Back in the old country, when you wanted to have a sweet new year, and there was a lack of such mirthfully sweet omens as chocolate chips, dulce de leche, and halva--you know, the stuff that you'd actually choose--you had to make do with raisins. Though I've added all of the above to our family Tishrei challah repertoire, I always make a raisin challah too, because tradition! And also? Once you get past its inferiority complex vis-à-vis chocolate chip challah, this guy is actually a powerful swing hitter, great with sweet and savory spreads alike. My husband, the resident raisin-lover, likes to use it for peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.
Getting the raisins into the dough
I use my trusty master challah recipe for the dough (it's included below), so what makes this a Rosh haShanah challah is its round shape and, of course, those raisins. Over the years I've played with different tactics for getting a nice raisin distribution, so the raisins aren't all bunched up in one part of the finished loaf. I've found that the best time to knead the raisins in is right after the dough comes together, before rising. I let the stand mixer knead the raisins in for 30 seconds or so, then dump out the dough and knead by hand for another 2-3 minutes.
Shaping a round raisin challah
Though it looks complicated, a 6-strand round is actually easy to make once you get the pattern going in your head. I have a step-by-step tutorial on braiding a 6-strand round here, but here's an overview.
You start by dividing the dough into six parts and rolling each into a strand about 12-14" / 30-35cm long. Set up your loaf by arranging the six strands in a grid pattern like in the photos above. Start by arranging three strands vertically, then weave one strand horizontally over, under, and over the vertical strands (photo: above, left). Then, add one horizontal strand above and one below it, weaving them under, over, under (photo: above, right). See that little square bump at the center of the grid? That's going to be the middle of your challah.
Now you'll notice you have four sets of 3 strands, one on each side of the grid you've just woven. All you need to do is braid these into 3-strand braids, the standard kind you make when braiding hair or yarn.
Finally, tuck each of the 4 braids under the challah, using them to push up the center from underneath. That's it! Leave your challah to rise some more while you heat up the oven, then brush with egg wash and bake.
You can also shape the loaf into a regular braided loaf, or, to make the traditional round shape, you can roll the entire dough one long strand and coil it up like a snail. Simple, but striking and festive.
Wishing you a sweet year of fulfillment, creativity, connection, and joy, big and small!
Round Raisin Challah (parve)
- Stand mixer fitted with dough hook attachment
- 3 - 3½ cups all-purpose flour - 400g - plus more as needed
- ⅔ cup warm water - 160ml
- 2 Tbsp honey - 40g
- 1 tsp active dry yeast* - 35g (½ packet)
- 2 eggs
- 3 Tbsp neutral-flavored oil - 40ml
- 2 tsp kosher salt - 12g
- ½ cups raisins, any kind you like
Activate the yeast:
- Place the honey in a glass measuring cup. Add the warm water to the measuring cup - warm, meaning it's comfortable to touch with your finger.
- Stir to dissolve the honey - it's okay if it doesn't dissolve completely. Add the yeast to the bowl and stir again.
- Set aside for 5-10 minutes to allow the yeast to get foamy.
Mix the dough:
- To your stand mixer bowl, add the flour. Add the foamy yeast mixture from the measuring cup to the mixer bowl, then the eggs, oil, and salt.
- Fit the bowl onto the stand mixer with the dough hook and set it on "stir" (the lowest setting). Continue mixing until the ingredients are well combined.
- Once the dough has started coming together, turn up the speed to 2 and let the machine knead the dough for 10 minutes. Check every few minutes to see if the dough is too wet (like a cake batter) or too dry (crumbly or thumping loudly around the bowl). The consistency of the dough will change significantly as the machine kneads it.
- If the dough is too wet, add more flour to the mixer bowl, a tablespoon at a time. If the dough is too dry, add more water, also a tablespoon at a time (it doesn't need to be warm).
- When the dough is supple and no longer sticky, add the raisins. Mix with the dough hook on the lowest speed for about 30 seconds. The raisins won't be evenly distributed yet.
- With floured hands, turn out the dough onto your work surface and knead by hand until the raisins are embedded in the dough and look well distributed, about 2-3 minutes You can add more raisins if you like and knead them in.
Leave the dough to rise:
- Mist a bowl with oil (unless I need it for something else, I use the same stand mixer bowl I just mixed the dough in). Shape the dough into a ball, place inside the bowl, and mist the ball of dough with some more oil. Cover tightly with cling / beeswax wrap or a bowl lid and leave in a warm part of your kitchen, such as the inside of your (turned-off) oven.
- The dough will rise slowly, but should be puffed and noticeably bigger after about 2 hours rise time, up to about 5 hours.
Shape and proof:
- Preheat the oven to 350°F / 180°C. Line one light-colored baking sheet with parchment or a silicone baking mat.
- Turn out the proofed dough onto a lightly floured surface. Using a bench scraper or a sharp knife, divide the dough into 6 equal portions.
- Roll each of the 6 lumps of dough into a strand about 1" / 2.5cm thick and 12" / 30cm long and tapered at the ends.
- Lay three ropes vertically in front of you. Weave one of the remaining strands horizontally over, under, over the 3 vertical strands.
- Weave the remaining 2 strands horizontally above and below the center horizontal strand, in the pattern under, over, under.
- You will now have 4 groups of 3 strands, one on each side of the grid you've just woven. Braid each set of 3 into a standard 3-strand braid.
- Tuck each of the 4 ends under the challah, pushing it up at the center from below.
- Transfer the braided loaf to the prepared baking sheet, cover with a clean kitchen towel, and leave to proof (rise in its final shape) for half an hour or so.
Bake the challah:
- In a small bowl, scramble an egg with a teaspoon of water. Brush over the challah. S
- Bake the challah for about 40 minutes, until golden and well risen.