Challah for the High Holidays

While many enjoy challah year-round, it’s a special part of the Rosh Hashanah celebration.
September 7, 2023
Holiday Challah Photo courtesy of La Boîte

While many enjoy challah year-round, it’s a special part of the Rosh Hashanah celebration. We dip pieces of round challah, and apples, in honey for a sweet new year.

“This holiday challah was inspired by the beautiful loaves crafted by master Israeli baker Uri Scheft with a special, flavorful twist utilizing La Boîte spices,” Lior Lev Sercarz, owner of La Boîte, a global brand with a storefront in New York City and author of “A Middle Eastern Pantry,” told the Journal. Bowls of apples and honey complete the presentation.

“The challah is great for a crowd and the bowls can also be filled with tahini and other delicious condiments, as an alternative,” Lev Sercarz said. “You can change up the seeds to your favorite seeds, chopped nuts and bakeable spices.”

Holiday Challah

cup lukewarm water
1 Tbsp active dry yeast
¼ cup sugar
3 ¾ cups all-purpose flour
1 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for the bowl
1 tsp kosher salt
2 large eggs, at room temperature

The Toppings
¼ cup white sesame seeds
¼ cup nigella seeds
¼ cup sunflower seeds
¼ cup pumpkin seeds

Whisk the warm water, yeast and 1 teaspoon of the sugar (5 grams) in a medium bowl. Let stand until foamy, about 10 minutes.
Combine the flour, oil, salt, one of the eggs, yeast mixture, and the remaining sugar (45 grams) in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook. Mix on low speed, scraping the bowl occasionally, until the dough comes together in a firm, stretchy mass; about 7 minutes.
Turn out onto a clean work surface and knead to form a tight ball; about 2 minutes. Lightly oil the mixing bowl, return the dough to it, and cover with a clean kitchen towel. Let rise in a warm spot for about 1 hour until doubled in size.
Line a half sheet pan with parchment paper. Turn the dough out onto a clean un-floured work surface and divide it into 3 equal pieces (about 216 grams each). Roll each into a 20” long rope, pressing and rolling the ends to taper them.
Place two ropes parallel to each other, spacing them 3 inches apart. Cross the ropes once, leaving an inch free at the ends. Lay a third rope over the point at which the others cross.
Continue braiding the three ropes, tucking in the ends, then transfer the braid to the prepared pan.
Curl the two ends of the braid into an S-shape. Set a small bowl into each curve of the “S” and curl the ends around the bowls to secure.
Cover with a clean kitchen towel and let rise in a warm place until the volume increases by about one-third; about 45 minutes.
Meanwhile, position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 400°F.
Beat the remaining egg with a few drops of water and gently brush it over the loaf to lightly coat.
Sprinkle sections with the sesame, nigella, sunflower and pumpkin seeds.
Bake until browned and well risen, 19 to 20 minutes. Cool completely on the tray.
Note: When removing the baked bread from the tray, be very careful as the bowl and bread will be heavy. Take care to support the ends to prevent breaking the bread and prevent the bowls from detaching.

For another unique twist on the classic challah, try Bea’s Bakery’s Ube challah. Ube is a purple yam, originally from the Philippines, which turns the challah purple.

“It makes for a sweet and different flavor for the New Year,” Lenny Rosenberg and Adaeze Nwanonyiri, co-owners of Bea’s Bakery, told the Journal. 

Ube Challah
Photo courtesy of Bea’s Bakery

Ube Challah

The Challah:
1 ½ Tbsp dry active yeast
½ cup + 2 Tbsp + ½ tsp sugar
1 ¼ cup lukewarm water
4½ -5 cups unbleached bread flour
4 oz dehydrated ube powder
½ tsp sea salt
¼ cup vegetable oil
2 large eggs
2 tsp ube extract

The Topping:
2 egg yolks
1 tsp water

For the dough:
Place yeast, ½ tsp sugar and lukewarm water in a large mixing bowl. Stir and allow to bloom for 5 minutes.
Add sugar, oil, eggs and ube extract to the yeast mixture; mix until incorporated.
Add the flour, salt and ube powder to the wet mixture. Knead using the dough hook attachment of your mixer for about 10 minutes, until the dough is smooth and elastic.
Place dough in a greased bowl and cover with a damp towel. Allow to rise for about 2 hours.
Divide the dough into two. Then divide each half into three long strands. Braid the challahs and form into the desired shape. (Round for Rosh Hashanah.)
Place challahs on a baking sheet, lined with parchment paper. Allow the dough to rise (proof) for another 45 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 375°F while proofing.
For the topping: Beat the egg yolks and add 1 tsp water. Brush the egg wash over challah before you put it in the oven.
Bake for 25 to 30 minutes.

“Just because you can’t have gluten does not mean you can’t have some challah fun this holiday season,” Mandy Silverman, challah baker and founder of Mandylicious, told the Journal.

All of the ingredients in Silverman’s gluten-free challah are easy-to-find, so it is a great starter recipe. “While this dough does not taste the same as gluten full challah, it is still delicious,” Silverman said.  She added, “Please note gluten-free dough behaves very differently from traditional dough. This dough is shapeable and braidable, but it can be a challenge. Some people prefer using molds to bake their gluten-free challahs in and they work great.”

Gluten Free Challah courtesy of Mandylicious

Mandylicious Gluten Free Challah

Yeast Mixture:
1 ½ tsp instant or active dry yeast
¼ cup warm water (105 degrees … so pretty much should feel warm but not burn)
Pinch of sugar

Dry Ingredients:
160 grams gluten-free oat flour, plus more for kneading
130 grams measure-for-measure gluten-free flour, plus more for kneading
120 grams sugar (1/2 cup is fine)
3-4 Tbsp potato starch
1 ¼ tsp table salt
1 tsp baking powder

Wet Ingredients:
1/4 cup seltzer
2 Tbsp melted margarine or butter
1 Tbsp mayo
1 whole large egg, at room temperature
1 large egg yolk, at room temperature
1 1/2 tsp apple cider vinegar

Mix the ingredients for the yeast mixture and set aside.
Blend the dry ingredients together and slowly add the wet ingredients. If the yeast mixture is bubbly, you have successfully proofed your yeast! Add to mix.
Knead together gently until combined. Add more flour as necessary. (Using more measure-for-measure flour instead of oat flour will be better for the texture, as it is less heavy).
Divide into three equal sized pieces, roll out, and braid gently and carefully. Place in a greased loaf pan or lined cookie sheet.
Cover and rise in a warm place for 90 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 350°F.
Cover in egg wash, top as desired, and bake for 30-35 minutes.
Note: For extra moist challah, place a pan of water on the rack beneath the rack with your challah.
While this makes one challah, the dough can also be made into 12 rolls. For rolls, bake at 350°F for 20 minutes.

For a traditional challah, check out this recipe from Doug Weinstein, owner/steward of Diamond Bakery.

Challah, Chef Weinstein said, is his favorite thing to bake.


“When it comes out and it comes out well, it’s just beautiful and delicious,” he told the Journal.

Challah from Diamond Bakery

Chef Doug Weinstein’s Challah Recipe

8 cups all-purpose flour (if you use bread flour start with 7 ½ cups)

3 teaspoons salt

4 tsp dry yeast (2 packages)

5 eggs (4 for dough, 1 for brushing before baking)

½ cup vegetable oil

½ cup sugar

2 Tbsp honey

1 3/4 cup warm water

Mix flour and salt in a large bowl.

Combine water, eggs, oil and honey in a bowl, sprinkle the yeast on top and let the mixture sit for 5 minutes.

Add liquid to flour and mix into dough. Knead until smooth. It may feel sticky at first; allow time for the flour to fully absorb the water.  Once the dough comes together you can “rest” it in a lightly oiled bowl covered with plastic or a towel for 15 minutes then continue kneading.

Let the dough sit covered for 1 hour or until it has doubled in size.

Remove the dough from the bowl, de-gas (push out the air) and divide into 3, 4, or 6 equal parts, depending on what you know how to braid. Shape the parts into loose balls and let them sit for 15 – 20  minutes.

De-gas the dough again and shape it into strands. Braid into shape.

Brush the dough with an egg wash and let sit in an unlit oven until it has doubled in size again.

Remove from the oven and apply another egg wash. Turn on the oven to 375°F. When the oven is hot, put the shaped challah into the oven and bake until the internal temperature reaches 200°F when inserting a thermometer or until the challah is hazelnut brown.

Let cool and enjoy!

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