The two challot we enjoy at every Shabbat meal symbolizes the double manna the Israelites received from God before Shabbat during their forty years in the desert. The recipe is from my grandmother’s challot cookbook though I’ve updated it with options to make it vegan and with some whole wheat instead of white flour. “Manna is described in Scripture as ‘bread,’ as ‘honey’ and as ‘oil.’ How are the differing descriptions to be reconciled? Young men tasted it in the taste of bread, old people the taste of honey, and infants the taste of oil (Sefer Ha-gaaddah, p. 75). Indeed, the same ingredients are still used to make it today and we all taste the deliciousness of challot. The simple ingredients are transformed into a holy, sweet food. When God created the world, “God extracted a ‘handful’ of earth from dust and water. He combined and created Man. Similarly, we separate and elevate a handful of dough from the simple ingredients we combine.”
Raisins are added to it because the Israelites were compared to a vine, “Thou didst pluck up a vine out of Egypt (Psalms 80:9). R. Tanhuma bar Abba said, “He plucked them out of Egypt and brought them into the wilderness, and there they began to thrive; there they received the Torah and their name went forth throughout the world.” (Sefer Ha-aggadah, p. 75).
I get great pleasure in the meditative process of baking challah for Shabbat. As Freda Reider writes, “While you are kneading the dough realize that you are at that moment symbolically connected to your entire ancestral heritage. . . . Consider kneading an act that now links you to the continuous life of a traditional worldwide Jewish community” (The Hallah Book, p. 30).
My updated version of a recipe by Freda Reider, author of The Hallah Book: Recipes, History and Tradition
Also, this recipe is made from scratch–no bread machine involved!
1 1/2 cups water (1 cup boiling, 1/2 cup cold)
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1/4 cup honey (support a local beekeeper)
2 tsp salt
1 tbsp yeast (I used fresh yeast, but dry also works)
3 eggs: humanely-raised chicken or flax seed (1 tbsp ground flax seed, 3 tbsp water)
5-6 cups flour (instead of all white flour, try 1/2 whole wheat, 1/2 white)
1/2 cup organic raisins (other things I like to add to my challot include: sesame seeds, za’atar, and/or cinnamon)
1. Place the first six ingredients in a large mixing bowl. Allow the yeast to “proof” (which means it should bubble).
2. Using a large wooden spoon, stir the flour into the liquid, one cup at a time. Continue to add flour, mixing and blending, until the dough begins to ball up and leave the sides of the bowl.
3. Gather the dough into a ball and knead for approximately 10 minutes. If it becomes sticky, sprinkle flour on your hands.
4. There is not enough flour used in this recipe for hafrashat challah (taking challah). The taking of challah is symbolic of the separated challah portion given to the Kohanim (priests) during the Temple period. If you are using more flour, here are the requirements for taking out a portion and the bracha (prayer) to say.
5. Gather the challah into a smooth, round ball. Pick it up and drizzle a bit of olive oil along the sides and bottom of the bowl to prevent the dough from sticking. Then put dough back into the bowl. Place a cover over the bowl. Let the dough rise in a warm place (I wrap towels around the bowl sometimes) and don’t move it. Let the dough rise to double in size (I left mine overnight and found it pouring out of the bowl onto the counter in the morning).
6. Knead the dough a second time for a few minutes and let rise again.
7. Remove the dough from the bowl and place on a flour covered counter or board. Now is the time to fold in raisins. Tip: I try to keep the raisins on the inside of the challah so that they aren’t exposed and don’t burn.
8. Braid or shape your challah–click here for ideas.
9. Preheat over to 350 degrees.
10. Place challot on cookie sheets, baking tins or tinfoil, moistened with olive oil. If you use eggs, then you can brush an egg wash on the dough. If you are adding seeds on top, add them now, too. Option here to let it rise again for a third time. Then, bake for approximately 45 minutes until lightly brown and firm on the outside.
11. Remove from oven and let cool on an elevated rack
For more of a religious background on this food, click the link below.