Round and round we go – Rosh Hashanah’s round raisin challah

Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, will be celebrated Sept. 9-10 this year. And challah, the signature Jewish yeast bread, takes on a special shape at Rosh Hashanah: a lovely spiral.

Easy, right? Roll challah dough into a rope, curl it into a pan, bake, and Bob’s your uncle: a beautiful round loaf.

Or not…

Since working here at King Arthur, I’ve become familiar with all kinds of  breads beyond the one that originally got me hooked: Edward Giobbi’s Pizza Caccia Nanza, via James Beard’s Beard on Bread. This garlic/rosemary/salt focaccia was my standby for years and years.

“Do you ever bake with yeast?” “Sure, I bake yeast bread all the time.” (So long as it’s focaccia.)

Then I arrived at King Arthur Flour, teamed up with Brinna Sands (author of The King Arthur Flour 200th Anniversary Cookbook – a new ring-binder edition of which has just been published), and had my eyes opened wide.

Limpa, bagels, pita, pumpernickel, Chinese dumplings… Brinna’s book got me started on a yeasty journey that, happily, shows no sign of ending.

Together, Brinna and I collaborated on The Baking Sheet, King Arthur’s subscription newsletter, for over 10 years. And during that time, the bread exploration expanded to include babka, brioche, and baguettes; kulich and kolaches, pulla and pumpernickel. From anadama to zeppoles, we covered the world. Including challah – though not a round Rosh Hashanah raisin challah.

Till now.

This raisin challah reinforced a lesson I learned long ago – not just about yeast bread, but about life.

You can’t always get what you want.

I wanted a beautiful, sharply spiraled loaf. And I wanted it to be easy.

But what I discovered was that the “beautiful spiral” came with a price.

Was I willing to pay that price? Read on…

Place the following in a bowl:

1/2 cup lukewarm water
6 tablespoons vegetable oil
1/4 cup honey
2 large eggs
4 cups King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
5 teaspoons instant yeast

Mix to form a rough dough…

…then knead till smooth. If you’re using a stand mixer and dough hook, this will take about 7 minutes.

Ah, here we are: the moment of truth.

Here’s my first attempt at challah dough, prior to the one above. See how stiff and “gnarly” the dough is, compared to the dough in the previous picture?

I figured, well, this dough is WAY too stiff. It’ll be impossible to knead in the raisins, too hard to roll into the requisite 36” rope… But I didn’t want to waste the ingredients, so went ahead and finished the loaf.

First, the dough was so heavy, it barely budged during its first rise. Then, it was difficult (read: virtually impossible) to knead in the raisins. I ended up rolling  the dough into a long rope (also difficult; it fought me every painful inch of the way), flattening it, spreading the raisins over the dough, then pinching the rope closed all along its seam.

The raisins fell out; the seam wouldn’t stay closed.

Wow. I’ll never do THIS again, I thought to myself.

But then, the resulting loaf looked like this:

VERY pretty.

Little did I know that subsequent loaves, made from softer dough, would never again be as pretty.

So, here’s your choice: make a stiff dough (reduce the water in this recipe by 2 to 3 tablespoons), expend more effort, and get a prettier loaf. Or go with the softer, easier-to-handle dough.

Back to our soft dough-

Place the dough in a lightly greased bowl or 8-cup measure. Cover the bowl or cup.

Allow the dough to rise, covered, for 2 hours, or until it’s puffy. It probably won’t be doubled in bulk; in fact, as with the dough pictured above, it may not even seem to rise very much.

Here’s the easiest and most effective way I’ve found to knead raisins into dough. “Effective”? What’s the difference in the final outcome with how you do it?

Well, exposed raisins tend to burn in the oven; so when making any kind of raisin bread, I try to keep as many raisins as possible below the surface of the dough. Here’s how:

Gently deflate the dough, flatten it, and spread 1 1/2 cups of raisins across the surface.

Fold the dough over on itself…

…fold one side into the center…

…and then the other, atop the first.

Pat into a nice little packet.

Gently flatten into a log.

Cover the log, and walk away; you want the gluten to relax before you start rolling the dough into a 36” rope.

Your goal: a 36” log. 30” is OK, too, though it won’t make as nice a spiral. Again, a softer dough is easier to roll. In fact, if you’ve made a soft dough, you can simply pick the log up and transfer it from hand to hand, letting it droop down; gravity will do a lot of the work.

A stiffer dough needs to be rolled. Roll it; and when it starts fighting back, cover it and walk away for 10 minutes. Repeat. Eventually you’ll create a rope that’s close to 36”.

And yes, some of the raisins will poke out. But not nearly as many as would if you’d simple kneaded them in helter-skelter.

Coil the rope into a lightly greased 9” round cake pan. Notice how most of the raisins remained inside.

Here’s a loaf where I simply kneaded the raisins into the dough using a stand mixer; many more sticking out.

Cover the challah gently with lightly greased plastic wrap (or a shower cap), and let it rise for about 60 to 90 minutes, until it’s puffy and pretty much fills the pan.

Like this.

Near the end of the bread’s rise, preheat the oven to 375°F.

Whisk together 1 large egg and 1 tablespoon cold water. Brush the risen dough with the egg mixture.

Why brush with egg? A whole egg and water glaze makes the bread’s crust deep-brown and shiny. For a lighter brown (but still shiny) crust, use a glaze made of egg white and water. For a lighter-brown, matte crust, dispense with the glaze altogether.

Sprinkle with 2 tablespoons coarse white sparkling sugar, if desired.

Bake the bread for 20 minutes.

Tent it with foil, and bake for an additional 15 to 20 minutes, until it’s a deep, golden brown.

An instant-read thermometer inserted into the center should register about 190°F. Close enough.

Remove the bread from the oven, and loosen the edges with a heatproof spatula or table knife. After a minute or so, carefully transfer it to a rack to cool.

On the left, sugar-coated bread. On the right, just a plain whole egg/water glaze.

Even a softer dough, like this one, yields a spiral; it’s just a bit rougher.

Cool the bread to lukewarm before slicing it.

This is delicious, freshly made; it does dry out fairly quickly, which makes it a perfect candidate for toast, and French toast.

If you’ve made this for Rosh Hashanah – Happy New Year!

Read, rate, and review (please) our recipe for Raisin Challah.

PJ Hamel

PJ Hamel grew up in New England, graduated from Brown University, and was a Maine journalist before joining King Arthur Flour in 1990. PJ bakes and writes from her home on Cape Cod, where she enjoys beach-walking, her husband, two dogs, and really good food!


  1. brenda14224

    Hi, PJ, may I send you a really wonderful recipe with pictures? I’ve got the quintessential recipe-really the best I’ve ever tasted, everyone loves it, and I have now been recruited to even sell it!
    I’d be happy to share it with you.
    (P.S. your cancer stories have been a lifesaver for me and my sister)

    I’d love that, Brenda – my email is, or post it on our community site – and let me know if you do, so I can print it out. Thanks! PJH

  2. Rockycat

    Two questions:

    1) Is there a taste or texture difference in the final product depending on whether the stiffer or softer dough was used?

    2) Did you try baking the loaf free-form without the pan as is traditional? If so, what were the results and if not, would you recommend this dough to be baked free-form?

    1) No difference in taste that I could discern; the texture of the softer dough was a bit more open.

    2) No, didn’t try baking without the pan. I think the stiffer dough would do fine free-form; it might flatten out a bit, but it should still hold its shape. I’d guess the softer dough would flatten enough that you wouldn’t want to bake it free-form. – PJH

  3. juthurst

    YUM!!!! drooling here in VA…
    one more baking project to do this weekend…
    in addition to the french bread with the poolish
    I started yesterday with the grapes from in the yard
    good thing we have that extra day ;P
    Two more hours and I can get off work and start mixing!

    I envy you your grapes from the yard! Try this sometime: Rosemary & Grape Focaccia. PERFECT harvest focaccia… PJH

  4. Wei-Wei

    What a pretty spiral! I’m scared to work with bread, actually – the shaping and handling of it is just so hard. I made pretzels the other day and the shaping? COMPLETE FAIL. Any shaping tips??

    Please email our bakers, Wei-Wei – They can give you specific answers to specific questions. Or Live Chat them – don’t give up! The more you practice, the better you’ll get. PJH

  5. lisamills18175

    Both spirals look yummy to me, but once baked is there any difference in the internal texture of the stiff dough versus the softer dough? Sorry for the silly question, but I’m a yeast dough scaredy cat! Keep on Blogging!

    The softer dough has a more open, lighter texture; the stiffer dough is more close-grained. Scaredy-cat is totally OK – so long as it doesn’t keep you from trying something new! Good luck, Lisa – PJH

  6. milkwithknives

    Oh, gosh, I never thought of wrapping the add-ins up in the dough! It is much nicer looking than having a bunch of burned bits sticking up through the crust. I swear I learn something new every single time I read this blog. Thanks for the terrific idea, PJ!

    And I haven’t made challah in months. Scheduled in for this weekend, and I’m going to try out the spiral rather than the usual braid. Excellent.

    One caveat about wrapping the raisins in the long rope of dough – when you slice the bread, the raisins are segregated into one strip, rather than being spread out nicely throughout. I think I’d prefer to knead in by enclosing them in the dough before rolling it into a rope; then poking down the ones that stick out after the spiral is shaped. Have fun with it this weekend! PJH

  7. cmctwigan

    Looks wonderful! Is this recipe possible using white whole wheat flour?

    When substituting white whole wheat for all purpose flour we suggest you start small. Substitute 1/4 the amount of all purpose with white whole wheat. Check the finished product to see how it meets your taste and texture expectations. Next time you make the recipe, consider 1/2 substitution and check again to see if taste and texture still satisfy you. Bear in mind that adding whole wheat flour to an all purpose recipe may mean you’ll need to add more liquid as well. Irene @ KAF

  8. Pretty. Good. Food.

    Not only are your photos beautiful, but this sounds delicious! I am making this tonight! Great post!

    Thanks, PGF! PJH

  9. whites5

    Hi! The recipe looks delicious. I’ve made Challah in the past and never had much luck with it but am willing to try again.
    I was thinking about making the Apple Challah posted earlier this week for a friend for the holiday. Which would you recommend? I’d like to do whichever I have the biggest chance of succeeding on.

    Depends on your definition of success. Beauty? You might have better luck with the raisin challah. But if your audience is expecting a perfect raisin challah and has experience with bakery raisin challahs, and thus can make the comparison – you might try the apple challah, which is less widely available – and therefore less likely to be compared to a preconceived “ideal.” Either way – enjoy! PJH

  10. AaronF

    Looks great. I already made my challah for tonight (testing substituting apple cider for most of the water) but I can use this next week. I also saw your Harvest Apple Challah. I’m going to have to try that too.

    How much does a batch of dough weigh?



    Depends how much water you use, Aaron. The softer dough weighs about 36 ounces, including the raisins. Happy holidays! PJH

  11. mkasten

    Beautiful loaves! Both spirals look wonderful to me. How quickly would you say it dried out? I love fresh challah, but less a fan of drier breads, although french toast with this does sound like a most excellent idea! Thanks for the inspiration!

    Challah does seem to dry out faster than most breads; I’d say you should eat it within a couple of days if you don’t want to toast it… PJH

  12. dmwhiddett

    The recipe looks so good I’ve sent it to my sister in Australia. I made the Oatmeal Toast Bread & it was absolutely deee-liscious. I will make this tomorrow.
    I love all the bread recipes, keep up the good work.
    THANKS. Doris M.

  13. davidssa

    Where is this Harvest Apple Challah?? I searched but it didn’t pop up. I am always looking for good apple bread recipes, and I have to say, I’m not satisfied with any of those I have tried. But if PJ wrote it, I will try it. Any suggestions on ramping up the apple flavor in things like the apple muffins in this Baking Sheet? We _liked_ them there, but we didn’t love them. They were a little bland. I want them to taste like APPLES! Thoughts?

    Here’s the Harvest Apple Challah recipe. And I LOVE adding boiled cider to all my apple baked treats – or brushing it over the top, or drizzling it in, or… it’s intensely apple. Unfortunately, a bad apple harvest means we’re out of it right now, but we’re working hard to get it back in stock very soon. Try it sometime – I think you’ll love the results. And good luck with the apple challah – it’s messy as all get-out to make, but tastes wonderful… PJH

  14. rstein60

    I’ve never wrapped the raisins in a packet. I usually make a long rope, roll it flat, about 5-6″ wide. Then put the raisins in and fold in thirds the long way. Then gently roll until it is round. I also pluck out the exposed raisins before baking so they don’t burn. Ruins to beautiful bread.

    Just to clarify – after adding the raisins, you fold the flattened rope in thirds, then roll it out into a rope again? Or just into a round ball? I agree about the raisins poking out – nothing like a bitter, burned raisin to ruin the experience! PJH

  15. bowenrd

    This recipe reminded me of an excellent bread pudding I make using Challah bread. It’s called Drunken Brandy Peach Bread Pudding and I just posted it on the Community Site. A fabulous way to use a slightly old Challah.

  16. yuri

    Some thoughts about Challah. There are many ways of making this wonderful bread. One variation that I use, having been taught by by grandfather who worked as a Jewish baker after arriving from Russia, is to add cognac or brandy; it gives the Challah a nice touch. I use 4 TBS per 7 cups of flour, adding it after the water and yeast have been mixed with the flour – in its earliest moments. As long as the liquor doesn’t go into the water that mixes directly with the yeast, there is no negative impact on the fermentation process. I reduce the amount of water by 4 TBS. Adding an additional egg yoke will make the color a little more yellow and the dough a tad richer. I also prefer a free form round loaf, so watching the amount of water in the dough is important. If making Challah of any shape for French Toast, I add a bit of vanilla and cinnamon, with a little more sugar. Thanks for your thoughtful recipe!

    Yuri, thank YOU so much for the challah tips. I love the idea of adding some alcohol – alcohol is a flavor enhancer, as it disperses (emulsifies) the flaovr throughout the loaf totally. And now I feel like I have to make another loaf just so I can enjoy some French toast! PJH

  17. martibeth

    PJ, would soaking the raisins in rum lessen the chances of them burning if they happened to poke out on the surface of the challah? Just wondering if that would make a difference.

    P.S. Apples have not been good here. Tried Jonathans this past week; bleeech!!!

    Apples are bad here too, Marti – well, not bad, but a very poor crop, numbers-wise. No pick-your-own this year – too cold a spring, too hot a summer. We’ll do what we can, right? I’ve tried soaking the raisins in water, but not liquor – don’t know if the liquor would evaporate more slowly in the oven heat, but water didn’t seem to make enough difference. It keeps them from burning longer, but at the end of the day – if they’re sticking out, they’re going to burn by the time the loaf is fully baked (tenting with foil helps, though…) – PJH

  18. vamilligan

    Please help me solve my challah/egg bread problem. Whenever I add eggs to the recipe, they cool the warmed liquid down too much and then the yeast doesn’t activate so the bread doesn’t rise. I have sort of solved this problem by getting the eggs out of the ‘frig a couple hours ahead of time, but what if I forget or just want to whip up the bread on the spot? Can you suggest a temperature the liquid should be? When I don’t use eggs in my yeast recipes, I bring the liquid to 100 degrees. How much higher do you think it should be to off set the coldness of the eggs? BTW, thank you so much for telling us to bake bread until it is 190 degrees. I have been making yeast bread for 20 years and that is the best. hint. ever!

    Simple to warm eggs – put them in a cup of tap-hot water for 10 to 15 minutes, they’ll be nice and warm. That’s what I do. I wouldn’t fool around with too-hot water and eggs; you risk cooking the eggs or killing the yeast. And – yes, it is EXTREMELY useful to know that bread is fully baked at between 190°F and 205°F! 🙂 PJH

  19. marlene

    I wonder what would happen if I sprinkled on a little light brown sugar instead, maybe halfway into the baking?

    Marlene, I think it would melt and make a sticky glaze – sound good? Give it a try – PJH

  20. lauriemiok

    I substituted 1 cup white whole wheat, used my machine to mix the dough & go through the first rise, skipped the sugar topping. This is a delicious, easy challah, almost coffee cake-like! Thanks for the recipe!

  21. me

    another method for the spiral it is to divide the dough in thirds and braid it and put the long skinny braid into a spiral in the pan.

  22. Nancy in Toronto

    PJ – very informative post, thanks! Try Beard on Bread refrigerator potato bread (gives 2 loaves). Dough texture between your soft and harder versions. Long refrigerator rise (up to 18 hours) gives wonderful distribution of yeast and its bubbles, gluten development and easy rolling. Plumped & drained 1/2c raisins for each loaf, rolled in 2 long rectangles to make the rope, made spirals, all raisins hidden & protected from oven heat. The mashed potato adds moisture and helps make a good crumb.

    Thanks for the advice, Nancy – I’ll check out my old friend “Beard on Bread” for that recipe next time I make challah. I do like potatoes in bread; as you say, the texture they give is wonderful. And a longer, slower rise definitely enhances the flavor. PJH

  23. kaf-sub-horol

    I’ve been making challah for many years, in all different ways, using many different methods and ingredients, but the kind of challah I really want to make has eluded me. I really would like a pillowy, feathery-soft crumb (including raisins), topped by a light (not crunchy) crust. I guess you would call it the challah equivalent of Wonder Bread. The closest I ever came to this was by using fresh yeast, which is a pain.

    My usual result is a dense, often dry crumb with a very hard crust. It is tasty, but it doesn’t have the texture I want. The suggestions I have received, such as baking at a lower temperature, have not worked.

    Can you suggest a recipe and methodology that will make my challah dreams come true?

    Thank you.
    Hi there,
    It sounds like the denseness may be stemming from too much flour in the dough. If you are scooping your flour, you may be packing too much flour per cup, making a dry dough. If you have access to a scale, try weighing out the flour instead at 4.25 ounces per cup. If you don’t have a scale, check out our video on how to fluff and measure flour to ensure a lighter cup. I think it will a big help in getting a more tender challah. ~MaryJane

  24. robertabooks

    Why doesn’t your recipe call for making a sponge first? (Sponge = yeast, water and about a quarter of the flour, allowed to sit for an hour or more to permit the yeast to develop). It significantly improves the texture of the bread. I often make the sponge the previous evening (not too early); the yeast seems to be OK sitting for up to 12 hours. That way, I am ready to begin the challah in the morning.

    Also, there is yet another very pretty way to make a holiday challah. Make 5 rolled strips of dough, chain them together with the last link attaching to the first one. Very pretty.

    If not a holiday challah, I also like pull-apart challahs – balls of dough put into a round pan. It is the only type of challah that “should use” a pan.

    I’ve also read about shaping challah like a bird for Rosh Hashannah. There is some nice Ukranian folk lore about it. The bread closely resembles the turban (round challah) in shape, but it is decorated with raisins for eyes and sesame seeds to simulate feathers and an almond or some other nut for a beak. There is an article (and photo) in the Forward about it. But I don’t feel entirely secure about trying it myself.

    Of course, each of these breads is pulled apart with your hand in gobs and dipped into honey for Rosh Hashanah.
    Thank you so much for posting your ideas and traditions here. ~Amy

  25. Beth

    It took much longer to reach 190 degrees than the recipe said. I had to bake it in a convection oven for 55 minutes to get to 190 degrees in the center.

    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Hi Beth,
      We’re surprised to hear the bake time was longer than then 35-40 minutes called for in the recipe. It’s possible that your oven was running a bit low, but regardless you did exactly the right thing by extending the baking time until it reached the proper temperature. This will ensure that the bread is baked all the way through and has just the right texture. We hope the final result was still tasty! Kye@KAF

  26. Beth

    Do you add more water if the dough won’t come together or more flour? I did both and I finally got a semi soft dough that came together. I had it in my kitchenaid then by hand and finally I dumped in my cuisinart with a little more water.
    PS I made one last week that was picture perfect and delicious.

    1. The Baker's Hotline

      We’re happy to hear that you got there eventually, Beth. There are a number of variables that can result in needed adjustments in the flour:liquid ratio, including the temp and humidity in your kitchen, how you measure your flour, etc. To account for these variables, you will often need to adjust one or the other (flour or liquid) to get to the desired dough consistency. If the dough’s not coming together because it’s too dry, then you’ll want to add more water, 1 Tbsp at a time, and if the dough feels too wet, then you’ll want to add more flour, also in small increments. We suggest small increments because ideally you want to avoid the back and forth additions of flour, liquid, flour, liquid, as it will ultimately throw off the balance of a recipe that includes other ingredients. Hope this helps! If you’d like to talk things through with one of our bakers directly, feel free to give us a call at 855-371-BAKE. We’d be happy to chat! Mollie@KAF

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