Today (and yesterday) is the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah. And what better way to celebrate it than cooking some Jewish classics. Last night we did just that, all in all about 15 Jews and friends congregated for a lesson in grandmotherly cooking. I wasn’t the head chef but I took the opportunity to make the delicious classic, Challah Bread. For those of you uninitiated Challah is the sweet, buttery, braided cousin of Brioche loved by members of the tribe everywhere, and rightly so. In the spectrum of bread (more on this in the future) Challah falls under the heading of “enriched” breads, meaning that the dough is enhanced by some combination of flavors and sugar into something between a bread and a cake. One benefit is that the dough comes out oily and wonderful, making it much less sticky than other bread doughs, and thus easier to work with.

Challah (makes 1 large loaf)
Active time: 20 minutes. Total time: 4 hours (including rest and baking)

4 cups flour
3 Tablespoons sugar
1/2 cup honey
3/4 teaspoon salt
2 eggs (plus one yolk for a wash)
1 teaspoon yeast
1 cup lukewarm water
3 Tablespoons neutral oil (or half a stick of butter, melted)

Stir the yeast into the water and allow it to sit for about 10 minutes, until it starts to foam a little. Add all the remaining wet ingredients to this mixture and stir or whisk it until pretty well combined. In another (large) bowl mix the flour, sugar and salt, form a well in the center, and pour the wet ingredients in. Gradually mix this until a shaggy dough forms then pour the whole bowl out onto a dry counter. Knead with your hands until the dough is cohesive, adding a little flour at a time to keep it from sticking to the counter. Knead the ball for about 10 minutes until it is completely uniform and elastic, better to knead more than less. Put the ball in an oiled bowl (it could be the one you mixed in) and allow it to rise for at least 2 hours at room temperature, it should just about double in size.

Once it’s risen, take the dough out and punch it down gently. Divide it into 3 pieces using a dough cutter or wet knife and stretch the pieces (gently) into ropes about 18 inches long, being careful not to tear it. Braid these ropes like you would hair, use a little water if the ends don’t particularly want to stick together. Lightly cover your braided challah with plastic wrap and allow it to rise a second time.

Preheat the oven to 375 and brush the dough with a mixture of 1 egg yolk and a tablespoon of water. Bake for 25-30 minutes, until it’s dark brown in most places. The loaf should sound hollow if you tap it on the bottom. Allow it to rest for 10 minutes before you slice it.