New York’s Jewish population isn’t kidding around. I’d never had school off during Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur before, so to celebrate this first-ever occurrence and repay my roommates for buying all the toilet paper, I baked a loaf of challah.
Given that summer has been clinging on with every last drop of humidity and the misleadingly chilly mornings lead only to sweaty afternoons, I had to unorthodoxly braid in some fast-vanishing blackberries—the ephemera of summertime.
And given that I’m the carbohydrate nut I am, I like to make sure every last gram of it is derived from a wholemeal source. None of that 50:50 white flour booster business here, and I promise that the quality of this loaf doesn’t suffer a single bit. I’ll be the first to admit that using 100% whole wheat can all too often be detrimental to the texture of baked goods, but here the egg, honey, and oil contribute to an unbelievably tender and dense crumb while maintaining a chewy and egg-washed golden crust. It’s a healthy twist on an enriched bread, but even traditional recipes omit butter or milk, adhering to the Jewish dietary laws of Kashrut (כַּשְׁרוּת).
For the sake of time, groceries, and the fear of finishing two loaves in a sitting, I cheated a bit on Jewish procedure; traditionally, two challot are baked to begin the three Sabbath meals and represent the double-dose of biblical miracle bread called manna, a reminder that God will provide for their needs even when they take time to rest on the Sabbath. Each is braided in 6 strands, symbolising in total the 12 tribes of Israel.
For Rosh Hashanah it can be baked into a braided circle that represents continuity, on Yom Kippur it often involves birds, and the symbolism of each shape on each holiday is an inexhaustible list. The distinct braiding of challah has made it memorable and recognisable to those outside of the Jewish faith, and for a good reason. It’s a beautiful way to prepare a loaf of bread, and something about the tearability of each honeyed segment makes it all the more appetising when warm out of the oven and no suitable bread knives are within reach.
Whole Wheat Blackberry Challah
- 1 t active dry yeast
- ½ cup warm water
- 2 cups white whole wheat flour
- ½ t salt
- 3 T honey
- 3 T olive oil
- 1 T greek yogurt
- 2 eggs (1 whole, 1 yolk)
- 1 T honey
- 1 T poppy or sesame seeds
- 1 egg, beaten to glaze
Proof yeast in the bowl of warm water with a drizzle of honey.
Mix together dry ingredients. Once the yeast mixture is bubbly, combine it with the other liquid ingredients in a separate bowl and then stir into the dry mixture until a dough forms.
Turn out onto a floured surface and knead until smooth and elastic—about 10 minutes. Form into a round ball and place into a lightly oiled bowl. Tuck in with a damp cloth and allow to rise for 1 hour in a warm place.
While the dough rises, combine the crushed blackberries with a dash of honey to taste.
Punch down, separate into six strands, and braid. Stuff in the blackberry filling along the way, preparing for your workspace and hands to get saturated in blackberry juices.
To avoid confusion by verbally describing the process, I’ll leave this link instead. It’s a lot less intimidating than it seems, and if you mess up the first time you can always ball up your dough and start over, not unlike ceramics class or the good ol’ play-doh days.
Let rise for about 30 minutes longer in a warm place.
Preheat the oven to 350ºF / 175ºC.
Brush the loaf generously with egg wash and sprinkle with poppy seeds before baking in the oven until golden brown and puffed up, 20-30 minutes.