I don’t know why we have pull-apart challahs on Shavuos. There are tons of different recipes, but no explanation. There are also different creative shapes, such as ladder shape challah, Torah study challah, Mount Sinai challah, but the prevalent tradition is still a pull-apart. I can understand two oblong challahs, to represent the Tablets of the Law, but a round challah that pulls apart into a bunch of separate rolls? Granted, kids love it, and Shavuos is a kids’ holiday, but it doesn’t sound like the real reason. My husband suggested that maybe six rolls that comprise the perimeter of each challah represent six Shfotim each, to the total of twelve, and the two center rolls are the Tablets, to symbolize the unity of the 12 Tribes of Israel around the Law. Now this seemed like a viable rationale, until I started counting the rolls in different pictures. You get 7, 8, 10, however many you can stick around that central roll, but not 6 and not 12! So I still don’t have the explanation, but I made mine as a combination of a pull-apart (six rolls each!) and a crown challah, another traditional shape that symbolizes the Crown of Torah.
There are several ingredients that make this recipe much healthier than a standard white wheat challah sweetened with honey. By trial and error, I have discovered a proportion of spelt to whole wheat flour that works. This dough does not fall flat on its ears like spelt dough does sometimes; it rises like a dream!
The second substitution is agave nectar to replace honey. To give it a fuller taste, I also add soy milk instead of water. Even though theoretically milk could be used in challahs for dairy meals on Shavuos, but the custom is not to confuse yourself, your utensils, and your entire kitchen. Enough mishigas is generated by making milchig, fleishig, and this year, cooking for Shabbos to precede all this! I tell you, it’s a good thing that Jewish women cover their heads, otherwise everyone will realize how many grey hairs we get before every holiday. Anyway, if you are wondering about raisins, we usually put raisins or chocolate chips into Yom Tov challahs, just to make them a little more special than the ones we have every Shabbos.
I use a bread machine to knead my dough. All these ingredients go in, following a certain order, and the machine is set on DOUGH. Bread machines vary, but the average time for the dough cycle is about one hour. Do not open the lid to add or subtract anything until you take the dough out.
Flour a board and take your dough out. It should come out easily, but if it sticks to the sides a little, sprinkle some flour to the stuck spots, and scrape it out. Don’t forget to take your challah out, with the Brocho; that’s where we got the name, after all. The dough should feel soft and pliant, but not airy. If you feel that it is too dense, you can add some water. If it’s too liquefied, add some flour. In both cases, you’ll have to knead by hand, but very gently. Now you need to oil two round baking pans and start dividing your dough.
You need to cut it into two equal halves first, and then each half into seven parts. Keep rubbing flour on your knife after each cut. If you were making a regular pull-apart, you’d have to make the central roll larger than the surrounding ones. I was making a pull-apart crown, however, and I wanted the center to fall, so I made them all the same size. Place the central roll into the baking pan first, then position the remaining rolls around it. Leave a little space between the rolls, about half a finger-breadth, as they will connect when the dough rises.
Now is the time to glaze the future challahs. Whisk an egg with a few drops of water and gently brush onto them. You might want to sprinkle some sesame or poppy seeds on them, whatever you prefer. And now they need to rest, breathe, and grow. Put them in a warm place for about an hour, or until they double in size.
As you see, they are practically jumping out of their baking pans, so I am ready to bake, the oven is preheated to 350, and they bake for about 40 – 45 minutes. Doneness can only be judged by color and touch; the top should feel crusty. When done, they have to cool completely before removing them from the pans. I actually saw someone serving them right in those pans. It looks tacky, of course, but there is a good reason for it. They should come out so soft and delicate that they might break apart as they are being removed from the pans. Unfortunately, there is no Crazy Glue for challahs. Once broken, they cannot be used for a Shabbos or holiday table.
Mine came out fine, thank G-d, and you can distinctly see six rolls in each, as well the crown shape. I am ready to light my candles and start Yom Tov!
- 1 1/2 cups soy milk
- 2 eggs and 1 more egg for glazing
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 4 tablespoons agave nectar
- 2 cups whole wheat flour
- 1 3/4 cup spelt flour and 1/4 cup more to flour board and knife
- Optional 1/4 cup raisins or 1/4 cup chocolate chips
- 2 teaspoons active dry yeast
- Pinch of salt
- Optional sesame or poppy seeds
- Pour wet ingredients into bread machine bowl first in this order: soy milk, eggs, olive oil, agave.
- Sift flour and mix both kinds together. Carefully pour flour on top of liquids making sure it spreads evenly.
- Add raisins or chocolate chips at this point.
- Make a well in the center and add yeast.
- Add salt.
- Set bread machine on DOUGH.
- When ready, remove dough onto floured board. Add either water or flour and re-knead, if needed.
- Rub knife with flour and divide dough into two halves. Divide each half into seven pieces. Roll each piece into a ball.
- Oil two round baking pans. Place central roll first, then surround it with 6 remaining rolls.
- Whisk remaining egg with a few drops of water, use a brush to glaze.
- Sprinkle sesame or poppy seeds and place baking pans in a warm place. Let rise for about an hour or until double in size.
- Preheat oven to 350, bake for 40 – 45 minutes, or until golden and crusty.
- Remove and let cool completely before taking out of the pan