Faith Kramer's Tu B'Shevat challah
Faith Kramer's Tu B'Shevat challah

Branch out on Tu B’Shevat with a tree-shaped challah

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For Tu B’Shevat this year, serve a palm-tree challah — one that you braid yourself rather than using a mold  — that’s filled with biblical fruits. The one-day holiday, often called the New Year of the Trees, begins at sundown Jan. 16.

Using all-purpose flour rather than bread flour makes the dough easier to shape. The challah can also be baked as a traditional braided loaf.

Tu B’Shevat Challah with Dried Fruits

Serves 6 to 8

  • ⅔ cup warm water (110 degrees), divided
  • ¾ tsp. sugar
  • 1½ tsp. active dry yeast
  • ⅔ cup total chopped dried pitted dates, figs and/or raisins (cut into ¼-inch pieces)
  • 2 plus 1 large eggs
  • 1½ Tbs. olive oil, divided, plus extra for greasing
  • 1½ Tbs. honey
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 2 to 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 Tbs. pomegranate molasses, silan (date syrup) or honey

Combine ⅓ cup warm water with sugar and yeast in a small bowl. Let sit for until foamy (10 minutes). In another bowl, soak the dried fruit in ⅓ cup warm water for 10 minutes, drain and reserve liquid.

Break 2 eggs into large bowl. Beat. Add oil, honey and salt. Stir in yeast mixture and 3 Tbs. reserved liquid. Mix in 1 cup flour. Stir in half the fruit. Add second cup flour, mix. Stir in remaining fruit. Mix adding tablespoons of flour or teaspoons of soaking liquid as needed until a rough, sticky dough forms.

Lightly flour work surface. Knead dough 8 to 12 minutes, adding flour or liquid as needed, until the dough is smooth, resilient and a bit tacky.

Grease large bowl with oil. Turn dough in the bowl to coat. Cover. Let rise in warm (not hot) and draft-free place until doubled, 45 to 90 minutes (timing varies). Once it has doubled, punch dough down with fist to deflate. Remove from bowl. Knead for 2 minutes on lightly floured surface. Take ⅔ of dough and divide into 2 balls. Rolling dough between your hands and/or on a work surface, shape into 2 ropes each ½ inch wide and 25 inches long.

Roll 60 percent of the remaining dough into a rope ½ inch wide and 15 inches long. Shape the remaining dough into a rope ½ inch wide and 10 inches long.

Line large baking sheet with parchment paper. Grease paper with oil. Place ends of 2 larger ropes towards the bottom of the baking sheet and braid; do not braid the bottom 2 inches (for tree “roots”) and the top 3½ inches (for palm branches/leaves). Curl out the “roots.” Curl down the unbraided top part of the top of the ropes to resemble palm branches. Center the 10-inch rope above the first level of branches. Press lightly in center to adhere, then curl ends of rope down for next layer of palm branches (leave about 1-inch space between the two sets of leaves). Pinch 1-inch of dough off the remaining rope and press above second set of branches to continue the trunk. Center last rope above this piece, pressing together slightly to adhere and curling ends down for the last set of palm branches.

Cover. Let rise until doubled in size (30 to 90 minutes, timing varies) or when a knuckle pressed into it leaves an indent that fills slowly and not all the way.

About 20 minutes before the dough is ready, heat oven to 350 degrees. Beat remaining egg with pomegranate molasses in small bowl. Brush over challah’s top and sides. Bake 15 minutes. Remove from oven. Brush again. Bake 12 to 15 minutes until golden brown, bottom sounds hollow when tapped and an instant-read thermometer reads 190 degrees in the thickest part.

Loosen edges of challah with spatula if necessary. Let rest on baking sheet 5 minutes. Transfer on parchment paper to wire rack to cool.

Faith Kramer
Faith Kramer

Faith Kramer is a Bay Area food writer and the author of “52 Shabbats: Friday Night Dinners Inspired by a Global Jewish Kitchen.” Her website is Contact her at [email protected].