challah

Challah

This might be the worst week to be posting a recipe. From where I sit in the living room, I look over to the kitchen – a kitchen I’ll approach only tonight to make an easy weeknight dinner. We’ll feast on shrimp and roasted broccoli night per Andrew’s request. It’s a regular in our house.

Normally, my way of dealing with deadlines is to do a deep dive into the work and disappear in it all together. Sometimes I find myself at two o’clock in the afternoon still wearing my pajamas while typing furiously. The look of me, yet-to-shower, hair in a messy bun, glasses on the tip of my nose – is definitely not bringing sexy back, that’s for sure. But I get work done and by the time Andrew gets home – I somewhat try to pull it together, and by that I mean, yoga pants are my best friend right now.

 

But since Rosh Hashanah is around the corner, I had to share this with you. There’s challah at stake. And challah is not a trifling matter.

I got obsessed (and I mean obsessed) with getting challah right around a month ago. I got to thinking that there were no set culinary Rosh Hashanah traditions in my family. While we’ve certainly sat down for a festive meal in the past and did the obligatory apples and honey (note to self: that snack isn’t just for RH!), we didn’t have a traditional meal. There was no family brisket, no apple spice cake (now remedied), and certainly no challah.

And on the eve of Rosh Hashanah, I got completely obsessed with perfecting a recipe for challah. I tested so many batches that I lost count. Nothing quite made me leap out of my seat and proclaim that this will be the challah that will be baked in this here household. I found some of the versions too doughy, too heavy, too chewy, too dry. I wanted lightness – I wanted my challah to be faintly sweet, and taste like an eggy cloud – airy and uplifting. I knew, I just knew that this could be possible.

 

I played around with liquids: the amounts, the types; the eggs and egg yolks; the oils; the sugars. Inspired by Melissa’s focaccia, I even made a rosemary one, studded with concord grapes. While the idea sounded genius in my head, the challah turned out rather disappointing. Undaunted, I moved on, to other recipes and versions.

And after all my baking adventures, it was, in the end, Melissa to save my challah-baking day. Upon hearing stories of non-stop defeat in challah world, she pulled out a gem of a recipe for me from one of her baking books (I think it was a bread machine book of sorts).

The recipe was straightforward. Or rather, by the time you bake a dozen different challahs, it read as straightforward to me. Except it used orange juice in place of water to activate your yeast! Genius really, if you think about it. Yeast needs a little sugar to start growing, which is why I add a spoonful of honey to my water when I start the yeast. But orange juice is loaded with sugar, so it’s like a built-in activating bath for yeast to start doing its yeasty thing.

 

Because the recipe was made for a bread machine, I had to adjust it for a handmade version. Having, by then, baked a dozen braided loafs, that was the easy part. But that got me started on thinking about pounds of flour I’d used in testing the recipe, which made me reach for my trusty calculator (nerd!) and do some basic number-crunching. Fifteen pounds. Fifteen pounds, people. Doesn’t that just make your pulse quicken? That’s almost how much flour I used in testing the challah recipe. [King Arthur flour – you’re welcome for my financial contribution – I’m glad to support you any chance I get.]

To be more succinct in sharing what I learned in this whole process, which by the way, was way fun, I’ve compiled a numbered list for you all. Here are my tips that I’ve learned in my quest for the perfect challah.

 

1. I prefer using honey to sugar. Not only does it add extra moisture to my bread, but it imparts a lovely honey note to the dough. Plus, honey on Rosh Hashana is kind of a must.

2. Orange juice is genius genius genius. Next version I bake, I’m going to try apple cider – the unfiltered good stuff I get from my local apple farmer. Apples and honey? Sign me up.

3. Vegetable oil, generally used in making challah, makes me yawn. I’ve yet to find vegetable oil that makes me leap out in jubilation. I went with olive oil and loved the slightly herbal note it imparted to my bread.

4. Six braids or three? In the end – I went with three. Yes, the six-braided version will look formidable rising on your baking pan, but the three-braided one looked the same to me upon baking. It is possible, though, that I’m blind.

5. Baking stone (pizza stone) or a baking sheet? I found that I couldn’t quite catch the challah at the right baking time on the pizza stone. It managed to get really hot. I prefer to use those Chicago Metallic jellyroll pans – they do lovely things for my bread. If you do go with a pizza stone, do adjust your baking time accordingly.

6. My oven runs HOT! So my baking time is adjusted for that. For all you normal folks out there, I suggest increasing the baking time by 5 minutes and then checking to see how you’re doing. You’re looking for a rich, amber golden crust.

7. I soaked my raisins in the past, but they yielded too much moisture for my bread. Now I just make sure my raisins are plump and haven’t dried out. I throw them in the bread and the results are beautiful.

8. Mixer versus kneading by hand. I am a knead-by-hand girl through and through. It’s strangely meditative and relaxing. You simply cannot mess it up and it gives you a really good feel for what the dough should feel like and when it’s ready to be braided. By the way, no matter how many instructions I give you, the only way to truly know is to make a few loaves.

9. The three rises – if you can give your bread an overnight 3rd rise in the refrigerator – by all means do it – your bread will be that much tastier the following day when it bakes. For all of us with limited fridge space and crazy unpredictable schedules, just allow for the 3rd rise to be generous – about 45 minutes to an hour.

10. Egg wash is important – I do it twice. First time right after I’ve shaped my bread and gave it an egg wash before the 3rd rise. And the second egg wash comes right before you stick your challah in the oven.

So at the risk of leaving you all here in an awkward fashion – gotta run! Work beckons and those deadlines just refuse to budge! Happy baking!

Challah
I hope that everyone celebrating Rosh Hashanah has a beautiful, sweet holiday. And those who don’t – go ahead and make this challah anyway, it’s delicious. And you don’t have to take my word for it – the winning batch I shared with Melissa – she thought it was excellent too!

1 packet (3/4 oz/7.5 g) active dry yeast
1/2 cup (120 ml) fresh orange juice or unfiltered apple cider, warmed to lukewarm
1/3 cup (80 ml) extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for greasing the bowl
2 large eggs, at room temperature
2 large egg yolks, at room temperature
1/3 cup (80 ml) mild honey or maple syrup
1 teaspoon kosher salt
4 cups (500 g) all-purpose flour, plus more for kneading the dough
1/3 cup raisins (optional)

 

1. In a large bowl, combine the orange juice and 1/4 cup (60 ml) lukewarm water and sprinkle the yeast over it. Let stand 5 minutes – the yeast will get frothy. Stir with a fork.

2. Whisk the oil into the yeast mixture, then whisk in 1 egg, then both of the yolks, one at a time, honey, and salt. Stir until everything is well incorporated.

3. Add the flour and mix using a large spoon until the dough starts to come together in a shaggy, sticky mass. Put the spoon down and knead the dough by hand until it becomes a sticky, singular lump. Sprinkle with more flour and continue knead until the dough is smooth and very slightly stick (but not tacky), 5-10 minutes. [You can also knead the dough on a lightly floured counter, but that just means you have one additional thing to clean. The dough should be smooth, elastic, and soft. If your dough is elastic and somewhat tough, you’ve added too much flour.]

4. Place the dough onto a place or a cutting board and clean out the mixing bowl, making sure to dry it thoroughly. Oil the bowl, and lightly oil the dough (remember to oil the bottom, too). Place the dough inside the bowl, cover with a clean kitchen towel, and let rise for 1 hour, in a warm place, or until the dough has doubled inside the bowl. Using your knuckles, press down the dough, cover, and allow to rise another 1/2 hour. [You can also let the second rise occur over 12-18 hour period in the refrigerator. It should give your resulting challah a richer, more complex taste.]

5. Knead the raisins, if using, into the dough, and divide the dough into 3 equal parts. Roll out each part into a 12-inch long rope, being careful to keep the ropes uniform in girth. Pinch the top of the ropes together and tightly braid them until you reach the end. For a round challah, traditional on Rosh Hashanah, bring the ends together to form a round, braided loaf.

6. Make an egg glaze, by beating the remaining egg with 1 tablespoon of water. Brush the loaf all over and allow the loaf to rise another 45 minutes, uncovered. While the challah is rising for the 3rd time, preheat the oven to 375 degrees F with the rack positioned in the middle. Gently, as not to deflate the dough, brush a second coat of the egg wash over the loaf. Bake challah, until a rich golden brown 35 to 45 minutes (I had to start checking after 25 – mine took 27 minutes). What you’re looking for is a smell of baked bread. You’ll know what I mean the first time around. That will be your first clue to check on your bread. Keep smelling. Once baked, remove to a wire rack an cool completely before serving.

Makes 1 loaf

43 Comments

  • Lena

    Yay!!! I am so excited to try this, I have been making challah for a while now but I still havent found that sweet spot … they always come out fine but usually they taste like giant bagels instead of the soft light challah magic I am looking for. Can’t wait to try it!

  • Molly

    The orange juice is reminding me of an apple cake recipe I enjoy — I think it’s from Joan Nathan — which includes both oj and vegetable oil. At least for that recipe, I think those two ingredients are used because they are both parve and add a sweetness that otherwise would require dairy products, like milk and butter.

    Your challah is absolutely gorgeous, but I know I’m not going to shake that rosemary and concord grape idea. It just sounds so good!

  • Radish

    Molly – I’ll play with it some more down the road (rosemary and concord grapes, which btw, are such a pain to pit!) – but my one bit of advice, if you do go down that path – go really light on rosemary :) and I think i would roast the grapes first – to dry them out a bit. Makes sense?

  • Molly

    That makes perfect sense to me. I can almost see a smooshy mess of grapes on my counter post-seeding for this recipe if I didn’t roast. That must be why there are so many sorbet and jam recipes for those darn grapes! Good call on going light on the rosemary; it’s a nice herb which people tend to go overboard on. Right now, I’m leaning towards a pie with my grapes. The recipe I have in mind calls for my trusty food mill, which takes the annoyance out of the process, but makes the fruit into a pulp. Looking forward to reading about your future challah discoveries.

  • Radish

    Molly – I would buy a food mill this second, if only we didn’t register for it, and now I must exercise patience. Le sigh.

  • Hannah

    What an amazing list of tips! Thank you you for sharing. I love your OJ inspiration and will also be trying your idea for apple cider when I bake challah this week for Rosh Hashanah.

    Wishing you a sweet New Year!

  • Gretchen @ flowercityfoodie.com

    I adore this sentence: “But orange juice is loaded with sugar, so it’s like a built in activating bath for yeast to start doing its yeasty thing.” I’ve got to share this with my sister (she has a MS in Microbiology)–she’ll love this.

  • EB

    I have a Jewish friend that went on the same challah war-path recently. Let me just say that challah-fails are still 9x tastier than most other bread fails. Nicely done on your gorgeous recipe!

    Happy New Year!

  • Carrie

    Hey! Love your blog. Just wanted to let you know that I believe “on the heels of” means “immediately following,” not “preceding.” :)

  • Radish

    Carrie – thank you for pointing that out. I meant “EVE” not “HEELS”. This is what happens when only 1 set of eyes proof-reads. Thank you!

  • Tamara

    I found your blog a few weeks ago and just wanted to say hello ~ this recipe looks fabulous! I’ve done a few batches of challah already for rosh hashanah (flour count for me: 10 pounds so far!) and my recipe is fine but I’ve been looking for something a bit different. I will bookmark this for next time!

    Shana tova to you!
    Tamara

  • Radish

    Tamara – thanks for saying hi! Hi back! Shana Tovah! Here’s to pounds of flour in search of good bread!

  • Laura

    I made this and it turned out super great! I ended up using tangerines for the juice instead of orange and it was aromatic and tasty. The best challah my parents had ever had!
    Thank you and it was so inspiring to begin with, which was one impetus to make it!
    <3

  • Radish

    Laura – so so glad you’re happy with it. Yes, tangerine juice is wonderful too – and so aromatic! Happy New Year to you and your family.

  • Deena

    You speak the truth — this really was the best challah I’ve made. I omitted the raisins, and shafted it on the final rise because I was in a rush, but other than that followed the recipe. Thanks for such a delicious taste of tradition for the New Year!

  • Tamara

    Can I ask, re: the round braid: do you just literally braid the dough in three and just simply twist it around to make it round? Is it that easy? I’ve done long braids, and I make it in a round coil for rosh hashanah, but I’ve never done a round braid. It looks so pretty.

  • Tamara

    Thank you! And I’m sure you read it already, but I saw Deb at Smitten Kitchen posted a weaving method that looks kind of doable too…we shall see. :)

  • Radish

    Tamara – I did see it. I actually had learned that method 2 nights before Deb’s post went up from a friend. Love that method.

  • addy moss

    I also wear yoga pants while cooking but unfortunately i cant cook like you.Recently i started reading your posts and my cooking improved slightly.I hope to do better with this Challah.

  • Radish

    Addy – you will soon! Thank you for reading, and I’m glad my recipes are helping along – that is the whole point :)

  • Megan Gordon

    I’ve never baked challah and always wanted to….not sure what my excuse is. My dad’s side of the family is Jewish, and my grandmother always had it around but she bought it. Maybe in her honor, I’ll tackle this recipe. Thanks for the inspiration, Olga!

  • Susan Winter

    I am definitely going to try this recipe. I have heard Challah bread is a good base for bread pudding and I am having a hard time finding a good one in my area to purchase.

  • Nancy

    Sorry to only just get on this train about 5 years later but I have been searching and searching for a great challah recipe, I stumbled upon this one about a month ago and I love it! Just wanted to say thanks!

  • Olga @ MangoTomato

    Success!! I’m actually eating the leftover challah for breakfast with white fish salad as I’m typing this!!!
    I think the challah is even better the second day.
    Thanks for such a great recipe and all your instagram help ;)

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