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.
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 which always impresses!
How to Make a Festive 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.)
Divide the Dough
After the first bulk rise of the dough (Step 5 in the Challah recipe and Step 7 in the Whole Wheat 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. 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
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!