These challah buns are great for serving as a side to your soup or as bread in your favorite sandwich roll. But it’s the orange zest that really makes these challah buns a star.
These challah buns created for the reddit 52 weeks of baking challenge (Week 39: Buns or biscuits). They’re an adaptation of my orange raisin challah recipe. And that challah recipe was an adaptation from the challah in Peter Reinhart’s The Bread Baker’s Apprentice.
Learn about: challah
Challah is an enriched bread similar to brioche, only made with oil and not butter, that is braided or twisted. It’s braided into a round challah on Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, to symbolize the cycle of each year.
ProTip: Challah means bread. So you should never call it “challah bread.”
Challah starts with the letter “chet”, a letter we don’t have in the English alphabet. It’s described as a gutteral h, which you can hear here. That chet is the same letter and sound as in rugelach and Chanukkah.
Tips and tricks
I find it easiest to zest oranges and other citrus using our microplane grater. Scrub your citrus before zesting. Then zest only until you remove the top layer of fruit and oil. Stop before you get to the pith, which can be bitter.
Measure out your water in a 2 cup pyrex measuring cup. That way you can whisk the water with the eggs and oil without making another bowl dirty.
Making the dough
Panel #1 below shows the wet challah bun dough after the dough is just combined. Knead the dough, ideally in a stand mixer, until it is soft and supple (Panel #2), adding small amounts of additional flour as necessary to keep the dough from sticking.
Shape the dough into a ball (Panel #3) and allow it to rise for the first time. This can be done at room temperature or overnight in the refrigerator.
The next panels show the dough after the first rise (Panel #4), after being de-gassed and shaped into a round again (Panel #5), and the second rise (Panel #6).
Divide the dough. The whole dough should weigh about 2 pounds or 32 ounces. For large rolls, divide the dough into eight 4 ounce balls. For typical burger buns, divide the dough into 12, each about two and two-thirds ounces. A kitchen scale can be helpful here.
Keep the balls of dough covered with a clean kitchen towel while you work. Take one ball at a time and roll it out into a log about 10 to 12 inches long. If you find that your dough is very springy, give that one a rest and move on to the next dough ball.
This is a great time to involve kids, since it’s a bit like rolling play dough.
To knot your challah bun, cross one end over the other (Panel #1). Take the end that is underneath the other and insert it down into the center of the bun (Panel #2). Wrap the top end over the outside of the bun (Panel #3), flip the bun over (Panel #4) and pinch the loose ends together (Panel #5). Flip the bun right side up and, gently cup the bun under your palm, and roll it in circles against the countertop to round it (Panel #6).
Final rise and baking
Place the knotted challah buns on a baking sheet lined with a silicone mat or parchment paper (Panel #1, below) and let them rise for the third time (Panel #2). Right before baking, brush them with a couple of thin layers of egg wash and sprinkle on your poppy seeds or sesame seeds (Panel #3).
I usually do a second egg wash after the challah buns have baked for a few minutes and had their oven spring. You can also see the difference in color between an egg wash with a whole egg (the cover photo) and egg wash just with egg whites (the large seeded challah rolls in Panel #4 below).
Officially, there is no difference. Call them what you will. And on those nights you can’t sleep, you can read what the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has to say on the matter.
Yes, challah freezes well. If you want to make these buns into sandwiches, I would slice them in half prior to freezing.
- Stand mixer
- 4 cups (500 grams) unbleached bread flour plus more as necessary
- 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
- 1½ teaspoons instant yeast
- 1 teaspoon orange zest
- 1 teaspoon salt
- ¾ cup (177 grams) lukewarm water plus more as necessary
- 2 whole eggs
- 2 egg yolks whites reserved for the egg wash (see note)
- 2 tablespoons canola, safflower, or other neutral oil
- poppy seeds or sesame seeds for topping if desired
- In a mixer bowl, combine the flour, sugar, zest, yeast, and salt.4 cups (500 grams) unbleached bread flour, 2 tablespoons granulated sugar, 1½ teaspoons instant yeast, 1 teaspoon orange zest, 1 teaspoon salt
- Measure out the water in a large (2 cup is ideal) measuring cup. Add the eggs and oil, and whisk lightly.¾ cup (177 grams) lukewarm water, 2 whole eggs, 2 egg yolks, 2 tablespoons canola, safflower, or other neutral oil
- Add the wet ingredients to the mixing bowl, and mix on low speed using the paddle attachment until combined.
- Switch to the hook attachment and mix on medium speed for 8 minutes, adding small amounts of water or flour as necessary to get the dough to clear the sides of the bowl. The final dough should be soft and not sticky at all.
- Form the dough into a round, lightly oil a bowl (I use the same mixing bowl), cover with plastic wrap, and let rise in a warm, draft-free place until about doubled, 1 to 2 hours (Rise #1 of 3).
- Degas, re-form into a round, and again let rise until about doubled, 1 to 2 hours (Rise #2 of 3)
- Shape the dough (see text for some suggestions) and let rise until doubled again (Rise #3 of 3).
- At least 30 minutes prior to baking, preheat the oven to 325°F.
- Right before baking, brush the loaf with the reserved egg whites (keep for one more brushing). Top with poppy seeds or sesame seeds, if using.poppy seeds or sesame seeds for topping
- Bake on a middle shelf for 20 minutes. Brush one more time with reserved egg wash to ensure coverage of the entire loaf.
- Continue baking until internal temperature is 190 to 195°F, the crust is a rich caramel brown, and the bottom sounds hollow when thumped. This should take about 40 to 60 minutes in total, depending on the size of your buns.
- Cool for at least one hour.
If you make these challah buns or have questions about challah, please leave a comment or send me a message.
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Week 1: New Year new recipe – blueberry galette
Week 2: seasonal – Smitten Kitchen’s grapefruit pound cake
Week 3: Great British Bake Off – Kate’s sticky toffee apple caramel cake
Week 4: Australia – sausage rolls
Week 5: bite sized – cookies
Week 6: Chinese New Year – mushroom bao
Week 7: new tool – baguette baker
Week 8: chocolate – chocolate peanut butter bonbons
Week 9: timed bake – under 1 hour! chocolate chip scones
Week 10: allergy/diet restriction – macarons
Week 11: quick breads – kale and cheese quick bread
Week 12: signature bake – purple cow bread
Week 13: enriched breads (kale and cheese babka fail)
Week 14: childhood favorite –fudgy triple layer chocolate cake with chocolate ganache frosting
Week 15: decorating challenge – purple velvet cake
Week 16: crispy crunchy – bacon cheddar popcorn
Week 17: p52 of a favorite cookbook, or your favorite blog – chocolate peanut butter drip cake
Week 18: pâte à choux – bacon cheese puffs
Week 19: veggies turned sweet – red velvet beet waffles
Week 20: plating – chocolate chip cookie (butter challenge)
Week 21: Birthday Party! – chocolate orange cake
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Week 23: Layers – Pecan apple oat bars (post is pending)
Week 24: Tarts – rainbow fruit tart
Week 25: Bagels and donuts – maple donut cake
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Week 34: Brunch – spinach and feta muffins
Week 35: Laminated dough – puff pastry cinnamon twists
Week 36: Friendship challenge – chocolate chip marshmallow cookie bars
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Week 38: Decoration challenge – royal icing
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