Hassidic Jews fashion a twelve-part challah called the Yud Bet, or in Hassidic pronunciation the Yud Bais challah. Twelve stands for the twelve tribes who descend from Jacobs’s twelve sons and also for the twelve angels surrounding the Heavenly throne.
While it is possible to fashion a Yud Bais by braiding twelve strands of dough, an easier method is to construct the loaf from twelve dough balls. Some people frame the balls with a thin rope of dough.
This recipe produces one large loaf, enough to serve 8 to 10 dinner guests.
- ½ tablespoons (1½ teaspoons) instant yeast
- 3 tablespoons granulated sugar
- 1¼ cups tepid water, or more as needed
- 4 tablespoons neutral tasting vegetable oil
- 2 large egg yolks (one for the dough, the second for the glaze)
- 3½ cups flour (all purpose white or whole-wheat pastry flour is fine;you can combine them)
- 1½ teaspoons salt
- 2 tablespoons poppy and/or sesame seeds
- In a large bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook, combine the yeast, sugar, 1¼ cups of water, 3 tablespoons of oil and one of the egg yolks.
- Beat well to mix, either with the dough hook or a wooden spoon.
- Stir or beat in the flour, a cup at a time.
- Knead the dough either on a floured bird until smooth and supple or in the mixer until the dough forms ball.
- Return hand kneaded dough to the bowl.
- Using the remaining tablespoon of oil, lightly oil surface of the dough and then cover with a dampened kitchen towel or plastic wrap and set in a warm place to rise until doubled in bulk (this can take between 1 and 2 hours, depending on how warm your house is. If you are in a rush, you can make the dough the night before, cover with plastic wrap, leave it into the refrigerator to rise, and then shape and bake the following day).
- Punch dough down. Let rest covered, for 15 minutes and then shape on parchment lined baking sheet.
- Cut dough into 12 or 13 identical pieces, 12 for the “diamond” and the extra piece for the optional “frame.”
- Roll 12 pieces into balls of equal size. Arrange balls in a diamond shape (rows of 1,2,3,3,2,1); they shouldn’t touch—they will grow closer as they bake. If you wish to make a “frame” for the diamond, roll remaining piece of dough into a skinny strand long enough to frame the other pieces and place it around the diamond, without touching.
- After shaping, let challah rise, covered with a kitchen towel for 30 to 45 minutes until puffed (you’ll know that it’s ready to bake if you poke a dimple into it and the dimple remains).
- Preheat oven to 350 F.
- Glaze challah with remaining beaten egg yolk, sprinkle with poppy and/or sesame seeds or both and bake for 40 minutes or until golden brown.
- Freezes well.
Carol Ungar is a prize winning writer and passionate home cook. She lives with her husband and kids in Israel.