Weeks before the holiday of Rosh Hashanah arrives, we began making plans and engaging in the spirit of the New Year. We plan our holiday meals, begin the process of introspection on the soon to be completed year, and nudge our children and ourselves to consider how we can improve ourselves during the upcoming year.
With all the holiday planning, meal making, and additional praying – the thought of entering the realm of round challah baking may be overwhelming. There is already enough to do without worrying about yeast proofing, dough rising, and forming perfectly shaped round challot.
Fear not! Not only am I going to share with a no-fail challah recipe (though you can buy your challah dough already prepared and frozen if you’d like), I am also going to show you three easy ways to form a round challah.
First, the recipe. I adapted this from a recipe a friend of mine gave to me. I call it “challah with a bracha” because you are using enough flour to recite the prayer that actually makes bread a challah.
4.5 cups of warm water
3 tablespoons of yeast
a dash of sugar
1 cup oil
1.5 cups of sugar
¼ cup of honey
5lb bag of flour
2 T salt
In a small bowl, proof the yeast in the warm water with the dash of sugar. Set aside for ten minutes. It will become foamy.
In a large bowl (or Sterilite dishpan container), mix the flour with the salt.
In a medium sized bowl, mix the eggs, oil, sugar, and honey.
Pour the egg mixture into the flour mixture. Stir. Add the yeast mixture. Stir.
Knead the dough for a good ten minutes. It will come together into a smooth, round ball.
Once you are done kneading, you may separate the challah and recite the blessing if you are going to do so.
Place the dough in an oiled bowl (I reuse my Sterilite container). Cover with plastic wrap and a dishtowel. Set in a warm place to rise until doubled in size – about two hours. After the two hours, punch down your dough and pick one of the braiding techniques below.
After braiding your challah, you may choose to let it rise again but you do not have to. Before baking (in a preheated 350-degree oven), brush your dough with an egg wash of 1 egg yolk and 1 tablespoon of water. Bake for – approximately – 30 minutes (depends on your oven) until golden brown and a hollow sound is produced when you tap the bottom of the challah.
This recipe typically produces 4-5 challot, depending on how you braid them. Freeze after cooking, and you will have enough to last you through the chagim (holidays).
This is for those of you who are short on time and fearful of your skill. All you need is a round baking pan. This can be a Bundt pan or a tube pan. All you need to do is tear pieces of dough, roll the piece into a ball, and line the bottom of the pan. You do not want the pan to be overflowing because your dough will rise when baking. You will end up with a pull-apart round challah.
If you prefer a cleaner look, take about ¼ of your dough. Roll it out into a thick snake-like shape. Lay this snake in the bottom of your pan. Let it rise for about an hour to fill the pan and take on the circular shape before baking.
Another simple and beautiful way to make a round challah is to use a round cake pan. You can also buy a stack of aluminum round pans and make several round challot at once. Take the same snake coil you used in technique one but wrap it around in the bottom of the pan. It will look like a giant cinnamon roll. In fact, you can sprinkle it with cinnamon and sugar to add to your Rosh Hashanah sweetness.
The final method I want to share requires a bit more work, but it is worth the effort. You will want to divide your dough into 4 – 6 pieces. Work with one section of dough at a time. Divide the first section of dough into four, equal balls and roll each ball into a strand.
We are going to make what reminds me of a tic-tac-toe board. Take two of the rolled out strands and place them vertically on the lightly floured table in front of you. We will call these strand one and strand two.
Now take the remaining two strands – one at a time and weave them through the first two strands. Beginning with strand three toward the middle of strand one (left, vertical strand), you will go over strand one and under strand two.
Repeat this with strand four but go under and then over. You will have a small square in the center with the edges hanging out.
Tighten up the square in the center by moving your strands closer together. Look at the two strands at 6 o’clock. One of them should be under, and the other should be over. Take the one that is under and put it over the other “6 o’clock strand”. Now the strand that was over is now under.
Continue “around the clock” moving the under to the over position until you arrive back at 6 o’clock. If you have enough dough sticking out, you can go around the circle again - this time in the opposite direction. If you have run out of dough, tuck the remaining flaps under. When you are done, you will have a circular shaped challah.
Technique three may sound difficult, but once you sit down with your challah strands and put it into action – it’s not that hard. The results are a beautifully shaped round challah that looks like it was braided with some fancy technique.
Round challah is a tradition at Rosh Hashanah. Our yearly cycle has completed, and we are reminded that we will go through it all again. We will repeat the holidays our ancestors before us repeated. We will grow, and we will change – but we will remain the same.