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Tradition, Tradition!

A Festive Challah can really fit any occasion. For this time of year, it is tradition to make round challah for Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish new year. Why? We may never know the exact reason this tradition came to be, but some theories include that it represents

  • no end in a year for a wish of blessings;
  • the circle of the year and seasons;
  • a crown to honor god as king on the new year; and
  • something more special than the weekly challah of the Sabbath.

For more information about the symbolism and braiding, check out this article from Aish.

With this tradition, we have even more liberties to play with our food! There are endless ways to create a round challah for Rosh Hashanah. The simplest way, and the one we see most often in bakeries that are mass producing these round balls of delish dough, is to take a strand of dough and roll it up. It’s pretty, round, and quick. Mission accomplished.

For us home bakers, we can get a little more creative, and, to be honest, there’s not much more effort involved to create something like this Festive Challah or a 4-Strand Round Challah, both of which always impress!

Three strand challah formed in a circle with a ramekin inserted in the middle. Shown with a pastry brush applying egg wash.
Roll 3 strands out, each to about 18 inches. Braid starting from middle, working down, then go back to middle and work up. Join ends, egg wash, and add topping. Easy!
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How to Make a Festive Challah

How to Make a Festive Round Challah

I am going to break it down for you here, and the video in this post shows you how simple this really is.

Make the Dough

My recipe already has honey in it, so it is super ready for Rosh Hashanah! To make this Festive Challah, you will need half of the Challah recipe. (Make the whole batch and divide the dough in half, preferably by weight. You can make two Festive Challahs, or one Festive Challah and another in a different round shape like an eight strand braided round!) If you want to go a bit healthier, make my Whole Wheat Challah recipe, also loaded with honey. (I have not yet done this with Whole Wheat Challah, but I would recommend the whole recipe for one challah. It will be slightly larger than making a Festive Challah with half the dough from my traditional Challah, but using half of the Whole Wheat Challah recipe will not give you enough dough.) You can also use my Fluffy Sourdough Challah recipe to make one Festive Challah.

Divide the Dough

After the first bulk rise of the dough (Step 5 in the Challah recipe, Step 7 in the Whole Wheat Challah, and Step 2 in the Fluffy Sourdough Challah), divide it into three equal portions. Your best bet is to weigh the total amount of the dough, divide by 3, and weigh out 3 equal portions.

Roll Dough into Strands and Form Round Challah

Roll each of the 3 portions into strands, approximately 18 inches long. Here are a few pointers for rolling out your Challah strands:

  • Using the palms of your hands, roll the dough against a clean countertop.
  • Try to keep the ends of the log the same width as the center. (Try to avoid tapering the ends.)
  • If the dough starts pulling back (shrinking), cover it with plastic wrap and let it rest 5-10 minutes. (You are allowing the gluten to rest. After a short rest, you should be able to roll the dough out without any pull-back.)
  • Line up the 3 strands in front of you, so they appear vertically in front of you.
  • Starting from the center of the strands, make a simple three strand braid working your way down towards the ends of the strands closest to you, leaving about an inch of each strand not braided. Then go back to the middle and work your way up, also leaving about an inch of the top edge of the strands not braided.
  • Form the braided dough into a circle, joining the ends together. I will be honest with you here – I am not a great braider (not sure I am even a good braider!), and I always struggle joining the ends together. In the end though, I cover my Festive Challah in seeds, so no one can really notice if the ends sort of looked like a mess when they were joined.

Insert Oven-Proof Bowl in Center of Round Challah

Use an oven safe round dish (ramekin, small Pyrex dish) for the center. Spray the outside of your round dish with non-stick spray before inserting it into the center of your Festive Challah. (Alternatively, you could form a circle with aluminum foil, spray the outside, and insert it in the middle.)

Let Shaped Dough Rise

Cover and allow the Festive Challah to rise as stated in the recipe you are using.

Egg Wash and Decorate

Apply egg wash and any seeds/toppings. In this Festive Challah, I used poppy seeds, sesame seeds, quinoa, flax seeds, black sesame seeds, and Everything Seasoning. (For a deeper and darker look on your Festive Challah, use the egg yolk only for the egg wash.) Bake as instructed.

Cool and Enjoy!

Once cool, the round dish in the center should separate from the dough. You can wash it if any seeds or egg wash got on the inside. Once clean, place back in the center and fill with honey.

Again, this Festive Challah is actually super duper easy to make, and really takes little more effort than forming a traditional three strand braid. If you can braid hair, you can make a Festive Challah!

Three strand challah formed in a circle with a ramekin in the middle decorated with seeds just out of the oven.
Once out of the oven, you can remove the center bowl to clean it up before you fill it with honey.

Frequently Asked Questions About Making a Festive Challah

Can I use a full challah recipe?

If making my traditional challah recipe, I recommend using half the dough to make a Festive Challah. In other words, from that recipe, you can make two Festive Challahs. If making my Whole Wheat Challah or my Fluffy Sourdough Challah, use the full recipe of each for one Festive Challah.

How do I roll challah dough into strands?

Using the palms of your hands, roll the dough against a clean countertop. Try to keep the ends of the log the same width as the center. (Try to avoid tapering the ends.) If the dough starts pulling back (shrinking), cover it with plastic wrap and let it rest 5-10 minutes. (You are allowing the gluten to rest. After a short rest, you should be able to roll the dough out without any pull-back.)

What’s an egg wash?

Egg wash is what makes a challah brown on top and look shiny. It is best to use a pastry brush to apply the egg wash to the dough. Make sure to apply the brush everywhere dough is visible for an even, consistent application. For a light browning color, mix one egg with 1 teaspoon of water. For a darker brown look, just whisk one egg. For a dark brown look, use just an egg yolk.

Three strand challah formed in a circle with a bowl of honey in the center.
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5 from 1 vote

How to Make a Festive Challah

Learn how easy it is to shape a round, festive challah for Rosh Hashanah.
Active Time5 mins
Total Time5 mins
Course: Bread
Cuisine: Jewish
Keyword: challah, rosh hashanah, round challah
Yield: 1 challah
Author: Rob Finkelstein

Materials

Instructions

  • Make the Dough. My traditional Challah recipe already has honey in it, so it is super ready for Rosh Hashanah! Alternatively, you can use the full recipe of my Whole Wheat Challah or my Fluffy Sourdough Challah.
  • Divide the Dough. After the first bulk rise of the dough (Step 5 in the Challah recipe, Step 7 in the Whole Wheat Challah and Step 2 in the Fluffy Sourdough Challah), divide it into three equal portions. Your best bet is to weigh the total amount of the dough, divide by 3, and weigh out 3 equal portions.
  • Roll Dough into Strands. Roll each of the 3 portions into strands, approximately 18 inches long. If the dough starts pulling back (shrinking), cover it with plastic wrap and let it rest 5-10 minutes.
  • Braid. Line up the 3 strands in front of you, so they appear vertically in front of you. Starting from the center of the strands, make a simple three strand braid working your way down towards the ends of the strands closest to you, leaving about an inch of each strand not braided. Then go back to the middle and work your way up, also leaving about an inch of the top edge of the strands not braided. Form the braided dough into a circle, joining the ends together.
  • Insert Oven-Proof Bowl in Center. Use an oven safe round dish (ramekin, small Pyrex dish) for the center. Spray the outside of your round dish with non-stick spray before inserting it into the center of your Festive Challah. (Alternatively, you could form a circle with aluminum foil, spray the outside, and insert it in the middle.)
  • Second Rise. Cover and allow the Festive Challah to rise as stated in the recipe you are using. Egg wash the outside of the Festive Challah and decorate with seeds as desired. Bake as instructed.
  • Cool and Enjoy. Once cool, the round dish in the center should separate from the dough. You can wash it if any seeds or egg wash got on the inside. Once clean, place back in the center and fill with honey.

Notes

  • If making my traditional challah recipe, I recommend using half the dough to make a Festive Challah. In other words, from that recipe, you can make two Festive Challahs or make one Festive Challah and one 4-Strand Round Challahs. If making my Whole Wheat Challah or my Fluffy Sourdough Challah, use the full recipe of each for one Festive Challah.
  • Using the palms of your hands, roll the dough against a clean countertop. Try to keep the ends of the log the same width as the center. (Try to avoid tapering the ends.) If the dough starts pulling back (shrinking), cover it with plastic wrap and let it rest 5-10 minutes. (You are allowing the gluten to rest. After a short rest, you should be able to roll the dough out without any pull-back.)
  • Egg wash is what makes a challah brown on top and look shiny. It is best to use a pastry brush to apply the egg wash to the dough. Make sure to apply the brush everywhere dough is visible for an even, consistent application. For a light browning color, mix one egg with 1 teaspoon of water. For a darker brown look, just whisk one egg. For a dark brown look, use just an egg yolk.

 

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