Pascale's kitchen: Rosh Hashanah challah

Challah is never just another type of bread – it’s in a category all on its own.

Pull-Apart Challah (photo credit: PASCALE PEREZ-RUBIN)
Pull-Apart Challah
(photo credit: PASCALE PEREZ-RUBIN)
To me, Shabbat cannot be perfect unless I prepare homemade challot. For me, challah is like the queen who stands out above all the rest of the wonderful Shabbat and holiday foods. It sits at the center of the table, resting on a silver platter or special cutting board, waiting to be enjoyed by all those present. The challah can be large and fluffy, with golden-brown mounds covered in sesame seeds. Challah is never just another type of bread – it’s in a category all on its own.
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Challot are braided and shaped by hand, and so each one comes out differently. Sometimes their texture is different, their flavor enhanced and the shape completely altered. Each person who bakes challah has a different style and talent. It used to be that only religious families made homemade challot, but that’s no longer true. Nowadays, lots of people who don’t keep strict Shabbat rules at home have been known to prepare the tastiest challot every Friday.
Some challot are made with a large number of strands, and there are many techniques, secrets and step-by-step instructions you can learn by watching YouTube videos and reading blogs.
Now that Rosh Hashanah and Tishrei’s other holidays are just around the corner, I thought this would be the perfect time to introduce you, my readers, to Sarit Novik, the author of the blog “Miss Petel.” I joined her recently at her home in Tel Aviv, where she took from her fridge three different types of dough she’d prepared the day before. We spoke at length about yeast, techniques and special flavors as we kneaded and weighed the dough, rolled out strands, braided and brushed them with egg wash and sprinkled sesame seeds on top.
It turns out that Sarit has been working for 20 years as a software engineer, and for the last 10 years has been contemplating trying out something else, perhaps connected with cooking and baking.
Her love of cooking began after she married her husband, Nir. When their first son was born, Sarit began branching out into the creative world and began knitting toys, aprons and mobiles. When her son turned one, she decided to prepare a special cake for the occasion. That was the moment she officially fell in love with being in the kitchen, and more specifically, working with her mixer, baking treats and reading baking blogs.
When her daughter was born, she decided to create her own blog and Instagram page. Aesthetics and styling were super important to her, and she began photographing her creations.
As an autodidact, she experienced many ups and downs, including a few colossal failures, until she arrived at what she deemed was a perfect version that was worth photographing in her home.
Three years ago, Sarit quit her comfy hi-tech job so she could completely focus on her Miss Petel blog.
“Since that day, I wake up every morning excited to engage with all the fun colors and yummy concoctions I create with butter, cream and flour. My mixer is running all day long, and all my neighbors feel blessed that they get to be my taste-testers. I’ve never been so happy in my entire life.”
In addition to her blog, Sarit offers smartphone photography workshops that she gives with her colleague, the talented photography Dan Lev.
Below, you will find three of Sarit’s favorite holiday challah recipes just in time for Rosh Hashanah.
Shana tova!
Note: All recipes call for measuring ingredients in grams, so it’s best to use a food scale.
PULL-APART CHALLAH
Use 2 trays that are 24-cm. long.
500 g. flour (best to use bread flour), sifted
8 g. (1 Tbsp.) dry yeast
50 g. (¼ cup) sugar
1 large egg
1 tsp. salt
35 g (4 Tbsp.) oil
1 Tbsp. honey
240 g (1 cup) cold water, or according to need
Wash:
1 egg yolk diluted with 1 Tbsp. water
Toppings:
¼ cup light sesame seeds
¼ cup dark sesame seeds
¼ cup brown or golden sugar
Add the flour and yeast to the bowl of a mixer with a dough attachment. Mix and then add the sugar, egg, salt, oil, honey and water. Mix on medium speed for 10 minutes until well mixed. The dough should be sticky. You can add a little more water or flour if needed. Cover and let rise until it doubles in volume.
Separate the dough into balls that weigh 40 grams each. Form them all into identical balls and arrange them on a greased baking sheet, starting in the center and working your way outward. Brush with egg wash. Cover with a towel and let dough rise for 15 minutes. Sprinkle with sesame seeds and sugar. Bake for 30 minutes in an oven that has been preheated to 170°C (340°F) until they turn golden brown.
Level of difficulty: Medium.
Time: 2 hours.
Status: Pareve.
ROSH HASHANAH CHALLAH
Makes 2 medium challot or many small ones.
½ kg. flour, sifted
1 Tbsp. dry yeast
4 Tbsp. honey
¼ cup oil
1 Tbsp. salt
240 g. (1 cup) water
Serving suggestion:
Add a number of apples (according to number of challot)
Toppings:
½ cup almond slivers
¼ cup sugar crystals (that don’t dissolve during baking)
Honey for drizzling
Apple filling:
20 g margarine
5 apples, peeled, cored and cubed
1 tsp. cornflour
50 g. almond slivers
1 tsp. vanilla extract or seeds from 1 vanilla pod
¼ cup sugar
Topping:
Thinly sliced apple pieces, brushed with lemon juice
¼ cup sesame seeds
Wash:
1 or 2 egg yolks, diluted with a little water
Add the flour and yeast to the bowl of an electric mixer with a dough hook and mix. Add the honey, oil, salt and water. Mix on medium speed for 10 minutes until mixed well. The dough should be soft and a bit sticky. You can add a little bit of water or flour if needed. Cover the bowl and let it sit until the dough doubles in volume.
Individual challah rolls: Separate the dough into as many pieces as you like. Roll out each piece into three strands and then braid them into a challah. Arrange the challot on a baking tray and place a small apple in the middle of the tray, with the challot surrounding it. Brush with diluted egg yolk and let rise for 15 minutes. Add almond slivers and sugar crystals. Bake in an oven that has been preheated to 170°C for 30 minutes until they turn golden brown. Just before serving, drizzle with honey.
Challah swirls: Add all of the filling ingredients to a frying pan and cook for 15 minutes until apple pieces have softened. Roll out the dough into a thick layer. Add a line of filling in the middle of the dough and roll it up. Then, roll the log into a swirl. Add the apple slices in the creases between the layers of the swirl. Brush with egg yolk and let rise for 15 minutes. Sprinkle with sesame seeds and bake for 30 minutes in an oven that has been preheated to 170°C (340°F) until they turn golden brown.
Level of difficulty: Medium-difficult.
Time: 2.5 hours.
Status: Pareve.
Rosh Hashanah Challah with applesRosh Hashanah Challah with apples
PRETZEL CHALLAH
Makes 4 challot.
500 g white flour, sifted
5 g dry yeast
20 g sugar
1 egg
1 Tbsp. honey
60 g softened butter
10 g salt
¾ cup (200 ml) milk, at room temperature
Wash:
1 egg yolk mixed with 1 Tbsp. milk
Topping:
¼ cup sesame seeds
Add the flour and yeast to the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a dough hook. Add the sugar and mix. Then, add the egg, honey, butter and milk and mix on medium speed for 10 minutes. If the dough is too sticky, add a little more flour. If it’s too dry, add a little more milk. Cover and let dough rise until it doubles in volume.
Separate the dough into four sections. Then, separate each section into three long strips and braid. Take the ends of each challah and roll out into a long strip, and then twist it with the end of another challah, so that all four together form the shape of a pretzel (see picture). Place the challot on the baking tray and brush with the egg wash. Let them rise for another 15 minutes and then bake for 25-30 minutes in an oven that has been preheated to 170°C (340°F) until they turn golden brown.
Level of difficulty: Medium.
Time:
2 hours.
Status:
Dairy.
Pretzel ChallahPretzel Challah
Translated by Hannah Hochner.