The high challah days
Photo: Tina Wasserman

Tips for Rosh Hashanah

By Tina Wasserman

By now you have started to make a list of menu items for your Rosh Hashanah dinner, or you are perusing recipes to decide what to make to bring to someone else’s celebration. Since the pandemic, many of you have started to make challah for Shabbat but maybe round challahs have not been part of your repertoire until now. So, I would like to revisit all the options you have for the High Holidays and even revisit my challah recipe that I shared with you many years ago.

This summer I managed to escape the heat in Texas for the Berkshire Mountains. Don’t hate me; I was developing recipes for you to enjoy in the coming months. I revisited my own recipe because, although everyone seemed to love it, I thought it wasn’t coming out as moist and soft as I would like. I scientifically went about tweaking the ingredients so they would meet my criteria. Below you will see what I discovered about my recipe.

This summer I also assisted in a challah braiding demonstration by Rabbi Vanessa Harper, a young rabbi who is the author of “Lech LeChallah: Interpreting Torah and Jewish Tradition through Challah since 5778.”Her Instagram account showcases her challah creations and her book is fascinating. I learned some new tricks to rolling out the challah strands which I share here.

So, here’s what I learned about my recipe (see below):

The original recipe called for 2 sticks (1 cup) Fleischmann’s corn oil margarine. When Fleischmann’s started using soybean oil and eliminated trans-fat, I resorted to 1 cup of corn oil. I now realize that margarine is partly water so using an equivalent of oil reduced the moisture in the dough. I now use ¾ cup safflower, sunflower or peanut oil. Note that canola is fine, but I don’t like the flavor so I never use it!

I have upped the amount of liquid (water, apple juice or no-pulp orange juice) to 1⅔ cups from 1½. This is just enough to compensate for the loss of moisture in margarine.

I have started to use a new yeast. First, keeping yeast in the refrigerator prolongs its life but takes a lot longer to rise when it’s 6 months old — not expired, but old.

I found out that when a yeast dough is more than 5% sugar to the volume of flour, which it is in my recipe, you need to use a different yeast. Thank you, Amazon, for making SAF yeast in the gold container available. If you can’t get your hands on it, then using packages of rapid-rise yeast can work almost as well.

I started adding salt to my eggs for two reasons. One, sometimes yeast coming in contact with salt can inhibit its growth; and two, salt will break down the white of the egg and make it more uniform to blend into the dough.

I also add the oil in last, but only after waiting about 5-10 seconds after adding the sugar/liquid mixture. This gives the warm liquid a chance to hydrate the flour before the oil coats the flour.

Oh, I am a happy camper now! Maybe all these little changes didn’t create the desired effect, maybe it was just the yeast, but I share this info with you anyway.

Here are some of Rabbi Harper’s “Tidbits” for getting uniform strands. In addition to her technique, I would like to add that, unless you have a good eye for cutting dough in equal portions, a kitchen scale is a very useful addition to your kitchen.

For a thin strand, start with a piece of dough the size of an egg. Roll it with one hand against the table to start the strand. As it gets longer, use both palms, moving them from the center of the strand outward to the ends until you achieve the desired length and thickness.

For thicker strands, you use the same principle as above but first pat your ball of dough into roughly a 7-inch rectangle and then, starting from the long end, roll up the dough tightly to remove and air bubbles. Pinch the seam side closed and then proceed to roll out your strand to the desired length and thickness.

Please look online for my demonstrations on how to make a spiral challah and a braided round challah as well as my apple-filled challah (although even I will forgo making that one this year due to the heat and lack of time to prepare). Some of these videos were done a while ago so don’t laugh when you see long hair and bangs on a younger me!

Whatever recipe you use and whatever shape you make, here’s to a year filled with peace, good health and happiness.

Easy Delicious Challah

  • 7 to 7½ cups bread flour plus a few tablespoons for kneading
  • 2 scant tablespoons of SAF instant gold label yeast or 2 packets rapid-rise yeast
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • ¾ cup safflower, sunflower or any vegetable oil or 1½ sticks of unsalted butter, melted
  • 1½ cups apple juice, no-pulp orange juice or water
  • ¾ cup sugar
  • 2 tablespoons poppy seeds, optional
  • 1 cup dark raisins, optional
  • EGG WASH: 1 egg mixed with 1 tablespoon water (1 teaspoon honey may be added)
  1. In a large mixer bowl fitted with a dough hook, combine 7 cups flour and yeast. Turn machine on for 10 seconds to combine.
  2. Crack eggs into a small bowl. Add vanilla and salt and mix with a fork to combine the ingredients. Set aside.
  3. Measure oil in a 1-cup liquid measuring cup. Set aside. Or melt butter and let it cool a little.
  4. Measure 1½ cups juice or water into a 2-cup liquid measuring cup. Add the sugar and poppy seeds, if using. Stir once. Microwave on high for exactly 1 minute and 20 seconds or until an instant-read thermometer registers 120-125 degrees.
  5. Turn mixer on to low medium (2) and immediately add the warm liquid mixture. Keep mixer running. Add the egg mixture and mix for 10 seconds. Then add the oil or melted butter.
  6. Knead the mixture for 6 minutes by machine (or hand), adding additional flour until a smooth dough forms or floured fingers do not stick to the dough. You should never need more than ½ additional cup of flour for proper consistency.
  7. Add the raisins, if using, and knead for 2 more minutes.
  8. Lightly grease a 4-quart bowl with some additional oil. Place dough in the bowl, turning dough to coat. Cover with plastic wrap and place in a draft-free place (turned-off oven, corner of your counter or slightly warmed warming drawer is perfect).
  9. Let rise until doubled in size, about 1 hour.
  10. Punch down dough; shape into 2-4 loaves. Let rest for 25 minutes.
  11. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Brush egg/honey wash over each loaf and bake on parchment-lined cookie sheets for 20-30 minutes (depending on the size of the loaves). The bread is done when it is golden brown and has a hollow sound when tapped.
  12. Yield: 2-4 loaves (about 5 pounds of bread)

Tina’s Tidbits:

  • Aside from the tips listed above, I would recommend inserting an instant-read thermometer into the center of the loaf and if it registers 185-195 degrees your bread won’t be dry.
  • Thicker loaves take longer to bake.
  • Gas ovens take longer to bake.
  • Non-convection ovens take longer to bake.
  • Check your convection oven settings. If the factory setting automatically drops the temperature 25 degrees, then either set the oven to 375 degrees or count on the baking time to be closer to 25-30 minutes.

Round Algerian Challah

Jews have lived in Algeria as far back as 2500 years ago! Actually, at that time Jews lived in all the countries around the Mediterranean Sea. When the Moors conquered the region in the late seventh century, most of the time Jews were allowed to live freely and succeed in commerce and trade. However, by the time the Nazis came to power in Europe and after Israel won its independence and Algeria won its independence from France, the Arabs in the region started to persecute the Jews, confiscating businesses, damaging synagogues and making it dangerous for Algerian Jews to live there. Many Jews immigrated to Israel and many others went to France or the United States. There are few Jews living in Algeria today.

Shaped in a loaf, a braid or a round spiral, this egg-free challah is delicious all year long. But check out the suggestion for spiced apple stuffing for the bread, a great addition to your Shabbat or Rosh Hashanah meal!

  • 8 cups bread flour or all-purpose flour (or a combination)
  • 2 packages rapid-rise yeast
  • 1½ teaspoons kosher salt
  • 2 cups water
  • ¾ cup corn oil
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • Zest of ½ medium orange, finely grated or chopped
  • 1½ teaspoons orange blossom water
  • 1 egg yolk plus 1 teaspoon water
  • ¼ cup sesame seeds
  1. Combine 7 cups of the flour, yeast and salt in the large bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a dough hook.
  2. Place the water, oil, sugar and orange zest in a 4-cup glass measuring cup and microwave for 1½ minutes. Stir to dissolve sugar and then microwave on high for another 30 seconds until water is very warm (130 degrees). Remove from the microwave and test with your finger to make sure it is hot but not hot enough to hurt. Add the orange blossom water.
  3. With the machine running on 2 (or medium), immediately add the warm water/oil mix to the mixing bowl. If necessary, stop the machine after a minute and scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula to incorporate all the flour.
  4. Gradually add most or all of the remaining flour to the bowl and keep mixing for another 7 minutes. If you want, you can knead the dough by hand for 7-10 minutes on a lightly floured surface until the flour is all incorporated and the dough is satiny smooth. Oiling your hands might help when kneading the dough.
  5. Turn your oven on for 1 minute (doesn’t matter what temperature as it will barely heat). Turn the oven off.
  6. Oil a 4-quart bowl and place the dough in the bowl, turning it around once to coat with oil. Cover with plastic wrap. Place the bowl of dough in the TURNED-OFF (but slightly warm) oven. Let the dough rise for 1½ hours or until dough has risen to the top of the bowl.
  7. When dough has risen, remove plastic wrap, punch down the dough and place on a flat surface. Cut the dough into 4 equal pieces.
  8. Shape each piece into a thick rope about 2 inches thick and 12 inches long. Coil the dough around itself and tuck the end under to make a large, slightly domed spiral of dough. Place shaped loaf on a parchment-lined cookie sheet and return to the turned-off oven. Let the dough rise for 45 minutes to an hour.
  9. Remove loaves of bread from the oven.
  10. If you have two ovens, preheat both to 350 degrees. If not, make sure you place the shelves so that there is enough room for the loaves on the bottom to rise.
  11. Beat the egg yolk in a small glass dish with 1 teaspoon water. Brush this egg wash over the loaves of bread and then sprinkle each loaf with a tablespoon of sesame seeds.
  12. Bake the loaves of bread for 25 minutes or until bread sounds hollow when tapped with your finger. Remove from oven and immediately cover the loaves with a kitchen towel. When cool, wrap tightly with plastic wrap or foil.

Makes 4 loaves.

Tina’s Tidbits:

  • The water should be uncomfortably hot when you dip a finger into the mixture but not hot enough to hurt or burn. It is best to use an instant-read thermometer if you have one, especially if you are cooking with a very young child.
  • Children can use the microwave if it is low enough for them to peer into it. If the cup has a handle, I would trust an 8-year-old to hold it, but adult supervision is necessary.
  • Children under the age of 10 should not be allowed to remove hot pans from the oven no matter how tall they are!
  • If you truly need to make this bread egg-free, mix 1 teaspoon honey into 2 tablespoons water and brush that on top of the bread before sprinkling with sesame seeds.
  • Orange blossom water gives a subtle flavor to the bread. If you don’t have it, add ½ teaspoon orange extract or vanilla to the dough instead.

Kitchen Conversations:

  • Breads in the Maghreb (North Africa) are often shaped into spirals. Jews in Algeria often shape a bird out of the dough or place a dough bird on top of the loaf to symbolize our wishes going to heaven. What do you think of that? How else would you shape the dough for Rosh Hashanah?
  • Here is another way to make the loaves for Rosh Hashanah. Why do we use apples and honey?
  • Core, peel and finely dice 1 apple and combine with ¼ teaspoon cinnamon. Spread some of this apple mixture lengthwise over each slightly flattened rope of dough. Roll dough to enclose the filling and pinch the edges together tightly to prevent the apple from oozing out. Shape your filled bread dough ropes into a coil and proceed with the end of step 8 and the remainder of the recipe.


  • Divide dough into 24 equal parts. Roll out each part to make an 8-inch-long snake and then coil each rope to make 2- to 3-inch rolls. Proceed with the end of step 8.

Apple Filled Star Challah

I created this recipe and shape after viewing a coffee cake design with many more cuts. Cutting the dough according to my directions creates a Jewish star in the center with a great WOW factor for your company.

Bread Dough:

  • 2 cups whole-wheat flour
  • 6 cups white bread flour
  • 2 packages rapid-rise yeast
  • ½ teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 1 cup corn, canola or avocado oil plus 1 tablespoon for greasing bowl
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1½ cups unfiltered apple juice or apple cider
  • ¾ cup sugar
  • 1 recipe for apple filling
  • EGG WASH: 1 egg mixed with 1 tablespoon water

Apple Filling:

  • 4 large Honeycrisp or Fuji apples, about 2½ pounds
  • ½ cup light brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • ¼ teaspoon ground allspice
  • ¼ teaspoon kosher salt
  • 2 teaspoons cornstarch combined with 2 tablespoons water
  • 2 teaspoons coconut oil or unsalted butter
  • 1/3 cup or more wildflower or clover honey, as needed
  1. In a large mixer bowl, combine 2 cups of the whole-wheat flour with 5 cups of the bread flour, the yeast, cinnamon and salt. Turn machine on to low (1) for 10 seconds to combine.
  2.  Measure 1 cup of the oil in a 1-cup liquid measuring cup. Set aside.
  3.  Lightly beat eggs and vanilla with a fork in a 1-quart bowl until combined. Set aside.
  4.  Measure the apple juice or cider in a 2-cup glass measuring cup. Add the sugar and stir once or twice. Microwave juice/sugar mixture on high for exactly 1 minute and 20 seconds.
  5.  Turn mixer on to low (1). Immediately add the hot juice/sugar mixture straight from the microwave and then add the eggs and then the oil — in that order.
  6.  Turn mixer to medium (2) and continue mixing with dough hook for 6 minutes. Scrape down sides of bowl as necessary to incorporate all the flour before adding any additional flour. If dough is too sticky, add as much as 1 cup more flour until a floured finger poked into the dough comes out clean.
  7. Grease a 4-quart bowl with the extra tablespoon of oil. Add the dough to the bowl, turning the dough over to coat it on all sides. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let the dough rise in a draft-free spot until doubled in size, about 1 hour (I like to use an out-of-the-way corner in my kitchen or a warming drawer set on low). Dough can also be put in the refrigerator to rise overnight.

Apple Filling:

  1. While dough is rising, if you haven’t already done so, make the apple filling.
  2. Peel, core and cut apples into ¼-inch dice.
  3. Heat a 10-inch nonstick pan over medium-high heat for 10 seconds and then add the diced apples and brown sugar. Stir the apple mixture until the apples begin to give up their juices (about 3-4 minutes). Turn down heat if apples look like they are browning.
  4. Add the spices to the apples and cook, stirring often, until the apples are tender but not mushy and some of the liquid has evaporated (about another 4 minutes).
  5. Stir the cornstarch and water together to dissolve and then add to the apples, stirring constantly as you do so. Mixture will be shiny and no liquid will be visible.
  6.  Turn off the heat and add the coconut oil or butter. Stir to combine and then set aside to cool while dough is rising, or cover and refrigerate until needed (up to two days).

To Assemble Bread:

  1. Punch down the dough and divide into 4 equal pieces (or 8 if you want to make 2 smaller rounds about 8 inches in diameter). Divide apple mixture in half ONLY if you are making 2 smaller loaves.
  2.  Roll the first piece of dough into a 12-inch circle (8-inch for smaller loaf) on a floured board. Brush a thin layer of honey over the dough and then 1/3 of the apple mixture over that.
  3.  Continue the previous steps with the remaining pieces of dough, ending with the fourth circle of dough. Gently pull the top layer over and pinch all the layers together.
  4.  Place a 3-inch glass bowl or cup face-down in the center of the bread and lightly trace around it with a knife to mark a circle. Remove the glass. Make 12 cuts from the line of the circle to the end of the dough (I find it easiest to imagine a clock making my first cuts at 12, 6, 3 and 9 and then filling in the other cuts evenly). Make sure you cut through all layers of the dough.
  5.  Working in pairs around the dough (clock!), take a wedge of dough in each hand and twist them over once away from each other. Pinch the middle bottom of the pair together. Repeat with the remaining 5 pairs and then pinch the ends of each dough pair together to form a circle that has the design of a Jewish star in the middle and little stripes of spiced apple peeking through.
  6. Carefully transfer the dough to a parchment lined cookie sheet and allow it to rise for 30-45 minutes.
  7. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Using a pastry brush, brush the top of the loaf with the egg wash and place the cookie sheet in the lower third of your oven.
  8. Bake for 30-35 minutes, depending on the size of the round and the heat of your oven. When the bread is done, it will be golden brown and have a hollow sound when tapped. You can also insert an instant-read thermometer into the center and if it registers around 195-205 it is done.
  9. Always allow the bread to cool for at least 20-30 minutes before cutting.

Yield: 2 10-inch or 1 large round challah

Tina’s Tidbits:

  • Dough can be made the day before and allowed to rise overnight in the refrigerator in an oiled 2-gallon plastic bag.
  • If making your own filling, you can make in advance and refrigerate for a few days before shaping and baking your challah.

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