The Fresh Loaf

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Rosh Hashanah Challah

dolfs's picture

Rosh Hashanah Challah

Baking Challah is a weekly thing in my kitchen. I have blogged about it extensively. For the holidays I did something a little "special" inspired by a long ago post by Mariana (I think).

 Rosh Hashanah Challah (yud bet)
Rosh Hashanah Challah (yud bet)

Maggie Glezer in "A Blessing of Bread" describes this as a yud (ten) bet (two), an originally Hasidic bread that represents the twelve tribes. I added double twisted ring on the outside symbolizing the world, unity, or the circle of live (the completion of a year), take your pick. The resulting Challah is thus also round, a traditional shape for the holidays.

A particular challenge came with the fact that no recipe I could find would tell me what size/weight to make each of the twelve balls and how much was needed for the two outside ropes. I started with my own recipe of a 1.7lb Challah that I make each week. Figuring I could do with a larger bread (guests for dinner tonight), but not being sure how much dough I would need, I made 3lb of dough starting last night (overnight ferment in the fridge). I also added raisins.

In the end I decided to make the balls 2.5oz each (30 oz) and use the remainder for the two ropes: 9oz each. Once I shaped the balls and placed them on parchment in two triangles of six (bases touching), I used a tape measure to figure out how long my outside ropes needed to be: 40 inches. Now I was very happy with my new 36" maple countertop (see other posts). I could just roll these out on the diagonal. Without it, on a smaller board, or the tile countertops this would have been a no-go. Stretching/rolling the dough that far requires a little patience and one or two rests before you get there. I was in a hurry because my wife needed the oven and broke one of the two, but with some repair its not too bad. The "break" is on the back left in the picture. So, all this worked out perfectly so you can use these ratios: 60-65% of the dough for the 12 balls, the rest for the ropes.

Taste was delicious, but my formula has now proven itself many times so I was not worried about that. Next challenge will be bread sculpting for Halloween. Don't know yet what will top last year's pumpkin and turkey



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dmsnyder's picture

L'shonah tovah, Dolf.


JMonkey's picture

A triumph -- great looking challah.

Floydm's picture


weavershouse's picture

That is just so beautiful. What a lucky family you have.                                    weavershouse

rubato456's picture

 beautifully done! which one of her recipes did you use? or is it one of your own doughs?

Hag Samaiach!


dolfs's picture

The recipe I used for the dough is my own. There is a description and history in a previous post on TFL. I first saw the shape (or something somewhat like it) in this post by Mariana (you'll have to scroll down some). After having seen that, I looked it up in Maggie Glezer's "A Blessing of Bread" which has several pages on Challah shapes, their origins, and instructions for a lot of different braiding techniques.

Thanks for the wishes. I'm not Jewish, though. My wife is, but as far as baking is concerned, I am the "Honorary Jew". The holidays just give me excuses to do a little fancy work. 


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ehanner's picture

Perfect looking Chullah Dolf. I'm not Jewish either but all my Jewish friends and family love the fact that I help them celebrate the Holidays with bread. You just can't get good Jewish bakery in Milwaukee any more.

Anyway, Holiday wishes to your wife.


RFMonaco's picture

How about the "Mayflower" or a Pilgrim?

Eli's picture

L' Shana Tovah! Great looking bread. I have to say that looks delicious and huge!!!

I posted sometime ago some pix of my challah. I seem to have stress marks, striations for lack of  a better description, on my loaves, and I have tried everythng. Would you have any idea what is causing them? The bread is great and it has a wonderful crust just not that pretty.

Any help would be greatly appreciated.


dolfs's picture

I've had some of these issues in the beginning. Start by making sure you use a (high percentage of) bread flour and develop the gluten well. I generally mix/knead to full window pane. This also helps with the rise. Also, make the dough fairly low hydration, perhaps a little bit lower than you have now.

When preparing to braid, pre-shape in balls or short rolls, rest 5-10 minutes and roll with a cupped/arched hand keeping heel and fingertips on the surface, starting in the middle working outwards. Stop as soon as you feel a lot of resistance or after you have doubled the length. If you need more length, put aside and rest another several minutes before rolling again.

When rolling, expansion should be the result of gentle downward pressure. Do not pull/push sideways as it puts undue stress into the situation. If the dough does not elongate this way, more rest is called for. Keep in mind that, depending on the amount of yeast you used, and the kitchen temperature, you may get some rise during the rest. Any large bubbles should be pressed out before pre-shaping and during the rolling.

Braid firmly, but do not pull on the strands while braiding. Just make the braid tight. If you pull, you leave things under stress and a slightly uneven proof at different places in the strands will create enough stress to cause damage. 

Finally, apply egg wash (1 egg, little bit of water and salt), and if desired sesame seeds, immediately after finishing the braid, and once more immediately before baking. To avoid "gaps" where there is less browning between two strands, make sure you fully proof (do not expect or desire oven spring in this case) and "get" everything with the final egg wash. If you do this timing right you will get no uneven stretch during oven spring (because there will be little to none) and things will work out fine.

I use a high percentage ADY (around 8-10%) and mix just before I go to bed. Bulk ferment in a 40F fridge after 40 minutes on the counter. I take it out at 8AM, typically braid around noon and bake 1.5 hours after, give or take. During hot months I reduce yeast. The overnight ferment works wonders for the flavor. I bake on a 3/4" stone, on parchment, about 30/40 minutes at 375F. I do not let the internal temp go over 200 to get a very nice smooth interior that is not dry.

Whenever you have problems, go back to basics, which means white flour challah only, bread flower, no raisins etc. Get that right first and while experimenting change only one thing at a time. Whole wheat, while perhaps desirable, complicates gluten development and may negatively affect your rise. Once you master white, go partial WW and work through it. In particular when introducing WW, bread flour again, not AP. If you stay with white and want to change texture, start reducing bread flour and substitute part AP (lower protein).


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Elagins's picture

l'shanah tovah t'kateyvu ... Stan

KosherBaker's picture

Wow. Very inspiring. Also thanks for the links and the recipe write up.

L'Shana Tova. A happy, healthy and peaceful year.


Marni's picture

Your Challah is beautiful.  I checked out your pumpkin and turkey too.  What fun!  I 've tried to be creative with shapes, but find they rise into amorphous blobs and are unidentifiable.  How do you know what to expect  between shaping and the final proof?  I read your post above that says  not to plan for oven spring, but the final rise messes things up and I usually end up with at least some oven spring.  I think I may need to make the dough with a lower hydration.  Thanks for any thoughts you have, and again, great looking loaves!


dolfs's picture

My advice is to use low(er) hydration dough because it doesn't have big bubbles and rises more evenly and predictably. Also low(er) amount of yeast helps with that (real pro decorative pieces are made with so-called "dead dough", i.e. no yeast at all, but I want to be able to eat the result). Tight, tight (pre) shaping: the tight skin controls the rise and holds shape.

The key thing is not to "not plan for oven spring". I said "do not expect it" if you let the bread fully proof. The key is in discovering when that is the case. I find the "wet finger push test" works quite well. You push gently with a wet finger tip. The dough should be very soft and the indentation you make should almost not come back at all. If you do this right oven spring will simply not happen. In particular if you have a tendency for uneven rise (uneven braiding, uneven bubble structure, non-uniform heat in your oven).

Remember that I've been baking for a while now, and do Challah every week. I wasn't getting these results in the very beginning. Practices makes perfect! 


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Eli's picture

Thanks for addressing the question about the stress marks. I am going to assume that I am not kneading enough. I do most breads by hand and I have a terrible time trying to get to a window pane. Being one of those that uses his hands to have to "feel" the correct dough I don't use the mixer unless it is really high hydration. I am afraid that I will over mix in the KA. I will have to give it a shot and see if I can knead to a better consistency.

Thanks againl


dolfs's picture

I used to have a KA (now own a DLX: much, much better), and it never kneaded very well, causing me to mix longer than I wanted to and at higher speeds than I thought appropriate. Result was dough that was invariably too warm, despite starting out with cold water.

When kneading by hand, you might consider a good autolyse. Being that the overall hydration will be a little low, I would do this as follows.

  • Get all dry ingredients mixed, but hold back 20% of the flour.
  • Mix water and egg components together well and add to above mixture. If you use milk instead of water, add that here (of course milk will make the Challah unsuitable in many situations, as will butter vs. veggie oil).
  • Add all other ingredients, except (if you use) honey, sugar, raisins 
  • Thoroughly mix, but do not knead, the result.
  • Wait 30 minutes to 1 hour, keep things covered.
  • Add rest of the flour, almost all of it, and start kneading.
  • Finish off by adding the remaining flour until you are at, or close to, the desired hydration.
  • When 2/3 into this process add the oil or butter that you use and other ingredients not yet added.
For a "normal" autolyse you "wet" all the flour right away. In my experience with low hydration doughs it is very tough to get it all wet in this step, so I suggest you reduce the ratio. Removing 20% (by weight) flour in a 60% hydration dough makes the hydration of the autolyse mixture 75%! You want to delay sugars and fat because they too may make gluten development harder and often times Challah has a high percentage of sugar (although I use all Splenda!). Same is true for "large" components like raisins, and you might mush them anyway.

Once you start getting good gluten development (as you're adding the remaining flour), adding the other ingredients won't have such a detrimental effect. Now, butter and oil will tend to make your dough softer and smoother, so you may discover after kneading that in well, you need some more flour. Also, an overnight bulk ferment will enhance dough quality (but you'll need to refrigerate). It is all about learning what the end result should look and feel like. Once you reach success, you will remember that feel. 


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holds99's picture

I've only seen challah braided.  I love the idea of the twelve tribes of Israel---and the symbolic double twisted ring is a very nice touch.  We could certainly use some world unity at this point in time.  You did a terrifc job, thanks for sharing.

Howard - St. Augustine, FL