This past week, Jews celebrated the start of the year 5778 as well as the start of the month of Tishrei, or head of the year. The month of Tishrei is a time we usually refer to as the High Holidays, which includes Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Sukkot, and Simchat Torah/Shemini Atzeret. Many of the traditions, customs, and rituals are fairly well known, like dipping apples in honey and fasting on Yom Kippur. Others, like dancing with the Torah scrolls on Simchat Torah, usually aren’t referenced in sitcom jokes.
So you may notice, if you have visited any of your local bakeries recently, that there are large, swirling round loaves of bread filling the shelves where the long braided challahs tend to be. During Tishrei, we use the round challah to start meals to represent the roundness of the year. The Jewish calendar is cyclical and we love symbolic foods! During the High Holidays, we typically don’t eat sour or bitter foods, and instead of sprinkling salt on the challah, we pour honey over it to make the new year sweet.
You can, of course purchase your round challah from Crestline, Continental, or Whole Foods. And it will be good. But if you ALSO want bragging rights, then you gotta do it yourself! Plus, it’s pretty simple. And playing with dough is fun!
For the Birmingham baker, there are some fantastic honey varieties you should absolutely be using to make your Holiday challah. We have some local beekeepers that sell top-notch, completely delicious honey. Foxhound Bee Company’s raw honey is particularly good, City Bee makes a chili-infused honey for the adventurous eater. You can flavor your challah in any way, cinnamon raisin is a favorite around this time, but cheddar jalapeno challah or chocolate chip is also good. Is there a bad flavor, though?
If you want to know more about the bracha for challah making, you can find that and more on Jamie Geller’s blog, the time-honored authority on all things tasty and kosher.
- 2 packages instant or active dry yeast
- 2 cups warm water (you can touch it without burning your finger)
- ¼ cup sugar
- ⅓ cup honey
- 8-9 cups flour (if you have bread flour, cool. If not, cool.)
- 5 teaspoons salt
- 3 large eggs
- ½ cup vegetable or olive oil
- Stand-mixer with dough hook attachment or hand-held mixer with dough hook attachment or a good 8 minutes of patience to knead
- Parchment paper
- Basting/Pastry brush
- Put your yeast in the warm water. Add your honey to the water. Let it sit for about 6-10 minutes until the honey is somewhat dissolved and the yeast is nice and foamy at the top.
- Mix all of the dry ingredients in a large bowl. Add the yeast-water mix to the dry ingredients, give it a few stirs with a spatula, then get the bowl to your stand mixer and let the dough hook do it’s thing on a low setting for about 2 minutes. Add 2 eggs and 1 yolk, save the white for the wash. Add decent glug of oil, then let the mixer go for another 5 minutes, or until the dough has formed a supple ball that gives when you poke it. You should want to curl up on it and take a nap.
- Lightly oil a large bowl, ball up your dough and place it in the center of the bowl, and cover it with some oil. Place a towel over the bowl, or a plastic bag or cling wrap, and let it sit in a warm place for 2 hours or until it is double in size. Then punch it down and let it sit for another 30 minutes.
- On a floured surface, give the dough a quick and hearty kneading. Using a large sharp knife (or a pastry knife, but don’t go buy one just for this), cut the dough into two equal portions. Divide each portion into six equal portions. Roll out those portions into long, even ropes. Or snakes, as the kids call them, but most people don’t want to eat snakes.
- Put three ropes next to each other going vertically. You will place three ropes going horizontally, weaving them through the vertical ropes in an over-under-over pattern for the first rope, under-over-under for the second, and over-under-over for the third.
- Braid the tails of the ropes. Tuck them under the criss-crossed center area, round it out, and let it rest, covered while you repeat the process with the remainder of the dough.
- Mix the egg white with a splash of water, then using the pastry brush, cover the dough with the mixture. Bake at 450 degrees for about 45 minutes on a parchment paper-lined cookie sheet, flipping the sheet around halfway through baking.
- Remove from oven, let the loaves cool, slice, drizzle with honey, and enjoy! Just be sure to save some slices to make french toast the next day.