve a round or spiral-shaped challah, one of the symbolic foods eaten during Rosh Hashanah. Typical is the challah baked in a circle to signify the desire for a long life, peace and universal redemption. Another type of challah is made in the shape of a crown, braided and twisted into a circle and topped by a smaller circle, symbolizing the ascent to heaven.

Middle Eastern Jews add saffron and raisins to make the bread special for the holiday. Because carrots were one of the few sweet-tasting vegetables accessible to Eastern European Jews, they became a substitute for the candied pumpkin and squash often eaten during the holiday.

Another concept is a break-apart challah. The dough is divided into several parts, shaped into small rounds and placed together in a greased round or loaf pan. Next, it is oiled lightly, left to rise, then brushed with egg and sprinkled with poppy seeds before baking. After this challah is baked, it will break apart easily and be ready to dip in honey.

A round braided challah filled with apples, pears or quince, representing the harvest, is an Italian custom and is included in the recipes that follow.

Potato challah, usually associated with times of grain shortages or a need for economy in the kitchen, was made by Russian and Polish Jews during the Jewish New Year. And for those who could not afford to bake cakes for Rosh Hashanah, there was the delicious bolas, made in Spain from sweetened challah dough, filled with candied orange peel and raisins, rolled into loaves, sliced and baked.

Although challah is easily bought at the bakery, many families are discovering the joy of making it at home. This tradition is important especially during holidays in which it has special meaning. There is pleasure and satisfaction in baking it yourself, and what better way to celebrate the holiday than with the aroma of freshly baked bread. Be sure to reserve some dough for small individual challahs, which will be a special treat for the children. Make it a family project, and allow them to braid and bake their own. 


Rosh Hashanah round braided challah

1 package active dry yeast
1  1/2 cups warm water (110-115 F)
Pinch sugar
3 eggs
1/3 cup honey
1/2 cup unsalted butter or nondairy margarine, melted
1/8 teaspoon ground saffron (optional)
2 tablespoons brandy
5 to 6 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon salt
1 cup raisins, plumped
Cornmeal
1 egg white, lightly beaten
2 tablespoons sesame seeds
 
Dissolve yeast in 1/2 cup warm water and  sugar. Beat together eggs, honey and melted butter in a large mixing bowl. Add the remaining 1 cup warm water, saffron and brandy, and blend well. Blend in the yeast mixture. Add flour, 1 cup at a time with salt, blending with a beater after each addition, until the dough is thick enough to work by hand. Spoon it out onto a floured board and knead for 5 to 10 minutes, gradually incorporating the raisins and enough additional flour to make a smooth and elastic dough. Place dough in an oiled bowl and oil top of dough. Cover loosely with a clean towel and let rise in a warm place until doubled in size, about 1  1/2 hours.

Punch down dough and divide into 3 equal parts. Form each one into a rope about 26 inches long. Braid the ropes together and seal the ends by pinching.

Line a large heavy baking sheet with foil or a silicone baking mat. Oil the foil and sprinkle it with cornmeal. Remove the label and wash an empty 16-ounce can; oil its outside and place it in the center of the baking sheet, open end up. Transfer the challah to the baking sheet, forming it into a ring around the can; join and pinch together the ends of the braid. Cover dough with a towel and let it rise in a warm place until doubled, about 40 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 350 F.

Brush the challah with beaten egg white and sprinkle with sesame seeds. Bake for 30 to 40 minutes until golden brown. Cool on a rack.

Serve the challah on a circular tray and set a bowl of honey in the center. Serve with sliced apples for dipping.

Makes 1 challah.

Apple-filled egg challah

1 package active dry yeast
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon coarse kosher salt
4 to 5 cups flour
1 cup warm water (110-115 F)
6 egg yolks
1/4 cup oil
1/4 cup unsalted butter or nondairy margarine, melted
3 apples, peeled, cored and diced
Honey
Cinnamon
1 egg yolk beaten with 1 teaspoon water
Cinnamon sugar
 
Combine yeast, sugar, salt and 2 cups flour in a bowl. Add warm water and mix well. Blend in 6 egg yolks and oil. Add remaining flour, mixing in 1 cup at a time, adding enough to make soft dough. Gather dough into a ball. Place dough on floured surface and knead 5 to 10 minutes, or until dough is smooth and elastic, adding more flour if needed. Shape dough into a smooth ball, place in an oiled bowl and oil top of dough. Cover loosely with a clean towel and let rise in a warm place until doubled in size, about 1  1/2 hours.

Punch down dough and divide into 3 equal parts. Roll each part into a rectangle. Brush with half of melted butter, top with apples, honey and cinnamon as desired. Roll each rectangle into a long rope. Braid the ropes together and seal the ends by pinching. Form braid into a ring on greased baking sheet and seal ends. Cover dough with a towel and let rise in a warm place for about 45 minutes. 

Preheat the oven to 350 F.

Brush the dough with remaining melted butter and egg yolk-wash, then sprinkle with cinnamon sugar.

Bake for 30 to 45 minutes. Cool on a rack.

Makes 1 challah.


Potato challah

This challah originated in Eastern Europe, and unlike usual sweet challah, this crusty challah has a robust sourdough taste. A heavy texture makes the bread moist, so it keeps fresh longer.
 
3 large red or white potatoes, unpeeled
1/4 cup unsalted butter or nondairy margarine, melted
2 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons kosher salt
2 packages active dry yeast
1/3 cup warm water (110-115 F)
Pinch sugar
4 eggs
5 cups flour
Cornmeal
Poppy seeds
 
Boil potatoes in water to cover until tender. Drain, reserving 3/4 cup water. Peel and mash potatoes. Combine potatoes and reserved water.

Transfer to the bowl of an electric mixer, add the melted butter, 2 tablespoons sugar and salt and mix well.

Dissolve yeast in 1/3 cup warm water and a pinch of sugar. Add to potato mixture and blend well. Blend in 3 eggs.

Add flour, 1 cup at a time, blending to make soft dough. Place dough on floured board and knead until smooth, 5 to 10 minutes. Place dough in oiled bowl and oil top of dough. Cover loosely with a clean towel and let rise in a warm place until doubled in size, about 1  1/2 hours. Roll dough between palms into a long, thick rope. Brush foil-lined baking sheet with oil and sprinkle with cornmeal. Place rope of dough on cornmeal, coil it like a snail, starting from center and working outward. Tuck end under. Cover dough with a towel and let rise until doubled in size, about 1 hour.

Preheat the oven to 400 F.

Beat remaining 1 egg and brush it on the top of the challah. Sprinkle with poppy seeds.

Bake for 10 minutes. Reduce heat to 325 F and bake an additional 20 to 30 minutes, or until golden brown. Pierce loaf several times with a large needle to allow any air to escape. Cool on a rack.

Makes 1 challah.

Food-processor raisin challah

1 package active dry yeast
3/4 cup warm water (110-115 F)
3 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon sugar
3  1/2 cups unbleached flour
1 teaspoon salt
2 eggs plus 1 egg yolk
1/3 cup oil
1/2 cup raisins, plumped
Poppy seeds
 
Dissolve yeast in 1/2 cup warm water, with 1 teaspoon sugar.

Place 3 cups flour, remaining 3 tablespoons sugar and salt in food processor fitted with knife blade. Pour in yeast mixture and process 12 seconds. While machine is running, add 2 eggs and oil through feed tube and process until blended, about 10 seconds. Add remaining 1/4 cup warm water and process until well blended.

Turn dough out on floured board and knead remaining 1/2 cup flour with raisins into dough until smooth and elastic, about 5 minutes. Place dough in a large oiled bowl and oil top of dough. Cover with a clean towel and let rise in warm place until doubled in size, about 1  1/2 hours.

Preheat oven to 350 F.

Divide dough into 4 equal portions. Form 3 portions into ropes and braid. Join ends and seal to make round challah. Divide remaining portion into 3 small ropes and form small braid. Place smaller braid on top of large round braided challah. Pinch in several places to join the two braids.

For miniature challah rolls, divide dough into 36 equal portions. Shape each portion into thin ropes. Starting in center, coil each rope and tuck ends under. Brush with egg yolk. Sprinkle with poppy seeds.

Bake for 20 to 30 minutes for round challah or 15 to 20 minutes for miniature challah rolls, or until golden brown and crusty.

Makes 1 round challah or 36 miniature challah rolls.


Bolas

Raisin Challah dough (see recipe above)
1/2 cup unsalted butter or nondairy margarine, melted
1 cup brown sugar, packed
1/2 cup candied orange peel
1/2 cup raisins, plumped
1 cup chopped walnuts or pecans
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon or ginger
1 egg, lightly beaten
 
Roll challah dough on floured board into a rectangle, about 1/4-inch thick. Brush generously with some of melted butter. Sprinkle with brown sugar, candied orange peel, raisins, walnuts and cinnamon. Drizzle on remaining butter. Roll jellyroll fashion. Slice into 1-inch pieces.

Brush a foil-lined jellyroll pan with butter. Place slices on pan. Cover with a clean towel. Let rise in warm place, about 30 minutes. Brush with beaten egg.

Preheat oven to 350 F.

Bake 20 to 30 minutes, or until golden brown.

Makes 24 bolas.

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