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
About

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!

comments

  1. 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

    Reply
  2. 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

    Reply
  3. 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

    Reply
  4. 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

    Reply
  5. 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.

    Reply
  6. 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

    Reply
  7. 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

    Reply
  8. 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.

    Reply
  9. 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

    Reply
  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?

    Thanks

    Aaron

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

    Reply

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