Dorina Pilipovsky has been cooking since she was a little girl. She learned about Jewish food from her Russian Babushka, and has modernized the kosher classics just for you. Stay tuned for more recipes for the Jewish kitchen.
What is challah?
According to the very knowledgeable Wikipedia, challah is a special Jewish braided bread eaten on the Sabbath and on Jewish holidays.
Challah is usually eaten three times during the Sabbath (Friday night, Saturday lunch, and Saturday late afternoon) and twice during holidays (one on the evening before when the holiday begins and the second at lunch the following day).
According to Jewish tradition, each completed challah is actually two loaves of bread. This "double loaf" (in Hebrew: lechem mishneh) honors the manna that G-d provided for the Israelites during their 40 years of wandering in the desert after the exodus from Egypt—think “The Ten Commandments” film. What I found interesting was that the manna did not fall on the Sabbath or on holidays, so the Israelites would get a double portion the day before to make up for the loss. Clearly G-d is a planner.
The word challah also refers to the mitzvah of separating a piece of the dough before braiding. This dough is set aside as a tithe, or contribution to a religious organization for the Kohen (priest). In Hebrew this mitzvah is called "hafrashat challah."
How did I get into baking challah?
Those who know me know I hate baking. I never make cookies or cakes. When company comes around I usually serve poached fruit or some kind of fruit baked in puff pastry, which I bought from the store, of course. Just the thought of making real dough with yeast freaked me out.
I decided that I should observe an experienced challah baker before diving into it myself. I do the same thing with exercise videos, so it seemed like a good plan.
After a few calls and emails, I found a friend who makes challah every Thursday for Shabbat. “What a nut!” I thought to myself. “Why not simplify your life and just buy one like a normal person? And why is she being a show-off wife?” Every week was definitely out of the question for me—that was way too much work—and my manicure would get all messed up!
But for the sake of this project, I finally went to see my friend and learn how to make a challah from scratch.
When I got to my friend’s house, she began to walk me through her recipe. The first thing I noticed was that she used a 5-pound bag of flour. “How nice of her,” I thought, “so many challahs for me to take home!” She explained that you can make a smaller batch, but then your prayers wouldn’t work.
What did she mean by this? I knew that it was a mitzvah for a wife to make challah, but I didn’t know that it had magical powers. She explained, “If anyone is sick, or in need of a match or anything at all really," you should pray over the dough while kneading and braiding it to help.
Magical bread that you can eat? Um, “awesome” is the word that comes to mind. Being Russian and from a family of very superstitious people, this concept made perfect sense to me. I could not wait to make some magical bread for my own family. You could say it hooked me. After all, who wouldn’t want little extra help from G-d?
My husband laughs at me all the time when I tell him about the magical bread. But recently my challah has shown its powers. I read that if a pregnant woman makes challah near her delivery date, she will ensure an easy, fast labor and delivery. That certainly worked in my favor when I gave birth to my daughter!
Believe in it or not, the magic bread isn’t a bad thing to try, and you’ll end up with some delicious food to boot. What a small thing to do and thank G-d the whole process is very simple! Not to mention how delicious it is. Once you have tasted homemade challah, you won’t ever want a store-bought one again. I have made challah almost every week since I learned how to make it.
When the loaves are ready I usually can’t wait for them to cool – I always take a piece of hot bread and smear some delicious butter on it. Yum!
Here’s the recipe, I hope you enjoy it as much as we do in my family! Happy baking, and for those of you watching your figures I’ve included a whole-wheat version as well. Loaves are good for one week, after which you can make yummy challah French toast.
1 1/2 cups water
1/2 cup +1 tbsp sugar
4 tsp active dry yeast
5 cups high gluten white or wheat flour
1 3/4 tsp salt
2 large eggs
1/3 cup olive oil
Sprinkle of sesame, poppy seeds, raisins, honey or cinnamon & sugar
5lb Version (Original x3)
4 1/2 cups water (start with 4 cups)
1 1/2 cups + 3 tbsp sugar
4 tbsp yeast
5 ¼ tsp salt
15-16 cups flour (a little less than 5lb)
3 large eggs
1 cup olive oil
1. Mix 1 tbsp of sugar into 1/2 cup hot tap water. Sprinkle yeast on top without mixing. Let rest 5-10 mins until air pockets form at top.
2. Combine flour, remaining sugar, and salt in mixing bowl. Add yeast mixture, 1 egg, oil and remaining 1 cup water.
3. Either by hand or with mixer, knead for 15 minutes. If using a mixer, watch for elasticity as kneading times may vary. Add more water or flour as needed.
4. Place dough in large bowl, cover with plastic wrap and allow to rise for 1 hour.
5. Punch down and place on floured surface. Rip off piece of dough, wrap in foil, say the Bracha and throw it into the oven as an offering.
6. Divide dough into two or three sections, then divide each section into three ropes. Braid and say a prayer for others. Loosely cover braids and allow to rise for 1 hour.
7. Preheat oven to 375F. Beat remaining egg and generously brush braids. Sprinkle with sesame seeds, poppy seeds, raisins or cinnamon and sugar.
8. Bake for 25-30 minutes or until golden brown crust has formed. Cool and enjoy!
For Whole Wheat Challah Bread
Substitute whole wheat flour for white flour. Directions are the same as for the white flour recipes, except I mix the egg with honey when I brush the challahs before I bake them in the oven to add a touch of sweetness.
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