L’Shana Tova + Whole Wheat Challah Recipe

Wednesday night Ben and I celebrated Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish new year–we’re now in the Jewish year 5771) with some new friends!  My husband identifies himself as culturally Jewish and although I had gone to a Rosh Hashanah dinner at a temple in Kihei, this was my first “homemade” and intimate experience with the holiday.  I could not have chosen better people to celebrate with.  The hosts of the evening were a wonderful Israeli woman, her American-born husband and their two incredible children.  The couple met in Israel and, after a few years in the continental U.S., decided they wanted to settle on Maui.  There were quite a few other guests (including a fascinating older woman visiting from Israel), most of whom were Jewish.

As it turns out, the way the Jewish new year is celebrated is very similar to the way my Japanese culture brings in the new year: with tons of great food! In both cultures we eat certain foods that symbolize positive aspects of the new year we hope to have.  For example, to symbolize a sweet year the Jewish culture eats honey and the Japanese culture eats mochi (typically in ozoni soup).  Surprisingly, both cultures use fish to represent becoming fruitful in the coming year (Jewish culture eats the flesh while Japanese culture has fish eggs).

By the end of the night we were all stuffed.  The night was filled with great company, meaningful conversation and an overwhelming sense of love that filled me from the inside out.  Dates, honey and apple jam that were sent from Israel were devoured while we laughed and talked.  It was a Rosh Hashanah to be remembered, for sure.

Unfortunately I have no photos of the evening as I didn’t find it to be polite or respectful.

One of the main celebratory foods on the table that night was freshly baked challah.  The woman who made it is a pro at challah-making as she bakes some up every Friday for Shabbat (we’re lucky enough to usually get a mini-loaf of our own from her every week!).  As I was talking with her about her recipe I asked if she ever foresaw herself making challah with whole wheat flour instead.  She politely shook her head and said that it just wouldn’t be the same.  The older woman visiting from Israel added that whole wheat challah is actually becoming quite popular and well-seen in their home country.

They had no idea (and I didn’t feel it necessary to let them know just yet) that I, myself, have made whole wheat challah.  And it is delicious.

Whole Wheat Challah

I love this bread (it’s a good thing I only make it once or twice a year because otherwise I’d eat entire loaves)!  It’s based on of my mother-in-law’s recipe for challah, which originally used white/unbleached flour.  The eggs make the loaf dense and chewy, plus it creates great patterns when you break off a piece.  We’ve made variations of this before including gluten-free and sugar free, but this whole wheat version has definitely come out the best!

[Ingredients : Makes Two Loaves]

  • 1-1/2 packages active dry yeast (1-1/2 tablespoons)
  • 1 Tbsp plus 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1-3/8 c vegetable oil, and more for greasing bowl
  • 5 large eggs
  • 1 Tbsp salt
  • 8 c whole wheat flour (8 to 8-1/2)
  • Poppy or sesame seeds for sprinkling


In a large bowl, dissolve 1 Tbsp sugar and yeast in 1-3/8 cups lukewarm water.

Whisk oil into yeast, then beat in 4 eggs (one at a time), remaining sugar and salt.

Gradually add flour. When dough holds together, it is ready to be kneaded (you can also use a mixer with a dough hook for both mixing and kneading).

Turn dough onto a floured surface and knead until smooth.

Clean out bowl and grease it, then return dough to bowl.

Cover with plastic wrap and let the dough rise in a warm place for about 1 hour or until almost doubled in size (dough may also rise in an oven that has been warmed to 150°F then turned off).

Punch down dough, cover and let rise again in a warm place for another half-hour.

[To make a 6-braid challah (either stright or circular)]

  • Take half the dough and form it into 6 balls.

  • With your hands, roll each ball into a strand about 12″ long and 1-1/2″ wide.
  • Place the 6 in a row, parallel to one another, then pinch the tops of the strands together.

  • Here’s the fun part! Move the outside right strand over 2 strands. Then take the second strand from the left and move it to the far right. Take the outside left strand and move it over 2. Move second strand from the right over to the far left. Start over with what is now the outside right strand. Continue this until all strands are braided.
  • For a straight loaf, tuck ends underneath. For a circular loaf, twist into a circle, pinching ends together. Make a second loaf the same way. Place braided loaves on a greased cookie sheet with at least 2″ in between.

[It’s great that it makes two loaves because Ben and I each get to braid our own challah!]

Beat remaining egg and brush it on loaves.

Either freeze breads or let rise another hour in refrigerator.

Preheat oven to 375°F and brush loaves again (if frozen, remove from freezer 5 hours before baking).

Sprinkle poppy or sesame seeds on top of the bread until it is decorated with seeds.

Bake for 35 to 40 minutes (or until golden).

Cool loaves on a rack.

Enjoy! Makes 2 loaves of 15 slices each (30 servings per recipe).

Nutrition Facts [1/15 slice of loaf]

Calories 221 • Fat 11g Sodium 240mg • Carbs 26g • Fiber 3.3g • Sugar 3.5g • Protein 5.4g

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