So, challah is the best bread. That's all. Okay, well I love all bread, but nothing makes me happier than prepping challah for the challah-days. Get it? I made this recipe for last year's Feast Magazine's December magazine feature story: Happy Challah-Days. But I wanted to share it with you now for the New Year, Rosh Hashanah.
If you aren't familiar with challah it's a traditional Jewish bread and staple for most Jewish meals and holidays, minus those involving unleavened bread. It’s traditionally a white, plaited bread that’s broken to celebrate the Sabbath or holidays. This recipe is basic, but adds honey and rosemary to add wintry flavor to your holiday table. Or you can make it more exciting and instead of rosemary and salt, you can add other toppings. Add chocolate to make it a dessert loaf. Or other herbs for other flavors.
Tips on Ingredients:
Usually the better the ingredients, the better your food will taste. However, I do like to go over which ingredients that you should have the best quality for and the others are those that I think don’t need to be the highest quality. But again, if you don’t have access to high quality, it will still be delicious! I also let you know if a certain type or style is best.
These are the items that I have notes for, whether it’s to buy the best quality or if there are specific notes about that ingredients.
- Water: Water must be lukewarm in order to activate the yeast and your challah to rise. So, a good test to see if your water is lukewarm (not hot), is to run warm water on your wrist and it feels a little warmer than your body temperature (but again, not hot), then you are probably good! Or if you have a food thermometer, 105° F.
- Milk: A few things about the milk should be taken very seriously. 1) I have only used cow's milk for this recipe. You can of course try alternative milks, but I can't guarantee the same results. 2) Your milk must be room temp to activate the yeast. If it isn't room temp, it won't rise. If you forgot to leave the milk out to get room temp, go ahead and heat in 10 second intervals (up to 30 seconds total), checking the temp with your clean finger. Should be cooler than your body temp, but not cold. Or if you have a food thermometer, 68-72° F.
- Yeast: Yes, this must be within the expiration date. I've had a couple people ask if it's okay to use past that date. And nope, use only instant active within date yeast!
- Honey: It's important that your honey is in a very liquid form. If your honey has solidified and is in a glass jar, go ahead and heat a large pot of boiling water. Then remove it from the heat. Take the lid off your honey and place the jar in the water (do not cover above the lid of the jar with water). Stir the honey occasionally until smooth and liquid. This can take up to 45 minutes. Place lid back on honey and store. If it's in a plastic container you can try heating it in small intervals.
- Salt and Herbs: Like I mentioned above, you can switch up your herbs for different flavoring like thyme or oregano. But I do recommend a flakey salt for the top, like Maldon's. Or if you want to switch things up, you can make it sweet with chocolate chips or cinnamon sugar.
Best Tips and Knowledge to make the best possible challah:
These tips are helpful for when you are making the recipe. Outside of the tips for ingredients above, these are tips on how to do something or why what I’ve listed in the recipe is necessary.
- Stand Mixer: If you don't have a stand mixer, no problem. You can use a hand mixer with a dough hook. Or you can use a large wooden spoon and your hands to knead.
- Temperature of your kitchen: You want your kitchen to be the ideal room temp to make sure your dough rises well. So between 68-72° F. Or relatively close.
- Milk and water: Again just repeating here that the milk and water must be the temperature I have listed in the recipe. Above are the methods to get to those temperatures.
- Resting Yeast: Yes, you MUST follow the recipe specifically here and set a timer. If you don't let the yeast sit, it won't rise.
- Add-ins: If you are adding in something like seasoning (cinnamon) into the challah, do it at the start of step 2. Or if you want to add something in like chocolate chips into the dough, you'll want to do that at the end of step 2.
- Flouring Surface: Be sure your surface (whether wood, marble, plastic, metal) is one, large enough for the project. But two, is well floured. But be sure it's only around 1/4 cup of flour. You do not want to over add in flour.
- Rolling Dough: When you separate into 3 pieces, you can use a kitchen scale for exact weight, or just eyeball it if you don't have one. Roll the dough into even logs. Use the photos below to help you with the visual aspect.
- Slightly Stale Bread: If you don't eat it all right away, which would shock me, this makes for the best French Toast. If it is slightly stale, that makes for the best French Toast.
½ cup lukewarm water (about 105° F)
½ cup room-temperature milk (about 68-72° F), plus 1 Tbsp for egg wash
3 Tbsp granulated sugar
1 Tbsp instant dry yeast
¼ cup honey
⅓ cup olive oil, 2 Tbsp more for greasing bowl
4 cups all-purpose flour, ½ - 1 cup more for flouring surface
2 tsp salt
Egg wash and Toppings:
1 Tbsp water
1 tsp flakey salt
1 sprig rosemary
In the bowl of a stand mixer with the dough-hook attachment mix water, milk, and sugar. Then add yeast, lightly mix, and let sit for 5 minutes.
Next add honey, olive oil, 2 eggs, flour, and salt. Mix on low speed for about 1 minute. Increase speed to medium until dough forms a ball.
Lightly grease a large mixing bowl, and transfer dough to bowl. Lay a damp cloth/flour sack over top of bowl. Allow dough to rise at room temperature for about 1 hour. Just place the bowl on the counter.
Lay dough on a floured work surface. Divide dough into 3 separate pieces using a large knife or bench scraper. Roll each piece into a log, about 1½ inches wide and 12 inches long. Pinch top of each piece together, and seal, leaving the bottom ends untouched. Use these 3 pieces of dough to braid bread. At end of braid, cinch the ends together. Leave in a long loaf, or spin loaf into a circle.
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper; transfer loaf to sheet. Cover loaf with a damp towel. Let rise for another hour.
Preheat oven to 350°F.
In a small bowl, combine remaining egg and 1 tablespoon water to make an egg wash. Brush egg wash onto loaf, and sprinkle kosher salt and rosemary over top.
Transfer loaf to oven. Bake until golden brown, 40 to 50 minutes.
Remove from oven and let sit on the baking sheet for 5 minutes. Then transfer to a cooling rack before serving.