Challah is one of the most iconic Jewish dishes. Recognizable by its fluffy braids and sweet, delicious taste, it is much beloved by Jews and non-Jews alike. During the Jewish High Holidays, it is traditional to make challah into a round shape, as a reminder of the never-ending cycle of life.
And we recently had the chance to visit New York City’s famous Breads Bakery, owned by Israelis Uri Scheft and Gadi Peleg, to get an expert lesson from one of their head bakers on how to make beautiful, festive challah for Rosh Hashanah. You can even bake oven-safe bowls right into the bread to serve honey for the New Year or other dips to accompany the challah.
You can use these braiding and decorating techniques for any challah recipe you like, or also try your hand at Uri’s recipe below.
How to Braid and Decorate Challah
For the dough:
6 cups (800 grams) sifted white wheat flour
1⁄4 cup (60 grams) sunflower seed oil, corn oil or melted butter
1 1⁄2 cups (320 grams) water
6 tbsp (80 grams) sugar
3 tbsp 30 grams) fresh yeast
1 tbsp (12 grams) salt
For glaze and topping:
1 egg, beaten
Sesame, poppy seeds, nigella, pumpkn and flax seeds
Pour water into kneading bowl and crumble yeast into the water. Add these ingredients in following order: flour, eggs, sugar, salt, oil.
Using a dough hook, mix on low speed for 4 minutes to combine ingredients. Increase to medium speed and knead for another 5 minutes until a soft, smooth dough is formed.
Remove dough to a slightly floured work surface, and roll into a ball.
Place ball of dough in a lightly floured bowl. Cover bowl with kitchen towel or plastic wrap and let rise for 40 minutes, or until almost double in volume.
Divide dough (using a knife or dough cutter) into 3 equal parts, and divide each part into 3. Roll each part into a 25 cm-long cylinder.
Braid each three cylinders.
Place the three braided Challahs on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Cover the Challahs with a kitchen towel and let rise for about 35 minutes
With 15 minutes left until proofing is complete, preheat oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit.
Once the Challahs have doubled in volume, gently brush the challah with beaten egg and generously.
Sprinkle with sesame, poppy, nigella, pumpkin and flax seeds if desired.
Bake for approximately 25 minutes, until golden-brown. Remove from oven and cool on rack.
Pronounced: KHAH-luh, Origin: Hebrew, ceremonial bread eaten on Shabbat and Jewish holidays.