This is the first of three culinary adventures this weekend. This adventure turned out far better than I ever could have imagined considering it was my first time making challah! Making this bread requires patience and time since it has to rise three times and requires some intense kneading. But in the end it was completely worth it. Add a little bit of butter and a sprinkling of salt and you’ve got yourself a mouthwatering Shabbat treat.
Challah (HA-lah. The ‘HA’ is more of a gutteral sound) is braided bread eaten on Shabbat. It can be plain, include raisins or sprinkled with sesame or poppy seeds. My favorite is raisin challah since the dried fruit adds a bit of sweetness to the eggy, yeasty bread.
Shabbat is a weekly holiday for Jews signifying the end of the week, beginning of the weekend and a time of rest and reflection. Since Shabbat is viewed as being a separation from the rest of the week, by eating a different type of bread only on Shabbat, we are contributing to the idea that the Sabbath is special with its own traditions, foods and festivities.
Here’s a challah story:
I was at a Whole Foods in Raleigh a few years back picking up some challah on a Friday evening. While standing in front of the huge shelf of bread, a woman who was also buying challah started talking to me..dialogue as follows:
Woman with strong southern accent: I just love challah (she pronounced it with a “ch” sound)
Me: Yes, it’s delicious!
Woman with strong southern accent: I always take some challah (again the “ch” sound) put it in the oven and melt some swiss cheese on it, yum!
Me: Oh I’ve never had it like that — sounds…pretty good
We then said our goodbyes and ate challah however we like it. So it can really be eaten whenever and however. And we all know challah makes the best french toast. So if you eat it throughout the weekend, it’s perfectly okay. I just liked to give you the traditional background.
Recipe from Smitten Kitchen
1 1/2 packages active dry yeast (1 1/2 tablespoons)
1 T. plus 1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup olive, plus more for greasing the bowl
5 large eggs
1 T. salt
8 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup raisins per challah
1. In a large bowl, dissolve yeast and 1 tablespoon sugar in 1 3/4 cups lukewarm water.
2. Whisk oil into yeast, then beat in 4 eggs, one at a time, with remaining sugar and salt. Gradually add flour. (It may feel like A LOT of flour but keep going until the very last cup. I ended up mixing it all with my hands.)
3. Turn dough onto a floured surface and knead until smooth. Clean out bowl and grease it, then return dough to bowl. Cover with plastic wrap, and let rise in a warm place for 1 hour, until almost doubled in size. Dough may also rise in an oven that has been warmed to 150 degrees then turned off. Punch down dough, cover and let rise again in a warm place for another half-hour.
4. At this point, you can knead the raisins into the challah, if you’re using them, before forming the loaves. To make a 6-braid challah, either straight or circular, take half the dough and form it into 6 balls. With your hands, roll each ball into a strand about 12 inches long and 1 1/2 inches wide. Place the 6 in a row, parallel to one another. Pinch the tops of the strands together. Move the outside right strand over 2 strands. Then take the second strand from the left and move it to the far right. Take the outside left strand and move it over 2. Move second strand from the right over to the far left. Start over with the outside right strand. Continue this until all strands are braided. For a straight loaf, tuck ends underneath.
5. Beat remaining egg and brush it on loaves. Let rise for another hour.
6. Preheat oven to 375 degrees and brush loaves again. Line cookie sheet with parchment paper and bake for 30 to 40 minutes, or until golden.
Post-baking thoughts: Challah also makes great bread for peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.