My Grandma Bessie’s Challah

“My dear Rozze, I am giving you the Reisepy of the Hollow, first Learn to make a hole from one Pound of flower put the flower in a bowl make a Hole in the Middle of the Bowl with the flower. Buy a Packge of try Yeast youes only helf of the Yeast. Put the Yeast in quarter of glass of look warm watter”

So began the handwritten recipe my Grandma Bessie sent me almost 50 years ago for her Challah (pronounced HAlee, making the H like you are clearing your throat.) I was always enchanted by her invented spelling. Grandma did not have much formal schooling and she did not use measuring cups, only glasses of various sizes. I remember getting a kick out of the addition of “a little glass of schnapps” (Yiddish for strong liquor, whiskey or vodka) and of putting a pillow on the dish towel.  I think the pillow was to insulate the dough from the coldness of the room. Although she doesn’t mention braiding the Challah in the recipe, I remember her teaching me to braid it, which was my favorite part.

My Grandma Bessie was a sweet, warm and nurturing, buxom woman with a heart of gold. She was the motherly center of her large extended family and her home was always open for visitors from the old country. I only saw her sporadically, since she lived across the country in Brooklyn. When I was about eight years old, she came to visit us and taught us how to make her special challah. I imagine she may have learned it from her mother in her native Romania, or perhaps after she immigrated to New York at the tender age of nine. Grandma enjoyed her challah the old country way, not with butter or jam, but smeared with schmaltz (rendered chicken fat).

On Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, it’s traditional to eat a round challah to signify the cycle of the year and the crown of Adonai (G-d).

To symbolize a sweet New Year, we dip the challah in honey as well as dip apples in honey.

I wish you a sweet New Year filled with peace. I am blessed to share this treasured recipe with you.

Here is my adaptation based on measuring cups. I put in 2 whole packages of yeast to make it rise nicely. I think Grandma only used half out of thrift. I proof the yeast with 3 tablespoons sugar and 2 Tb honey so that it will foam in the lukewarm water,  I used eggs at room temperature (or warmed in a bowlful of warm water) so that the dough will stay warm and added 2 egg yolks to them. I used olive oil and found the bread stayed moist longer. I substituted 1/2 cup of warm milk for the water added to the dough. I also oiled the  bowl instead of flouring it when I set it to rise, to cut down on the dryness of the dough. But I do use the pillow over the dishtowel for the first rising.

Oil a large bowl. Put in 4 1/2 cups of bread flour and 1 tsp salt. Mix well and make a hole in the middle of the flour.

Dissolve 2 packages of dry yeast in  ¼ cup lukewarm water with 3 Tb sugar and  2 Tb honey and let it proof for 10 minutes until foamy. Pour dissolved yeast into the hole in the flour.

mix it together with some flour, cover with a dishtowel, and let it rise for 15 minutes.

After in rises up a little, put in 2  eggs beaten together with 2 egg yolks, 1/2 cup olive oil, and 2 Tb whiskey or vodka.

Wash your hands, then mix the dough while pouring 1/2 cup lukewarm milk into the dough.

Oil the board then put the dough on and knead it with both hands. It should be a round piece.

After that, oil the bowl and put the dough in.

and cover it with a clean dish towel. Put a pillow on top of the dish towel. Let it rise for 3 hours.

Coat a pan with oil, not too much oil. Make a design of small rolls by putting a roll in the middle and surround it by other rolls that will join the middle one when they rise.

If you wish to braid the challah instead,divide the dough into 3 pieces. .

Then roll them into logs

then braid them together

For Rosh Hashanah,  connect the two ends of the braid to make a circle.

For more challah braiding ideas, see this amazing Israeli video:

Let it rise for 45 minutes. Then it is ready to bake.

You take one egg, put a little sugar in the egg and mix it well. Take a baking brush and brush the egg all over the challah. I like to sprinkle sesame seeds or poppy seeds on top.

Bake at 350’ for 30-40 minutes. (If it’s brown in 30 minutes, take it out.)

Challah with poppy seeds

I hope it will come out good.

For a look at her original handwritten recipe click on this link: grandma bessie challah recipe

Here is a transcription of Grandma’s recipe as she wrote it:

My dear Rozze,

I am giving you the Reisepy of the Hollow, first Learn to make a hole from one Pound of flower put the flower in a bowl make a Hole in the Middle of the Bowl with the flower. Bly a Pciekge of try Yeast youes only helf of the Yeast. Put the Yeast in quarter of glass of look warm watter dosolve it good, let it stay for 10 minutes in the glass then Put it in the Hole in the Bowel of Flour mix it together with some flower let it stay in for 15 minutes it should Rize remember in the middle of the Bowel after it Rizes up a little you first put in ¼ glass of suger 2 eggs ¼ glass of oil a Teaspoon salt a little glass of shnps then Prepare ½ glass of Look warm water

Wash your hands good you have to make the dou with your hands. Mix it together by spiling slowly the look warm water. when it be all together put the dou on the Board first put flower on the Board not to make try to work it with bought hands I hope you remember How I made it when I made Hole in your House it should become a round piece after that put some flower in that Bowel put the dough cover it up with a clean dish Towl then put a Piliw on the dish towl let it Rize for 3 hours

It should Rize up then you take a Pen put some oil all over the Pen not to much oil make different dizin of small ralls or make a big one let it rize for ¾ of hour. Then it is Ready to bak. you take one egge pupt a little suger in the egg mix it good take a Baking Brush and put the egge all over the Halla or rolls what you want to make back in a low fire about ¾ of an hour I hope it will come out good write if you made the Hollow.

I hope you will understande what I wrote you

Love Grandma