If you ask any Beth El Religious School student “what is your favorite Jewish food?” the overwhelming response will be challah! They love it on Shabbat, with chicken, as a snack with butter and jelly, or made into french toast for breakfast. I can’t think of a better way to start the year than by baking challah with your children! The recipe we used is below. In addition to preparing round High Holiday Challah for their families, the Shorashim class also made mini round challah rolls to serve at the Zayin Family Promise Dinner on September 28th. Family Promise of Southwestern Pennsylvania connects children and families experiencing homelessness with a network of local congregations and dedicated staff, all focused on providing them with shelter, meals, hospitality, and support until they are able to return to sustainable independent lives in their own homes.
When I teach about challah, here are some of the interesting facts we discuss in B-shul. Challah is a special Jewish braided bread eaten on Shabbat and Jewish holidays. According to tradition, Sabbath & holiday meals begin with two complete loaves of bread. This “double loaf” (in Hebrew: lechem mishneh) commemorates the manna that fell from the heavens when the Israelites wandered in the dessert after the Exodus from Egypt. The term challah also refers to “hafrashat challah” or the Mitzvah of separating a portion of the dough before braiding. This portion is set aside as a tithe for the Kohen.
Most challah recipes use numerous eggs, white flour, water, sugar, yeast and salt. Water challah is popular among Sephardic Jews. Ashkenazi often sprinkle poppy or sesame seeds, while Sephardic add anise or sesame seeds to the dough or on top. Both egg and water challah are usually brushed with an egg wash before baking to add a golden sheen. Salt has always played a role in Jewish life and ritual dating back to the biblical period of ancient Israel. Salting the challah is a component of HaMotzi, the blessing over bread.
For Rosh Hashanah the challah is often baked in a round shape. Symbolically, we are doing with the dough what we should be doing with our soul: kneading it over and over, round and round, smoothing out all the imperfections and mistakes of the year before. I asked the Shorashim class WHY we bake challah round for Rosh Hashanah. They came up with some lovely answers including:
- It is Beautiful
- A round challah has no end
- We hope everyone’s happiness will never end
- Round things symbolizes the cycle of life
Langer Family Challah Recipe (adapted from Shonna Valeska)
- 3 pkgs active dry yeast (note: 2 1/4 teaspoons yeast=1 packet)
- 1/4 cup warm (105 to 110 degrees F) water
- 3/4 cup vegetable oil
- 3/4 cup sugar
- 1 tsp salt
- 2 cups hot water
- 5 large eggs (1 egg is for glazing the dough before baking)
- 9 cups all-purpose or bread flour
- (optional 1 Tablespoon Honey)
- Dissolve the yeast in the warm water.
- Using a kitchen aid mixer with the whisk attachment, mix the dissolved yeast, oil, sugar, hot water, and salt and stir well then mix in 4 of the eggs.
- Change to the dough hook and gradually stir in 4 cups of the flour. Scrape down the sides and add 4 cups more flour and mix until smooth. (note: the dough will be sticky)
- Sprinkle the remaining 1 cup flour on a work surface. Vigorously knead it into the dough until smooth. 5-10 minutes.
- Return the dough to the bowl, cover with a damp cloth, and set aside to rise in a warm place until slightly risen, 30-40 minutes.
- Punch down the dough. Knead for 3 more minutes. Place the dough in a large bowl sprayed with cooking oil, cover, and set aside to rise until doubled in size, 1 hour.
- Punch down the dough. Knead for 1 minute. Divide the dough in half. Shape each half into a ball; set aside to rise for 10 minutes. *
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Cover a large baking sheet with parchment paper.
- Separate each ball of dough into 3 or 4 smaller balls. Roll out each ball into a rope. Braid dough into two loaves of 3 or 4 ropes each. Place loaves on baking sheet.
- In a small bowl, beat the remaining egg. (note: you can add honey to the egg wash for extra Shabbat sweetness)
- Using a pastry brush, paint the loaves with the egg wash .
- Bake 2 Large Challot for approximately 50 minutes, turning the pan once to make sure the loaves are browned evenly. Cool on a rack before serving.
*4 medium challot-bake 25-30 minutes
*8 small challot-bake 15-20 minutes
If you have left over challah that is going stale (very rare in my household) cut the challah into cubes and put the bread in the freezer. Once it is frozen, pulse the cubes in a food processor and you have homemade challah breadcrumbs!