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Sep 18, 2017

Long Fermented Challah

3 strand braided challah on cooling rack

This year, Wednesday, September 20th, marks Rosh Hashanah, or Jewish New Year. As with most holidays, there are a variety of festive foods that help celebrate the “Head of the Year”, but one of the most ubiquitous items to grace the holiday table is challah.

This enriched dough bread is normally fortified with oil, honey, and eggs, then braided into a beautifully decorated loaf. We also tried our hand at “turban” challah, the shape of which symbolizes the year as a circle, and observed the tradition of adding raisins to wish everyone a “sweet new year”.

Whether or not you observe Rosh Hashanah, challah makes an impressive addition to your table (not to mention some pretty major french toast).


Warm (not hot) water 355 grams (divided)

Active dry yeast 7 grams

Sugar 4 grams

1 egg + 1 egg for making egg wash

3 egg yolks

Honey 85 grams

Canola oil 56 grams

Salt 8 grams

All-Purpose or Bread flour 600 to 720 grams


Raisins or chocolate chips (to incorporate)

Sesame seeds, poppy seeds, kosher salt (for topping)

Makes 2 regular loaves, 24 dinner rolls or 1 mega-challah


Fire oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit

1. Add sugar to 60 grams warm water and bloom your yeast (add the yeast to the sugar water and wait until it is frothy, about 10 minutes). If your yeast doesn’t bloom, start over with fresh yeast or prepare for disappointment. This is a picture of very happy, active yeast.

bloomed yeast in a crock

2. When your yeast is active, add the remaining water, 1 egg, 3 egg yolks, honey, canola oil, and salt. Whisk or use a paddle attachment to combine the ingredients.

3. Begin adding flour, 100 grams at a time, and continue to mix until a smooth, elastic dough forms. The dough shouldn’t be sticky. If you are using a mixer, you may need to switch to a dough hook attachment or turn the dough out and knead by hand. Once your dough comes together, allow it to rest for 5 minutes. Knead or mix an additional 10 minutes, then place the ball in a lightly oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate overnight.

4. Turn your dough out on to a floured surface and cover it with plastic wrap or a damp tea towel. Allow the dough to proof until it has doubled (about one hour after it comes to room temperature), then punch it down. Allow the dough to double again, then punch it down. It’s very important to let the dough rise and to expel any extra air pockets. This bread has a pretty tight crumb and, if your bread rises too aggressively after it has been shaped, you will lose definition in the finished loaf (see: my turban challah).

5. Once you have punched the dough down a second time, you are ready to shape your loaves! I chose a three strand braid and a circle or “turban” challah. Divide your dough in two and set half aside.

6. Turban challah with golden raisins: I rolled my dough into a “rectangle” roughly 8″ x 12″. This was a good opportunity to squeeze any extra air bubbles out. I covered about 2/3 of the rectangle with a healthy sprinkling of raisins (1-1 1/2 cups). I then rolled the rectangle into a column and tapered the ends. Finally, I wrapped the column into a spiral and tucked the end beneath the loaf. Sadly, this is the last time we will see that lovely spiral.
unbaked challah dough with raisins          unbaked turban challah loaf

7. Braided challah: I took the remaining dough and divided it into 3 pieces. I flattened out each piece a bit with my rolling pin to release any air bubbles, then rolled each piece into a long, skinny rope. I pinched the ropes together at one end and I braided the three pieces by crossing the center with first the right, then the left ropes alternately (if you want to learn 4 or 6 strand braiding, Tori Avey has a very good tutorial). When the loaf was braided, I pinched the ends and tucked the pieces under.
 unbaked challah dough being shaped           challah dough being braided
unbaked braided challah loaf
8. Brush your loaves with egg wash (a mixture of cool water and 1 beaten egg). Allow the loaves to rise an additional 30-45 minutes, watching to make sure they don’t rise too much and lose their design. While the loaves are rising, spread your embers over the floor of the oven to ensure even heating. After 10 minutes, carefully remove your embers and let the oven “rest” with the insulated door in place. When the final rise is complete, bake the loaves at 350 degrees for 20 minutes.
9. After 20 minutes, remove your loaves and brush them once again with egg wash. If you are adding toppings, such as sesame or poppy seeds, sprinkle them over the freshly washed loaves. Return the loaves to the oven to bake for an additional 20 minutes. If the loaves start to brown too quickly, tent them with aluminum foil to protect the outside from over-coloring before they are fully baked.
10. Remove the loaves and cool on racks. The loaf is fully baked if the bottom gives a hollow sound when tapped. After 30 minutes, you can cut into your loaf.
turban challah in front of wood fired oven
Sometimes it’s what’s on the inside that counts…
close up view of challah bread with raisins
Shanah Tovah from The Bread Stone Ovens Company!

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