The circle of life: Round Challahs

Slices of the round challahs. Apple on the left; raisin on the right.

Last night as I said kaddish for my dad during the Kol Nidre service, I remembered all of the times I sat next to him and my grandfather as they stood in temple to say kaddish for their parents. The melodic cadence of the prayer was effortlessly recited by them both. But in that Reform temple of my childhood only the men said kaddish—a throw-back to more traditional practices. In my current, more traditional yet also more modern congregation, everyone recites the prayer, and I’ve been practicing for the past few years knowing that at any time it might be my turn, and I did not want to disappoint. There was no way to anticipate how emotional that moment would be for me.

My father died three weeks ago. Yesterday, before going to temple, I felt like baking again. And how fitting that the first thing I baked since his death were the holiday challahs, round to symbolize the circle of life and the cycle of the seasons; extra sweet so that we’ll all have a sweet year.

The round challahs are unique to both of the high holidays: Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur. Our local Jewish Federation has a group that does outreach programs for the seniors in our community. Over the years I’ve been asked to bake dozens of very small, individual, round challahs to contribute to one of their outreach programs. For Chanukah, Purim and the High Holidays they distribute little gift bags to Jewish elderly shut-ins around town, and when my father first moved in with us two years ago, he began receiving these bags. At first I thought it was a silly gesture, after all, my dad had the real thing, right here in our home! He didn’t need the little hamentaschen, or the tiny challahs—mine were baked for him fresh! But to my surprise he loved the bags. He happily showed the contents to me when I got home from work, and he took great pleasure in having little candies of his own that he could share with my children. For Rosh Hashana he would receive a small bottle of grape juice, applesauce, honey, a small round challah, some chocolates, some raisins and a one-page summary of the holiday which he would read carefully with his magnifying glass. What a lovely mitzvah (good deed) this is!

Ten days ago, right before Rosh Hashana I was surprised by a gift bag which was brought to me by Lee, the former director of our local Jewish federation. She brought me a giant version of the bag that they make for the seniors, with enough of everything to feed all five of us, including a full-sized challah, made fresh that morning by Lee herself. She said that she felt funny bringing a challah to the challah baker, but my heart was not in baking that week, and her gift couldn’t have been more appropriate. I was so moved by that gift.

For the raisin bread, drizzle on some honey, sprinkle on raisins and cinammon.

Arrange a thin layer of apples for the apple bread. Or grate an apple and wring out the juice before spreading over the dough.

Roll it up. Use both hands and work evenly across the length.

Pinch the ends.

Make the coil. Place it seam side down, and tuck under the end.

Here the coils are ready to rise. They can sit together like this on the same baking sheet. It’s okay if they kiss a little when they bake!

Here are the just-baked breads. It’s okay if they come together while baking. Just gently pull them apart.

Here’s Macey in his favorite chair, hoping for a hot plate on the dinner table and a taste of some hot, fresh challah.

 

Ingredients

For the dough:

  • 1 package yeast (2¼ tsp.)
  • 2/3 c. sugar
  • 2 c. warm water
  • 1 egg
  • 3 Tbs. oil
  • 1 Tbs. salt
  • 2 c. whole wheat flour
  • 4 c. (about) white flour

Mix together and brush on before baking:

  • 1 egg
  • 1 Tbs. honey

Sprinkle with:

  • sunflower, poppy and/or sesame seeds, about ¼  cup total

 

Directions

  1. Proof the yeast: Mix together the yeast and sugar, add the warm water, stir, and let it sit for 20 minutes. It should get foamy.
  2. Add the rest of the dough ingredients, putting in just enough white flour to make a smooth, not sticky dough.
    Knead for about 10 minutes.
  3. Cover and let rise for about 3 hours, or until doubled in size. Shape into two small loaves or one large loaf. Place loaves on a greased cookie sheet or into greased loaf pans if you want sandwich-shaped loaves. Cover and let rise for one more hour.
  4. Brush with the egg/honey mixture and sprinkle with some seeds. Bake at 350˚ for 35–40 minutes. (Add 5–10 more minutes for a challah that’s stuffed and rolled, covering with foil for the last 15 minutes to prevent the top from burning.)

 

You can find more tasty bakes in my newly released cookbooks:

You Can’t Have Dry Coffee: Papa’s Excuse to Have a Nosh And Nana’s Perfect Pastries

Dry Coffee promo

“You can’t have dry coffee,” was what my grandfather would say when reaching for one of my grandmother’s delicious cookies or pastries. Elegant rugelach and mandel bread, tart plum cake, delicate cream cheese cookies, and sweet babka—these fancy treats started me on my life-long love of baking. Along with those classics, this collection has challahs, bagels, bialys, plus modern-day luscious treats like chocolate cream cheese brownies, and the best chewy, peanut butter chocolate cookies I’ve ever had.Whether my grandfather was being ironic, or if something was lost in translation from Yiddish, I’ll never know. But ironic or not, a cup of coffee needs a good nosh, and this book is a compilation of our family’s best.

The Plate is My Canvas: Recipes and Stories from My Family’s Interfaith Kitchen

Plate promo shot

Written in the style of a family memoir, with stories from my family, this book includes all of the Jewish classics, from rugelach to latkes. Married to a Lutheran man, I learned to cook my husband’s family’s classics as well—with help from my mother-in-law’s handwritten recipes. Stunning photographs accompany each recipe. A perfect gift for an interfaith family.

image

Blue Ribbon Challah — 10 Year Anniversary of my Visit to the New Mexico State Fair

Dori taking the kids out in the Swedish double-buggy.

Picture this photo with a five year-old standing on a running board between my arms, and two large, braided loaves of challah riding on the rack beneath the little kids’ bottoms. That was the image the time this city girl decided to enter her bread in the New Mexico State Fair. (And I’m pretty sure that’s the day the buggy exceeded it’s weight limit, and one of the wheels became warped.)

We were living in the mountains just outside of Albuquerque, in a somewhat isolated area, where a trip to the big grocery store meant a 20 mile car ride. With three kids at home, ages 5, 4 and 2, I was happy to putter around the house, rather than wrangle them all into the car, and so it happened that I spent a lot of time baking bread. I challenged myself to go without using store-bought bread. Through a co-op we belonged to at the time, I ordered 50 pound bags of different kinds of flour. I baked whole wheat bread, molasses bread and a beautiful two-toned swirly bread, but our favorite was the challah I learned to bake from my Cousin Betty’s recipe.

Our mountain newspaper had a notice that the New Mexico State Fair was coming to Albuquerque. Being raised in a North Shore suburb of Chicago, I’d never so much as set foot in a state fair before, but I knew that people took bread and had it judged there. Doug was out of the country for two weeks and I was looking for something interesting to do, so I decided to enter.

I entered two separate contests: The Fleischmann’s Yeast Bread contest (with a cash prize), and the New Mexico State Fair bread contest. As I filled out the paperwork the official asked me for my empty Fleischmann’s yeast packages so she could staple them to the entry form. I’m a pretty loyal Red Star yeast user, so her request made me pause. She didn’t miss a beat, thankfully, and handed me a three-pack and a pair of scissors. “There’s a trash can under the table.” I snipped off the ends, emptied that sad yeast into the trash can, and handed her the packages to staple to my Fleischmann’s entry form.

My sister-in-law, Donna, a veteran fair goer, later informed me that picking one’s category is crucial when entering a contest. But at the time I didn’t give it a lot of thought and I chose the “holiday bread” category because challah is a Jewish sabbath bread, and the sabbath is our most important holiday — right? Unfortunately, Easter sticky buns fell into the same category. In fact, there were over 30 breads in the holiday bread competition.

The judging was fascinating. A celebrity food judge from one of the local television stations was tasting the breads for the Fleischmann’s contest. I watched with my three squirmy kids, still buckled into the buggy, while the judge took a slice from the very center of each loaf, holding some up as examples of having a good “crumb” or crust.

The kids held out long enough for my bread to be held up by the judge, who said that he was from Philadelphia and he knew what challah tasted like and that this was the best challah he’d ever had. I won a big fancy third place ribbon, and $30, which almost paid for parking and four ice creams. Later, when I talked with the judge, he told me that I should have entered in the international category. Maybe next time.

I had to drive the 20 miles back up into the mountains so that I could get Max to afternoon kindergarten, and I missed the judging of my other loaf. I called later to find out the results and learned that I had won the first place ribbon in the New Mexico bread contest. They put the bread on display in the case for the 10 remaining days of the fair and asked if I wanted it back at the end. I said no. But I did go to town to fetch my ribbons, and I framed them to display in my kitchen. With thanks to Betty Jane for her fine recipe.

My framed ribbons on the right. On the left is a “Santo,” a painted image of a saint that I got in Taos, New Mexico. On the back it says: Saint Marta. Patroness of housewives, dietitians, domestic workers, waitresses and lay sisters, invoked to protect the home.

Ingredients

For the dough:

  • 1 package yeast (2¼ tsp.)
  • 2/3 c. sugar
  • 2 c. warm water
  • 1 egg
  • 3 Tbs. oil
  • 1 Tbs. salt
  • 2 c. whole wheat flour
  • 4 c. (about) white flour

Mix together and brush on before baking:

  • 1 egg
  • 1 Tbs. honey

Sprinkle with:

  • sunflower, poppy and/or sesame seeds, about ¼  cup total

 

Directions

  1. Proof the yeast: Mix together the yeast and sugar, add the warm water, stir, and let it sit for 20 minutes. It should get foamy.
  2. Add the rest of the dough ingredients, putting in just enough white flour to make a smooth, not sticky dough.
    Knead for about 10 minutes.
  3. Cover and let rise for about 3 hours, or until doubled in size. Shape into two small loaves or one large loaf. Place loaves on a greased cookie sheet or into greased loaf pans if you want sandwich-shaped loaves. Cover and let rise for one more hour.
  4. Brush with the egg/honey mixture and sprinkle with some seeds. Bake at 350˚ for 35–40 minutes.

 

You can find this recipe (and many more!) in these cookbooks:

The Plate is My Canvas: Recipes and Stories from My Family’s Interfaith Kitchen

Plate promo shot

and

You Can’t Have Dry Coffee: Papa’s Excuse to Have a Nosh And Nana’s Perfect Pastries

Dry Coffee promo