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How To Make The Best Sweet Challah Recipe For A Sweet New Year

Updated on December 6, 2015
Chantelle Porter profile image

Chantelle has been cooking with her son since he was three years old. They are working on a cookbook that they hope to finish by next year.

Ginger Pear Challah With Lemon Honey Glaze
Ginger Pear Challah With Lemon Honey Glaze | Source

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Challah is a braided egg bread that is eaten by Jews on the Sabbath and holidays. Loaded with symbolism and tradition, on festive occasions a blessing is said over two loaves which represents the manna the children of Israel received during their Exodus from Egypt.

Challah comes in many sizes and shapes all of which have different meanings. Braided loaves are the most common and symbolize love. Three braids stand for truth, peace and justice. Twelve humps represent the twelve loaves for the twelve tribes. Round loaves, which are eaten on Rosh Hashanah, symbolize the circle of life. Ladder and hand shapes are served before Yom Kippur and represent ascending to great heights with the hand representing being inscribed for a good year. Triangular loaves remind us of Haman's ears. Sweet challahs with honey or raisins are meant to bring joy and happiness.

The name challah was originally given to a bread in South Germany during the Middle Ages and was adopted by the Jews who lived there. Prior to that the bread was called berches. Used initially in religious rituals by Jews in Germany, Austria and Bohemia it spread to Poland, Eastern Europe and Russia when the Jews migrated there.

You don't need to be Jewish to love challah. Similar to brioche, it is an airy rich bread that makes great french toast, bread puddings and amazing grilled cheese.

Challah Ingredients
Challah Ingredients | Source
  • 2 Cups Water
  • 5 Cups White Bread Flour
  • 3 Tablespoons Honey
  • 2 Large Eggs
  • 8 Tablespoons Butter
  • 1.5 Teaspoons Yeast
  • 1.5 Teaspoons Salt
  • .5 Cup Crystallized Ginger
  • 2 Bartlett Pears
  • 1 Cup Powdered Sugar
  • 2 Tablespoons Honey
  • 2 Tablespoons Milk
Click thumbnail to view full-size
ButterFlour, Yeast And Salt
Butter | Source
Flour, Yeast And Salt
Flour, Yeast And Salt | Source

Mix The Dough

  1. Pour 2 cups of lukewarm water into your bread machine. The temperature of the water should be about 110 to 115 degrees Fahrenheit. If your water is too hot, it will kill the yeast. If your water is too cold, the yeast will not activate.
  2. Melt a half a cup of butter and add to the water.
  3. Add in the three tablespoons of honey.
  4. Crack the eggs and add to the liquids.
  5. Measure out 5 cups of white flour and pour on top of the liquid.
  6. Make a well in the middle of the flour and add your yeast.
  7. In one corner of the mixture, pour in your salt.
  8. Set your bread machine on white bread and light crust.

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Bartlett PearsDiced Crystallized Ginger
Bartlett Pears
Bartlett Pears | Source
Diced Crystallized Ginger
Diced Crystallized Ginger | Source

Prepare The Filling

  1. Cube 2 pears. Don't make them too large. 1/2 inch cubes generally work best.
  2. Dice the crystallized ginger. The pieces should be small. Large pieces can be overpowering so I like to dice them about 1/4 inch by 1/4 inch.
  3. Mix the pears and ginger and set aside.

Click thumbnail to view full-size

Braid And Bake Your Dough

  1. Once your dough has risen, remove it from the bread machine and separate it into four equal pieces.
  2. Dust your work surface with flour.
  3. Roll each piece of dough into a long log and flatten it as much as you can. This is something like working with pizza dough.
  4. Spread 1 tablespoon of butter on each piece of dough and sprinkle with your pear/ginger mixture.
  5. Seal each strand. It works better if you fold one side over the other. Dough that's pinched separates more easily.
  6. Carefully lay each strand, seam side down, into the shape of a a tic tac toe board. (see picture)
  7. Braid each side separately. The right hand strand goes left, the left hand strand goes right. Do this for each side.
  8. When finished you should have a circle.
  9. Grease a cookie sheet and carefully move the loaf. Don't worry if it seprates some just pinch it back together.
  10. Heat your oven at 250 for 1 minute.
  11. Put a cake pan of hot water on the bottom shelf of your oven.
  12. Cover your loaf with a tea towel and let rise for 40 minutes.
  13. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes.

Lemon Honey Glaze
Lemon Honey Glaze | Source

Mix The Glaze

  • 1 Cup Powdered Sugar
  • 2 Tablespoons Honey
  • 2 Tablespoons Milk
  • Lemon zest from one lemon
  1. Whisk sugar, honey, milk and lemon together until the consistency is smooth and there are no lumps.
  2. Once your loaf has cooled, drizzle the glaze over the loaf.

Makes 1 large or two small loaves. 16 servings.

Note: The challah is quite sweet. If you like a "breadier" challah, leave off the icing.

Choosing Your Flour

The type of flour you use when baking bread affects its taste, texture, appearance, moisture content and nutritional quality. While you can never go wrong with bread flour, you might want to consider experimenting with different flours and create loaves specific to your taste. Here are a few to get you started:

  • All purpose flour works well when baking airy bread like baguettes.
  • Whole wheat flour has more fiber than white and a more pronounced flavor.
  • Rye flour absorbs more water than wheat but attracts more yeast, which makes it a good choice as a sourdough starter.
  • Spelt flour produces loaves than are denser than wheat with a nutty flavor.

Choosing Your Honey

According to the National Honey Board, there are over 300 varieties of honey sold in the US. Each variety originates from a different flower source. The taste, aroma and color of each variety is affected not only by the flower of origin but also by climactic changes. Generally, milder tasting honey is light in color while bolder tasting honey is darker. Below are some common varieties available in the US that you may want to try.

Common Honey Varietals

Best Use
Table honey
Rich and buttery
Dressings and sauces
Full bodied
Baked goods
BBQ Sauce
Table honey
Baked goods

Tips For Making Challah

  • Plan to set aside about 3.5 to 4 hours. Good bread takes time.
  • Purchase a good bread machine. 10 minutes of kneading is onerous and really adds up if you're making more than one loaf a week.
  • Start with room temperature ingredients so they don't chill the yeast.
  • If you're just learning to make home made bread, buy a thermometer. It is so easy to kill yeast if your water is not the right temperature. Eventually you'll get a feel for it.
  • Want to make it vegan? Eggs add richness but can be eliminated. Substitute Earth Balance or olive oil for the butter.
  • Experiment. Try different flours and add ins. Why be boring?

Serving Suggestions

  • French toast with maple syrup
  • Bread pudding
  • Slathered in blue cheese butter
  • In a grilled swiss cheese sandwich
  • Plain with a strong cup of morning coffee
  • In a brunch egg baked dish

Try Some New Flavor Combinations

Mix In
Double Chocolate
Cocoa Powder
Chocolate Chips
Coffee Cake
Walnut Filling
Streusel Topping
Choco Cherry
Dried Cherries
Chocolate Chips
Apple Raisin
Macadamia Nuts
Nutrition Facts
Serving size: 1 slice
Calories 324
Calories from Fat54
% Daily Value *
Fat 6 g9%
Saturated fat 4 g20%
Unsaturated fat 2 g
Carbohydrates 61 g20%
Sugar 25 g
Fiber 1 g4%
Protein 5 g10%
Cholesterol 15 mg5%
Sodium 25 mg1%
* The Percent Daily Values are based on a 2,000 calorie diet, so your values may change depending on your calorie needs. The values here may not be 100% accurate because the recipes have not been professionally evaluated nor have they been evaluated by the U.S. FDA.

© 2015 Chantelle Porter


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