Fall: Harvest and Holidays

Raisin Challah

Raisin Challah

I really love this time of the year.  I enjoy fall fairs, apple picking and the leaves changing.  Fall is also the time of the Jewish New Year (Rosh Hashanah) and Thanksgiving, and in our house, that means lots of baking.  I’m not Jewish (I married into a family that is) and during this season, I joke often that I’m only in it for the food.

A Jewish holiday wouldn’t be the same without Challah (unless it’s Passover and that’s another blog entry).  The recipe that I use makes 2 loaves.  This  bread freezes nicely and often we keep both loaves.  Rosh Hashanah means I give a lot of bread away.  I can’t make enough bread for everyone who reads this but I can post the recipe here so you can enjoy this for yourself!

New Year’s Sweet Round Raisin Challah
excerpted from A Treasury of Jewish Holiday Baking by Marcy Goldman

2 tblsp dry yeast
1 3/4 cup warm water
1/3 cup plus a pinch of sugar
1/3 cup light honey
3 1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup vegetable oil
3 eggs plus 2 egg yolks
6 1/2 – 7 1/2 cups bread flour
1 1/2 cups dark or yellow raisins, plumped [see below]

Egg Wash:
2 tblsp water
2 tsp sugar
1 egg plus 1 egg yolk
sesame seeds for sprinkling (optional)

A few notes before you begin:
I use 1 egg plus 1 tblsp of water for my egg wash. It works quite nicely and is less fussy than the original.
I have successfully frozen this dough before baking, removed it from the freezer, let it go through the 2nd rise and then baked it. I have also successfully frozen a baked loaf.
When measuring honey, it sticks to your measuring cup. To avoid this, pour the oil from the recipe into the 1/3 cup measure, then pour it into the 1/2 cup measure. Fill your 1/3 cup measure with honey and top off the 1/2 cup measure with oil. The thin layer of oil left behind in the 1/3 cup measure will prevent honey from sticking to the measuring cup.
I use a KitchenAid 5 quart stand mixer with a dough hook for this recipe.

[To plump your raisins, pour boiling water over them and let them sit for a few minutes. I do this first and drain them while the dough is resting.]
Stir together the yeast, water and a pinch of sugar.  Cover the bowl with a clean tea towel/dish cloth.
Allow the mixture to stand for 5 minutes.
Briskly stir in the remaining sugar, honey and salt.
Add oil, eggs, yolks and 5 cups of the flour.
Turn your mixer onto speed 2 or 3 and let it go until the dough starts to come together, approximately 5-10 minutes.
Knead by hand or with a dough hook for about 10 to 12 minutes, adding the remaining flour as required to make a soft and elastic dough. [ Add the flour very slowly to avoid having it splash back at you.]
The dough should leave the sides of the bowl. If it is sticky, add small amounts of flour until it is soft. You may have to divide the dough into 2 portions and work with them separately, if it is too bulky for your mixer.
Once the dough has been mixed and is silky smooth and soft, let the dough rest on a lightly floured board for 10 minutes or longer; you want that gluten to relax so you can easily add the raisins.
Flatten the bread gently and press in the raisins as evenly as possible throughout the dough, folding the dough over the raisins to “tuck” them in.  This takes forever. It’s much faster to divide your dough into 2 batches, toss 1/2 of the dough plus 1/2 the raisins (drained and patted dry) in your mixer on a low speed for a few minutes. If you choose to do this by hand, keep going until all of the raisins are added. It’s worth the effort!
Place the dough in a greased bowl, brush the top with a little oil and cover it with plastic wrap and a tea towel.  Let the dough rise until almost doubled and puffy (45-90 minutes).  I find the time for rising varies, depending on how warm my home is. Sometimes it is up to 2 hours.
Divide the dough in two and shape accordingly – round for Rosh Hashanah, braided for Shabbos or just in a loaf pan. I then use the plastic wrap from the first rise to lightly cover the shaped challahs while they go through a second rise. I put a tea towel over the plastic and set them on the stove to rise for another 30 minutes or so. The original recipe has the egg wash put on the loaves now. I perform that step after the second rise.
Placed the shaped bread on a baking sheet.
Whisk together the egg glaze ingredients. Brush the bread with egg wash and sprinkle on the sesame seeds. Let the dough rise until puffy (20-30 mins).
Preheat your oven to 400°F. Bake the bread for 10 mins, then reduce the heat to 350° and bake for another 20-25 mins or until the bread is evenly browned.
If you find that the loaves are starting to darken more than you would like, cover them lightly with foil and continue baking for the remaining time.

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