Pumpkin Challah

Perfect for a Fall Shabbat.

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  1. Yield: 2 loaves
  2. Prep: 45 minutes
  3. Cook: 40 minutes
  4. Total: 4 hours, 25 minutes

I have never met a homemade challah I didn't like. There is something undeniably cozy and inviting about warm, fresh bread on the Shabbat table. Few other tastes can rival this. On the other hand, challah's ubiquitous appeal means that it's hard to find one loaf that stands out from the crowd. Enter: pumpkin challah.

With a heady mix of pureed winter squash, cinnamon, and cardamom braided into deep, strawberry-blond loaves, pumpkin challah is at once exotic and familiar to my Ashkenazic taste buds. A rare find, indeed.

In Maggie Glezer's indispensable baking book The Blessing of Bread she writes that pumpkin challah–a.k.a. pan de calabaza–is a Sephardic specialty imbued with deep meaning. Like other foods made with pumpkin, it represents the hope that God will protect the Jewish people just as the pumpkin's thick shell protects the flesh inside.

Sephardic Jews traditionally serve this bread during Rosh Hashanah, when eating auspicious, symbolic foods is especially popular. Still, it is equally delicious served on any cold autumn or winter Shabbat when the added heartiness and kick of spice can be fully appreciated. Needless to say, the leftovers make a spectacular base for challah French toast.


  1. 1/2 cup pureed pumpkin
  2. 3 3/4 cups unbleached flour
  3. 1/3 cups sugar
  4. 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  5. 2/3 cup warm water
  6. 1 egg (+1 egg for glaze)
  7. 1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
  8. 1 package yeast (7g)
  9. 1/4 cup canola oil
  10. 1 1/2 teaspoon salt


Sprinkle yeast into a small bowl and pour the warm water on it. Let stand for 10 minutes, then stir to dissolve.

Mix flour, cinnamon, and cardamom in a large bowl. Make a well in the center and pour in yeast/water mixture. Using a wooden spoon, incorporate some of the flour into the water–just enough to form a soft paste. (Don't try to completely incorporate–there should be quite a bit of dry flour left at this point.) Cover bowl with a towel and leave until frothy and risen, about 20 minutes.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the sugar, pumpkin, oil, egg, and salt. Add to the risen flour mixture and combine thoroughly. Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead for 5-10 minutes until the dough is pliable. (If it's too wet, keep adding flour in small amounts.)

Let dough rest 2-3 minutes. Meanwhile, lightly oil the bowl, put the dough in it and re-cover with the towel. Let dough rise in a warm place until it has tripled in size, 2-3 hours. Punch down dough, knead it a bit more, and cut it into two equal pieces. Cut each of the two pieces into three equal pieces (You should have 6 total pieces at this point). Roll each piece into a straight rope. Braid three ropes together and repeat so that you end up with two braided loaves.

Sprinkle baking sheets with a little cornmeal, or line them with parchment paper. Place loaves on the sheets, cover, and let rise until doubled in size, about 40 minutes. Glaze loaves with extra beaten egg. Bake at 350F for about 20 minutes, or until golden brown.

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Leah Koenig is a writer and cookbook author whose work has been published in The New York Times Magazine, Saveur, CHOW, Food Arts, Tablet, Gastronomica, and Every Day with Rachael Ray. Leah writes a monthly food column for The Forward and a bimonthly column for Saveur.com called “One Ingredient, Many Ways.” She is the former Editor-in-Chief of the award-winning blog, The Jew & The Carrot, and she is a frequent contributor to MyJewishLearning.com, where her recipes are very popular, and highly praised. Her first cookbook, The Hadassah Everyday Cookbook: Daily Meals for the Contemporary Jewish Kitchen, was published by Rizzoli in 2011. The book was named one of the “Best Books of 2011? by Library Journal and The Kitchn called it “a big, beautiful book that is also down-to-earth and completely accessible.”

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