Did you know that the word "challah" appears in both the Bible and the Torah? It eventually became a generic term for bread or dough, but it’s believed that “challah” came from the mitzvah of “hafrashat challah,” -- separating one ball of dough from the main batch in order to donate it to the religious officiants that came to collect it.
In the Jewish tradition, specifically, households were expected to set aside one twenty-fourth of each Shabbat’s dough for the kohanim. Once this was no longer required, it became a Kosher tradition to remember the ritual by setting aside a small ball of dough, then to burn that ball in the oven.
Celebrating with Challah
Over the centuries, “challah” has become referred to as the eggy, mildly sweet bread which accompanies holiday and Shabbat meals. Three braids often grace a Shabbat challah, symbolizing justice, truth and peace. When a dozen balls are grouped on a loaf, the challah honors the history of the twelve tribes of Israel.
A ladder, bird or hand shape is a Yom Kippur classic, symbolizing aspirations of prayers reaching up to heaven. Coiled challah on Rosh Hashanah underscores the sense of no beginning or end that is reflected in that holiday’s celebrations.
The basic recipe for challah is relatively simple, particularly if you are used to making yeasted bread. Your best bet of achieving the ideal “shaggy” dough is to make a well in the dry ingredients, spoon the oil-egg mixture into the well, then drizzle the egg blend with the yeast slurry. After you’ve mixed everything together and kneaded the bread (ten minutes by hand, or about seven minutes with a bread hook attachment), the dough is left to rise until doubled.
That’s when the fun begins! Shape your challah into three to six strands for braided challah. Braid the strands just as you would hair, but tuck the two ends under when done. Alternatively, make one long coil that you spiral into a circle. If you're not making braided or circular challah, you have the option of shaping the dough into a hand, ladder or bird.
Once you’re satisfied with the shape, leave it to rise again before brushing with egg white. Mixing the egg white with a spoonful of water will give the loaf a perfect glaze and even glow, as will taking the time to brush the mixture all down the sides and into any surface cracks.
Pre-heat the oven at 350° for twenty minutes before placing the dough into the oven. Bake for thirty to thirty-five minutes. You’ll know it’s finished when the challah is a deep brown, or when an instant-read thermometer verifies that the bread’s internal temperature is 190°.
Feeling intimidated? Panosh Kosher Catering can provide challah loaves to round out your special meal or dishes that accompany your own hand-formed challah. Contact us today for holiday or Sabbat menu ideas.