Raisin challah is a treat any time of year (hello, French Toast), but it's especially iconic at Rosh Hashana. Every fall, kosher bakeries turning out majestic spiral challot studded with raisins as they gear up for the Jewish High Holidays -- the round shape is symbolic of continuity, and the addition of dried fruit expresses wishes for a sweet new year.
Bakery challah is wonderfully convenient, but there's nothing like homemade. With Rosh Hashana in mind, I created this honey-sweetened take on the holiday bread. I've swapped out some of the refined flour for white whole wheat, which adds texture and balances the sweetness of the plump golden raisins and honey. A touch of vanilla and an optional pinch of cardamom add intriguing dimension. It's a great choice if you're aiming for a sweet and healthy new year.
Tips: Measure the honey in the same graduated liquid measuring cup that you used for oil -- it will slide right out!
In her wonderful book A Blessing of Bread: Recipes and Rituals, Memories and Mitzvahs, award-winning author Maggie Glezer recommends rinsing the raisins before kneading them into challah dough. This softens the raisins, and removes extra sugars on their surfaces that could interfere with the action of the yeast.
- For The Challah:
- 1 cup (240 ml) warm water (110 - 115° F/43 - 46° C)
- 1 package active dry yeast (2-1/4 teaspoons/7 g)
- 2-1/2 cups (300 g) all-purpose flour
- 2 cups (280 g) white whole wheat flour, plus extra for kneading
- 1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon cardamom (optional)
- 2 large eggs
- 1/4 cup (55 ml) oil
- 1/3 cup (113 gm) honey
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- 1-1/2 teaspoons salt
- 1/2 cup golden raisins
- For the Egg Wash:
- 1 large egg
- 1 tablespoon water
- Pinch salt
Hand or Stand Mixer Method:
1. Place the warm water in a large bowl or stand mixer. Sprinkle with the yeast. Set aside in a warm place for 5 to 10 minutes, until the mixture is foamy. (If your yeast doesn't proof properly, discard the mixture and start again with fresh yeast).
2. In another large bowl, whisk together the all-purpose and white whole wheat flours, and the cardamom (if using). Set aside.
3. With a hand whisk or the mixer's whisk attachment, mix in 2 cups of the flour mixture, the eggs, oil, honey, vanilla, and salt.
Switch to a sturdy wooden spoon or the mixer's dough hook, and add the rest of the flour mixture 1 cup at a time, mixing well after each addition until a shaggy dough forms and begins to pull into a ball.
4. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface. With clean, floured hands, knead the dough until it is smooth and elastic and no streaks of flour are visible, about 5 to 10 minutes. (If the dough is too sticky to work easily, knead in more whole wheat or all-purpose flour a little at a time.) Allow the dough to rest for a few minutes while you clean and dry the large mixing bowl. Grease the inside of the bowl with a bit of oil. Place the challah dough in the bowl and turn to coat with the oil. Cover the bowl with a damp tea towel or plastic wrap and set aside in a warm place until the dough has doubled in bulk, about 1 hour and 30 minutes.
5. Lightly grease one or two baking sheets, or line with parchment paper. Sort through the raisins, discarding any that are hard or twiggy. Rinse the raisins in water until the water runs clear, and drain.
Punch the dough down. Knead the raisins into the dough on a lightly floured surface (you can divide the dough and raisins in half first if you find it easier to manage a smaller quantity of dough). When the raisins are evenly distributed throughout the dough, shape or braid it as desired. For a traditional Rosh Hashana spiral, simply shape the dough into one or two long ropes.
Wind each rope into a spiral shape and tuck the end under to secure.
(The recipe will make 1 large challah, 2 medium challot, 1 medium challah plus 6 challah rolls, or 12 rolls.)
6. Place the shaped challot and/or rolls on the baking sheet(s) and cover with clean, dry tea towels. Allow to rise until doubled, about 30 minutes to 1 hour.
7. Preheat the oven to 350°F. While the oven is heating, make the egg wash: whisk together the egg, water, and pinch of salt. Brush over the challah with a pastry brush. Bake the challah until the crust is a deep golden brown, and the loaf sounds hollow when tapped, about 30 to 35 minutes for a large challah, 20 to 25 minutes for a medium challah, and 15 to 20 minutes for rolls. Cool on a wire rack. Enjoy!
Bread Machine Method: Place the ingredients in the bread machine in the order recommended by the manufacturer (my bread machine suggest adding liquid ingredients, then flour, then yeast). Select "Dough Cycle." When the cycle ends, remove the dough from the machine. Knead in the rinsed raisins.
Shape as desired and transfer to prepared baking pans. Allow the challot to rise, covered lightly with a clean, slightly damp tea towel, for 30 minutes to an hour, or until doubled in size. Mix the egg, water, and pinch of salt, and brush challah with the egg wash. Bake in a preheated 350° F oven until the crust is golden, and the loaf sounds hollow when tapped, about 30 to 35 minutes for a large challah, 20 to 25 minutes for a medium challah, and 15 to 20 minutes for rolls.
Cool on a wire rack. Enjoy!