Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year (Sept. 18-20), is a time for prayer, good deeds, reflecting on past mistakes and making amends with friends, family and the greater community.
Luckily, it is also a holiday filled to the brim with delicious recipes celebrating the sweetness of life! What does that mean for us chefs? It means loads of delicious dishes that highlight apples and honey, to represent a sweet year ahead.
On Shabbat, the Jewish Sabbath (a weekly observance from sundown Friday through nightfall Saturday), Jews eat loaves of a braided bread called challah. For Rosh Hashana, we bake the challah in a round shape to symbolize the cyclical nature of life and/or the crown of God.
In my family, we have a long tradition of making apple and honey challah. Here is my favorite recipe. Warning: It takes some time and commitment, so don’t be afraid to ask for help. The tricky part is waiting for the dough to rise (three times!) and the braiding, but it is SO worth it!
Happy Jewish New Year to those who celebrate!
Apple and Honey Challah
Prep time: 3 hours, 20 minutes
Cook time: 50 minutes
Stand mixer (or strong arms)
Ingredients for dough:
¾ cups warm water (110 degrees-ish), divided
½ packet active dry yeast
½ teaspoon sugar
1 large egg
1-2 large egg yolks
½ cup honey
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon salt
3-4 cups flour
1 ½ medium baking apples (I used green Granny Smiths, but you can use less tart apples like MacIntosh for a sweeter taste)
⅛ cup sugar
1 tablespoon raw sugar (turbinado)
1 large egg
Coarse sugar for sprinkling
Making the dough:
1. Into a bowl filled with ⅛ cup of warm water, whisk your yeast and ½ teaspoon of sugar. Let this stand until it is foamy, about 5-10 minutes. It is very important to see the foaming of the yeast. If it doesn’t activate and foam, the yeast may be too old and your challah won’t rise!
2. Add the remaining water, the egg, egg yolks, honey, oil, vanilla and salt to the foamy yeast mixture. Blend the ingredients together with your whisk.
3. If you are using a stand mixer, transfer contents of bowl to the mixer bowl and put on the dough hook. Slowly add in your flour. On a moderate speed, mix until the wet and dry ingredients are well combined, then reduce the speed and allow your dough to be kneaded until it is smooth and elastic, about 5 minutes. If mixing by hand, slowly add flour to the wet mixture a half cup at a time, using your hands or a spoon to mix the ingredients. When you’ve added enough flour so that the spoon can’t stir anymore, use your hands to incorporate the dough until it is smooth and elastic. Take dough ball out of the bowl and knead on a lightly floured surface a few more times.
4. Transfer your dough to a large oil-greased bowl, cover it with plastic wrap and set aside at room temp for an hour until it has almost doubled in size. Take the dough out and punch it down a few times and then set aside to rise again for another hour.
5. Adding apples to dough: Peel your apples and dice them into small quarter-inch pieces. Toss the apple pieces in a bit of sugar if you’d like the overall taste of your challah to be sweeter.
6. Turn dough out onto a floured surface and knead it a few times, adding flour as needed so that it doesn’t feel sticky. Divide the dough into four equal pieces. Roll each piece of dough into a rectangle shape that is approximately 12 inches long and 3 inches wide. Take a quarter of your apple pieces and evenly spoon it along the middle of the rectangle, blotting the apple pieces lightly if they are damp with juice. Take the sides of the rectangle and pinch inward to seal in the apple filling. Roll strand to make sure it is even and there are no holes. Repeat with remaining dough segments.
Braiding the dough:
So here is the fun part — and the part that everyone gets nervous about. Don’t worry, it’s much easier than you would think! We’ve provided photos to follow.
Baking the dough:
1. We’re almost there! Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Make your egg wash by beating the egg until it is smooth and brush over your braided challah. Let your dough rest on the sheet for another 40 minutes.
2. After the final rise, brush your challah again with egg wash and sprinkle with course sugar if you like.
3. Bake in the middle of your oven for 40 to 45 minutes. Be sure to check the bread frequently to make sure it’s not browning too quickly (you can cover with tin foil if it’s getting too dark) or baking unevenly (usually the back of the oven is hotter than the front). You can turn your challah around halfway into the baking time, if you wish.
4. Take your gorgeous challah out of the oven and allow to cool. You can serve it in slices with butter and a bit of flake salt, make it sweeter with honey or just simply eat it plain.