Shanah Tova everyone! Tonight is the first night of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. Get your shofars out and ring in the year 5778. An interesting fact about the Jewish calendar is that it is lunar based, which is why the holidays fall on different days every year. I remember when Hanukkah fell on the same day as Thanksgiving (appropriately renamed Thanksgivingukkah) and it was an incredible feast. Turkey and latkes? I might just do that every year and no one can stop me.
Rosh Hashanah is the first of the Jewish high holidays and usually falls in the month Tishri, which roughly corresponds to September or October. And what’s a holiday without some symbolic food? During Rosh Hashanah, to wish for a sweet and happy new year, we dip apples in honey—for the record, I’m still trying to consume the apples from my apple-picking outing, so I will be eating lots of apples and honey. Good thing apples are good for you!
We also eat traditional foods like challah, which symbolizes the circle of life. If you’ve had challah before, you know it makes the ultimate French toast. All other breads pale in comparison to the superb quality of challah French toast. Challah is sweet, fluffy, and airy. To celebrate tonight’s high holy day, I took a crack at making this traditional bread, adapting the recipe from Bon Appétit.
Challah is way more complicated than I expected and is time consuming to make, so if you decide to bake some, make sure you have plenty of time (and patience). I had my lovely trusty friend Erin join me on the challah-making adventure and we had a lot of fun playing with the dough. The dough mixture was pretty sticky, but well-floured hands countered the stickiness. The most enjoyable part was braiding the challah. Since the recipe made two loaves, we each got a loaf. I had a brain-fart when braiding mine. For some reason I couldn’t remember the order to cross over the strands. Halfway through the bread my mind and my hands were on the same page. Huzzah! Two beautiful challah loaves.
The challah didn’t rise as much as we expected it to in the second phase, but it still came out with a beautiful golden color. It has a very aromatic sweetness to it that is very comforting. My apartment smelled wonderful all afternoon. The crumb of the bread (the inside doughy part of the bread—why it is called that when bread also makes crumbs is beyond me) was denser than other challah breads I’ve eaten the past, but still light and flavorful. The luscious flavor of the crumb and crust is just right, and the sesame seeds scattered on top (which is not mandatory if you are allergic to sesame) bring in a toasted nutty element.
Holla, let’s make some challah!
Yield: Two loaves
2 ¼-ounce envelopes active dry yeast (about 4½ teaspoons)
2 teaspoons plus ¾ cup sugar
¼ cup plus 2 cups warm water
2 large eggs, beaten
4¾ teaspoons kosher salt
½ cup butter, melted, plus more for greasing
7 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
1 tablespoon cold water
Sesame seeds for topping
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough attachment (or in a large bowl if kneading by hand), whisk together the yeast, 2 teaspoons sugar, and ¼ cup warm water. Let the mixture rest until foamy, about 10 minutes.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the eggs, salt, butter, remaining sugar, and remaining 2 cups warm water until well combined.
Add the egg mixture and the flour to the yeast mixture. Mix the dough together on medium speed until the dough is smooth, elastic, very sticky, and begins to pull away from the sides of the bowl, about 10 minutes.
Butter a large bowl. Transfer the dough to the buttered bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Let the dough sit in a warm place until it doubles in size, about 2 hours.
Butter 2 baking sheets.
Turn your dough out onto a lightly floured surface and divide into 6 equal pieces. With your hands, roll each piece into a 15-inch rope. Put 3 ropes side by side on each of the prepared baking sheets. Pinch the ropes together at one end and begin to braid. At the end, pinch the ends together and tuck under the loaf. Let the braided loaves sit in a warm place, covered, until doubled in size, about 1 hour.
Preheat the oven to 325° Fahrenheit. In a small bowl, beat together the egg and 1 tablespoon water to make an egg wash. Brush the egg wash onto the loaves and sprinkle with the sesame seeds. Bake the first loaf for 15 minutes, then increase the temperature to 425° F and bake for an additional 15–20 minutes or until the bread is golden brown and sounds hollow when tapped. Remove from the oven and let cool on the baking sheet.
Reduce the oven temperature back to 325° F, and then open the oven door for about 5 seconds to cool down. Repeat step 7 with the second loaf. The loaves are baked separately to ensure even baking.
*The challah can be made 3 days ahead. You can store the loaves tightly wrapped and keep at room temperature, or you can freeze them for up to a month. Let the challah cool completely before storing.