How To Braid A Challah With Breads Bakery

Learn the ropes of challah braiding with Breads Bakery

"When you braid challah, you make it a little fancier," says Uri Scheft of New York City's Breads Bakery. "It's that extra special effort that makes it a nice bread."

And for the upcoming Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year celebration with lots of brisket, chilled chopped liver and hefty honeyed cakes, you want a really nice bread.

Lucky for you, Scheft's stepping up the challah game with his stunning festive version (see the recipe), a seed-studded round of airy, Hawaiian roll-like dough—and he's down to teach you how to pull it off, too.

"Professionally, I've been making challah for the past 20 years, but I've been watching my mom make it every Friday since I was a child," Scheft says. "I didn't know I was going to be a baker, but I loved working with and touching the dough."

That knack for tinkering has led to Israeli-born, Danish-pastry-school-trained chef to craft one whopper of a challah. He recently stopped by the Tasting Table Test Kitchen to show us how to make this beautiful wreath of challah scattered with five types of seeds, just in time for the holiday.

"When it comes to challah, I try to do things a little less," explains Scheft. "I don't knead it to the gluten's full potential and I don't bake it all the way."

After baking "many, many thousands" of challah loaves, Scheft has collected a few tricks for making a pristine round. Too much kneading won't give the same lovely layered structure of the bread and too much time in the oven dries it out, so it won't be the same loaf one hour out versus one day out.

And then there's the whole braiding thing. Scheft showed how to do it, step by step (see the slideshow), so it's all ready for your New Year's feast, or any dinner (or breakfast) that might benefit from a hot, fresh-baked amazing-looking homemade bread.

Once the dough's been proofed, Bread Bakery chef Uri Scheft cuts off three thin ropes and methodically stretches them out by rolling the dough with the heel of his hand.

The strands should run about two feet long and be about one-inch-thick.

If you can braid hair, you can certainly braid challah. Keep the strands snug together, not spaced apart. "Too loose and the challah will get flat," Scheft explains.

When braiding a round challah like Scheft's festive challah, don't pinch the ends closed until you're done braiding. This allows for the strands to be woven more seamlessly together rather than just smashed closed together.

"I don't have a systematic way of doing this," Scheft admits with a laugh. Once you've reached the end of the braid, bring the two ends together and knit them together as you see fit. But, don't worry if it looks a little haphazard: Scheft recommends turning the challah upside to hide that section.

Let the dough proof again. Less is more rings true for Scheft; he makes to never overproof, overknead or overbake his challah to make it sure always has that cloud-like texture.

And now, the seeds! Scheft brushes the dough with egg yolks to give it a tawny sheen and also act as a glue for the seeds.

Scheft normally goes with five seeds, but for us, he's sprinkled on six varieties: poppy, sesame, pumpkin, flax, sunflower and nigella. He varies between large and small, dark and light seeds for a more balanced look and evened out texture. "I didn't know how to make challah until I went to pastry school, but I always watched my mom do it," Scheft says. "I remember every Friday and every Rosh Hashanah, there was always fresh homemade challah on the table for us to scoop the chopped liver."

A beautiful, golden challah. Get the recipe here.