November 19, 2018

How to make the best round challah: All you need is love

Every year on Rosh Hashanah, I make challah. And year after year, everyone tells me they’ve never had this kind of challah. 

I could never understand what made my challah so unique — it’s round and has raisins and honey, just like all Rosh Hashanah challahs. I send people home with the recipe, but they tell me that when they make it on their own, it never comes out like mine. Some have even offered to pay me for a challah delivery service — I kid you not. 

Mind you, I have absolutely no idea how to make bread. 

I simply obey food consultant and author Judy Zeidler’s instructions for Honey Challah and pray the whole time that I am not messing it up. I don’t understand the principles of yeast and flour and am amazed each year when the thing actually rises into golden beauty.  

So how does a nonbaking, dough-fearing, gluten-avoiding girl make the best challah in the whole world? I love the dough. It’s the only element of bread-making I have control over — how much I love it — so I put my heart into action.

I start by smelling it, breathing in deep, allowing the scent of fresh yeast to travel into my bloodstream and transport me. No man, woman or child is immune to the seductive power of fresh dough. With one whiff, I am won over. 

I tell the dough I love it. Both out loud and from the inside. I knead it with strength and affection, as if I were reinventing myself in it as a new and perfect being. With the movements of my hands, I placate every worry the dough might feel. I tell the dough I love it again. And again. Over and over. 

This is why my challah is so good. It tastes like what we all crave more deeply, more desperately than anything else in this entire universe: pure unabashed love.

HONEY RAISIN CHALLAH FOR ROSH HASHANAH

Adapted from Judy Zeidler’s recipe for Festive Honey Challah

1 cup raisins

1/2 cup Manischewitz sweet wine

1/2 cup red or white wine (whatever you have open) or more Manischewitz

2 tablespoons brandy or cognac

1 package active dry yeast

1 1/2 cups warm water (110 to 115 F)

Pinch sugar

3 whole eggs 

1/3 cup honey (preferably creamy, raw honey)

1/4 pound (1 stick) salted margarine, softened

5 to 6 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon salt

Cornmeal

1 egg white, lightly beaten

Directions

Plump the raisins by placing them in a bowl with the wines and brandy. Cover and let stand for a couple of hours or overnight.

Dissolve the yeast in 1/2 cup of the warm water with a pinch of sugar. In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat together the 3 whole eggs, honey and margarine. Add remaining 1 cup warm water; blend well. Blend in the yeast mixture.

Combine flour and salt, then add it 1 cup at a time, blending with a beater until the dough is thick enough to switch to the paddle attachment on your mixer. (Use as little flour as possible, closer to 5 cups, to make the challah more moist. The dough should be just dry enough to handle.) When the paddle attachment begins to labor, switch to the hook attachment. Let it knead the bread for about 5 to 10 minutes. 

Remove dough from mixer, place on a well-floured surface and begin to work your love into the dough by hand for another 5 to 10 minutes, incorporating the raisins. (Do not rip dough in order to fit the raisins in there. Keep kneading and squish them in.) Tell the dough you love it as you knead.

Place the dough in a greased bowl and grease the top. Cover with a clean towel and let rise in a warm place for about 1 hour, until it doubles in bulk. (It could be longer — if your house is cold, try warming the oven on low heat and then turning it off and placing the dough in the oven to rise.)

Divide the dough into 3 parts. Form each one into a long rope, again being careful not to tear the dough, and braid the ropes by pinching the ends together as you start and finish. Join the two pinched ends together to create a circle. Lightly grease a baking sheet, then sprinkle it generously with cornmeal. Place the challah on the baking sheet.

Cover with a clean towel and let rise in a warm place for 40 minutes. Alternatively, you can place it in the refrigerator for the day or overnight, then let it rise, which will take closer to 3 hours. (It will need to come to room temperature before it will rise.)

Preheat oven to 350 F.

Brush challah with beaten egg white. Bake for 30 to 40 minutes, until golden brown. Eat warm.

Makes 1 large round challah.