International Recipes and Cooking Around the World

Challah

Challah (Jewish braided Sabbath bread)

(Israeli Jewish braided Sabbath bread)

Image Creative Commons by Rebecca Siegel

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Challah is the traditional bread that begins Sabbath meals in every observant Jewish home. These braided loaves are a symbol and reminder of the miraculous manna that fell from the heavens to feed the Israelites as they wandered in the desert. For Rosh Hashanah, a round challah is favored and symbolizes the cycle of the year.

Other possible spellings: hallah, khale, barches, berches, barkis, bergis, chałka, kitke.

1 loaf

Ingredients

  • Water -- 1/2 cup
  • Margarine -- 1/4 cup, or 4 tablespoons
  • Sugar -- 3 tablespoons
  • Salt -- 1 1/2 teaspoons
  • Active dry yeast -- 1 (1/4-ounce) package
  • Lukewarm (110°F) water -- 1/4 cup
  • All-purpose or bread flour -- 3 to 3 1/2 cups
  • Eggs, beaten -- 2
  • Egg yolks -- 2

Method

  1. Add the water, margarine, sugar and salt to a saucepan and heat, stirring until the margarine is melted and the sugar is dissolved. Remove from heat and set aside to cool to lukewarm.
  2. Mix the 1/4 cup warm water and yeast together in a small bowl and set aside for 5-10 minutes to activate the yeast.
  3. Add 3 cups of the flour to large mixing bowl. Make a well in the center of the flour and add the yeast mixture, warm sugar-margarine-water mixture and the beaten eggs. Stir with a wooden spoon to mix the ingredients and bring the dough together.
  4. Remove the dough to a floured work surface and knead, adding extra flour as needed until the dough is no longer sticking to your hands and is silky and elastic. Remove the dough to a large, lightly oiled bowl. Cover with a clean towel or plastic wrap and set in a warm corner until doubled in size, about 1 1/2 to 2 hours.
  5. Preheat oven to 375°F. Remove the dough to a lightly floured work surface and punch it down with your fists to deflate it. Cut the dough into 3 equal-sized portions. Roll each portion out into a log about 15 inches long that is tapered at each end.
  6. Lay the three logs next to each other, and starting in the middle, braid them together. Pinch the ends together to make them stick and tuck the ends under. Place the loaf on a baking sheet and cover it lightly with a clean towel. Set aside to rise for another 30 to 45 minutes
  7. Beat the egg yolks with a tablespoon of water. Brush the top of the challah all over with the egg yolk wash.
  8. Place the challah in the oven and bake for 20 minutes. Remove the challah and brush it again with more egg yolk wash to get any of the newly exposed places on the loaf. Return the loaf to the oven and bake for another 15 to 20 minutes, or until the challah is golden brown on top and has a hollow sound when you tap on it. Remove and cool before serving.

Challah Variations

  • Round "Turban" Challah for Rosh Hashanah: There are two ways to do it. For the simplest, start by rolling the dough into one long rope, tapered at both ends. Starting at one end, roll the dough into a spiral around itself, tucking the other end of the log under the loaf. This round challah will resemble a snail's shell. Set on the baking sheet and set aside for its second rise.
    The other option is to braid the loaf into a round using four ropes of dough instead of three. Here is a link to great illustrated instructions for braiding a round challah.
  • Raisin Challah: after portioning the dough into three balls (Step Five), roll each portion out into a rectangle 15 inches long and about 1/8 inch thick. Sprinkle each rectangle with a small handful of raisins. Then roll each up into a 15-inch long log. Roll between your hands to taper the logs at each end and proceed with the recipe.
  • Substitute whole wheat flour for some or all of the white flour. You may need to add a bit more water.
  • Use honey or molasses instead of sugar to sweeten your challah. You may need to cut back slightly on the water.
  • Sprinkle your loaf with poppyseeds, sesame seeds or kosher salt after brushing it with the eggwash..
  • A pareve challah will contain no dairy. But you can substitute butter for the margarine and milk for the water if you like.

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