Bird Challah (Feigel)

Adapted from Jewish Soul Food:Traditional Fare and What It Means by Carol Unger (Brandeis University Press); photo by Tami Ganeles Weiser Yield:  8 servings
Prep Time:  35 minutes Rising and Resting Time:  3 hours Cook Time:  40 minutes

“In eighteenth-century Ukraine, where life could be harsh, Jewish women baked a bird-shaped (feigel) challah for the pre-Yom Kippur meal. The bird reflects a promise in Isaiah 31:5 that just as a bird can fly loose from its captors, so too will G-d rescue the Jews from their foes.” --Carol Ungar

Ingredients

½ tablespoon 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 glaze)

3½ cups flour (all-purpose white or whole-wheat pastry flour is fine; you can also combine them)

1½ teaspoons salt

2 raisins

1 whole unblanched almond

Instructions

  1. In a large bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook, combine the yeast, sugar, 1¼ cups water, 3 tablespoons of the 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 board until smooth and supple or in the mixer until the dough forms a ball.
  2. Return hand-kneaded dough to the cleaned-out 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 in the refrigerator to rise, and then shape and bake the following day).
  3. Punch dough down. Let rest, covered, for 15 minutes, and then place on a parchment-lined baking sheet.
  4. To form the bird, roll the dough into a thick rope. Cut off one-third of the dough. Form the larger piece into a ball; this will be the base, or body, of the bird. Cut the smaller piece of dough into 4 equal pieces. Roll each piece into a ball. Using 2 balls, form the wings of the bird by pressing into the body on opposite sides. The next piece will be the bird’s neck. Insert an almond for the beak and 2 raisins for the eyes.
  5. 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 when you poke a dimple into it, the dimple remains.)
  6. Preheat oven to 350°F.
  7. Glaze challah with remaining beaten egg yolk, sprinkle with poppy or sesame seeds, and bake for 40 minutes, until golden brown.  Freezes well.

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