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
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
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
1 whole unblanched almond
- 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.
- 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).
- Punch dough down. Let rest, covered, for 15 minutes, and then place on a parchment-lined baking sheet.
- 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.
- 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.)
- Preheat oven to 350°F.
- Glaze challah with remaining beaten egg yolk, sprinkle with poppy or sesame seeds, and bake for 40 minutes, until golden brown. Freezes well.