By Eileen Goltz
Sometimes, when time is short at the end of the week, I buy my challah. Please don’t judge me; I run out of time and it’s just, well, easier. Not necessarily tastier than homemade challah, just easier. Fast-forward to the holidays and, OMG, I have so many challos to make! Everyone who has to cook for 30 people, 12 times over a 4-week period, knows how it is—you just go buy the challah. However, all this being said, nothing beats homemade.
A challah, in its purest, no-additive form, is a sweetish golden brown braided or circular loaf of deliciousness. For me, making and baking challah is as much a religious experience as eating it. The mixing, kneading, and shaping (and taking challah) feed the creative side of me; the aroma while it’s baking and that first bite feed the rest of me.
While the basics of challah-making are often taught from parent to child, some of us had parents who only bought challah. I had to learn by trial and error, and I was taught by my dear friends Annette, Connie, and Julie. While I’m not as good as these balabustas, my pull-apart challah is pretty awesome.
So, for the holidays this year, I’m not giving you classic or traditional challah recipes. Rather, these are the extra-special challah recipes to serve on the holidays. I promise these are “everybody will love them, why didn’t I try them before?” challah recipes.
1 package of yeast is equal to 2¼ teaspoons
Regular or rapid-rise yeast taste the same. One just works faster than the other.
Measure your oil in your measuring cup first, and then use it for measuring honey (if you’re using it instead of sugar). The honey slides right out.
Instead of brushing on all the egg wash before you bake it, brush lightly to start, bake the challah for 20–25 minutes, quickly brush on the remaining egg wash, then return to the oven and bake for another 5 or 10 minutes until golden brown.
Cinnamon Apple Challah
Makes 1 or 2 challos depending on the size you make them.
1 packet rapid-rise yeast
⅓ cup honey
⅓ cup oil, plus more for the bowl
2 large eggs plus 1 large yolk
4¼ cups flour (bread flour is fine), more for dusting
2 tsp. cinnamon
1½ tsp. salt
2 Granny Smith apples peeled, cored, and cut into chunks
1 Tbsp. lemon juice
1 beaten egg (for wash)
In a bowl, combine the yeast and 1 teaspoon honey into ⅔ cup warm water. Let stand until the mixture starts to bubble. In the bowl of an electric mixer (use a dough hook, it will be weird at first but everything will combine) combine the yeast mixture, oil, remaining honey, eggs, and yolk. Slowly add 1 cup of flour and 1 teaspoon cinnamon. Mix to combine. Add the salt, mix, and then add the remaining flour. Continue to beat the dough for about 4–5 minutes. Place the dough in an oil-coated bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Let rise in a warm (but not hot) place for about 1 hour. It should be about twice the original size.
In a bowl, combine the apple chunks, 1 teaspoon cinnamon, and the lemon juice. Mix to coat.
Place the dough on a lightly floured surface. Press the dough into a long rectangle. Spoon two-thirds of apple chunks over the bottom of the long side of the rectangle. Fold the top half over the apples, press other half over the apple chunks, and press the dough down around the edges. Push the dough down around the chunks. Spread the remaining apples over half of the dough. Fold the dough over the top of these apples (yes, it will look weird). Gently press the sides together to form a seal. Gently press the dough together. You should have dough that looks like a lumpy square. Gently press the sides together and under to form a round. Place the dough in the bowl you just used (making sure there’s still some oil in it), and then place the dough on a floured surface and cut into three or four pieces (depending on the type of braid you want). Shape into long logs of dough (not too thin, and don’t worry if a piece of apple pops out, just stick it back in) and braid.
Place the dough on parchment paper-covered cookie sheet and brush the top with the half of the beaten egg. Preheat oven to 375°. Let challah rise 35–45 minutes. Brush with the remaining egg wash (you can sprinkle the top with sugar if you’d like). Bake for 40–45 minutes until golden brown.
You’ll need a really big-bowl electric mixer for this one or you’ll need to make it by hand.
Makes 3 challos
3 cups warm water
1 5-lb. bag bread flour
¼ cup yeast
2 cups oil
1 cup honey
1 cup sugar
1 Tbsp. vanilla
2 Tbsp. salt
1 cup chopped dried apricots
1 cup golden raisins
1 egg and 1 Tbsp. of water combined for wash
In the bowl of an electric mixer (with a bread hook), combine the 3 cups of warm water, 3 cups of flour (from the 5 pounds you are using), and the yeast. Mix to combine and let set for about 10 minutes. In another bowl combine the eggs, oil, honey, sugar, vanilla, and salt. Mix to combine then add this mixture to the yeast mixture. Mix well to combine. With the mixer running, add the flour, a cup at a time. When about two-thirds of the flour is added, take the bowl out of the mixer and add the raisins and apricots and remaining flour by hand. When the flour is totally incorporated, knead the dough by hand for 3–4 more minutes. Place the dough in a greased bowl and let the dough rise until twice its original size, 2–3 hours. Punch the dough down, then cut the dough into three pieces. Shape any way you like and then place them on parchment paper-covered cookie sheets. Let rise for 35–45 minutes. Brush the top with egg wash. Preheat oven to 325° and bake for 25–35 minutes or until golden brown.
Modified from yummly.com.
Pareve or dairy
Makes 1 challah
¾ cup water (you may need a bit more)
1 package rapid-rise yeast
5 Tbsp. sugar
¼ cup oil
3 cups flour
4 Tbsp. cocoa powder
½ cup chocolate chips (pareve or dairy)
1 egg beaten with 1 tsp. water for the egg wash
In a bowl, combine the water, yeast, and sugar. Let set for 10 minutes. Add the eggs and oil to the yeast mixture and mix to combine. In another bowl combine the remaining sugar, flour, and cocoa powder. Combine the two mixtures and gently mix to combine. You may need to add a bit more water if the dough is too stiff. Sprinkle a little flour on the counter or a board and knead for 3–5 minutes. Place the dough in a greased bowl and let rise in a warm place, covered, for about 2 hours (it should double in size).
Punch down the dough and add the chocolate chips. Knead to combine. Separate the dough into four strands for braiding (or you can make it into a round challah). Brush the egg wash on top. Preheat the oven to 350° and bake the challah for 25–30 minutes. Make sure you poke the chips into the dough so they don’t burn while it’s baking.
Modified from smittenkitchen.com
Extra-Special Holiday Challah Topping
Pareve or dairy
You can decorate your homemade or not-so-homemade challah with a little bit of a glaze and these terrific toppings. I love using almond extract as the liquid and toasted almonds on top.
approx. 1 cup powdered sugar
1–2 Tbsp. of orange juice, almond extract, non-dairy milk substitute, or water depending on how thick you like your topping
slivered almonds, toasted
chopped dried apricots (chopped small)
chopped golden raisins or dried cranberries
Mix 1 cup sugar with a few drops of liquid until it’s a thick, spreading consistency (be sure it’s not too thin). Use a spoon to drizzle the topping over the challah (don’t use too much). As soon as you drizzle the topping over the challah, gently sprinkle whatever topping you’re using over the challah and press it into the topping. Do this just an hour or so before serving. Don’t put the topping on and then try to freeze the challah. Covers 1–2 challos, depending on the size.
© Eileen Goltz
Eileen Goltz is a freelance kosher foods writer. She graduated from Indiana University and the Cordon Bleu Cooking School in Paris. She lectures on various food-related topics across the U.S. and Canada and writes columns for the CJN in Chicago, kosherscoop.com, and the OU Shabbat Shalom website, www.ou.org. She also wrote the Perfectly Pareve Cookbook (Feldheim).