The traditional Jewish bread Challah is definitely one of the most recognizable of the breads. It also happens to be delicious. Having not grown up in a Jewish household, my knowledge of the religious significance is thin. But as breads go, challah is one of the most versatile in my opinion. It’s sturdy, with a tight crumb, making it excellent for sandwiches or your morning toast. And it’s also spongy, so it makes some of the best French toast you’ll ever have. Since today is Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year) I thought I would share my challah recipe. (Please note, this is not an authentic recipe, as I am not Jewish. But as I said, it’s delicious!)
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The Jewish Challah Tradition
Challah is one of symbolic foods eaten at Rosh Hashanah (as well as Shabbat, and most holy days in the Jewish calendar, except Passover). During the ceremonies and dinners, the challah is sometimes dipped in honey, symbolic for the desire for sweet, and good things in the year to come. Challah is known by many as egg bread, since it does indeed contain eggs. The eggs are meant to represent the renewal of the life cycle and the potential for good things to grow/hatch in the new year. The classic braiding of challah represents and reminds us of three important concepts; The Creation of the World, the Exodus from Egypt and the Messianic Era. For high holidays the challah can also be braided into a circle.
Where I worked as a baker for many years, was in a neighbourhood that had a large Jewish community. Though our bakery was not kosher, a lot of these lovely folks would buy their challah each week from us. I learned a small amount about the breads symbolism from conversations there. But I also learned a few ways to make this awesome bread even more yummy.
You could make this dough by hand if you’re feeling up for it, but I use my stand mixer since this dough involves some long periods of kneading. I loved the concept of honey being a symbol for sweet things to come. So instead of traditional white sugar in my recipe, I use honey. This also means that when using this recipe for French toast, it has a natural caramel sweetness. The second big change that I made to the more traditional recipes came from a woman who would come into the bakery every week and made a point to chat with every employee she could.
She had the sweetest demeanour, and always had great stories to tell. She told me that her grandmother would use milk, butter and eggs in her challah. The idea being to use up any products that might go bad on Shabbat, when she wasn’t supposed to work. It would mark the end of her weeks chores, and allowed her to start fresh the next week. I loved that, and now incorporate milk or buttermilk, as well as butter in my challah.
I really hope you enjoy this challah recipe as much as I do. It’s a real favourite and treat in our house. And I’m sure once you try it, it will be in your house as well. To all of my Jewish readers, Shanah Tovah! And all the best in your new year.
- A Stand Mixer is Helpful
- 1 cup Warm Buttermilk
- 1/4 cup Honey
- 2 tsp Dry Active Yeast
- 4 1/2 cups Flour
- 1 tsp Salt
- 3 Eggs
- 1/4 cup Butter Room temperature
- Combine the warm buttermilk, honey and yeast in a bowl. Let stand for about 10 minutes until the yeast is active and frothy.
- Combine the flour and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer. Add the buttermilk mixture.
- Using a dough hook, on low speed, begin mixing the wet into the dry. After a minute of so, increase the speed to medium low (4 on my KitchenAid Mixer) and mix for about 2 minutes until a shaggy dough comes together.
- Add the eggs one at a time, allowing them to mix in almost fully between additions. Once the eggs are all in, allow the dough to mix for another 2-3 minutes. The dough will be a bit stiff looking now, and a bit dry looking. But it shouldn't be fully smooth dough yet.
- Cut the butter into 1/2" chunks. While the dough is mixing, begin adding the butter one cube at a time. Allow each piece to incorporate a bit before adding the next piece, until all the butter is in.
- Increase the mixer speed slightly, and mix for about 10-12 minutes. The finished dough should be smooth and springy.
- Cover in a bowl and allow to rise for about an hour.
- Once the dough is about double in size, remove it from the bowl onto a lightly floured work surface, and pat gently into a disc. It's time to divide and braid. Divide the dough disc into three equal pieces. You can eyeball this or you can use a scale.
- Roll the pieces into long strands, of equal length. I usually aim for about 18". Join one end of each piece together to be the start of the braid. Lift and cross the left hand piece over the center piece so that it becomes the center strand. Next, lift and cross the right hand piece over the new center piece (making it the new center piece).
- Continue crossing the outside pieces over the center piece, back and forth.
- Once you reach the ends of the strands, join them together and gently tuck them slightly under the loaf, just to keep them tight and together.
- Transfer your loaf (by lifting it from either end sort of like holding an accordion) onto a tray, that is lined with parchment paper and cornmeal. Cover loosely with plastic wrap, and allow to rise for 35-45 minutes. Heat your oven to 375F.
- It may not double in size, but it will be noticeably poofy and bigger. Brush the loaf generously with egg wash.
- Bake for about 35-40 minutes, rotating after about 20 minutes. The loaf is done when its a deep golden brown, shiny and hollow sounding when tapped.
- Remove from the oven and allow to cool on the tray for about 30 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely before slicing. Store in the fridge for up to 10 days. Challah also freezes well in a sealed bag. Tip: Slice it and freeze it in ziplock bags. For easy and fast French toast, just warm the slices you want in the microwave for 15seconds, before using.