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Challah (חַלָּה) is a loaf of braided bread eaten on Sabbath and Jewish holidays.
According to Jewish tradition, the three Sabbath meals (Friday night, Saturday lunch, and Saturday late afternoon) and two holiday meals (one at night and lunch the following day) each begin with two complete loaves of bread. This “double loaf” commemorates the manna that fell from the heavens when the Israelites wandered in the desert for forty years after the Exodus from Egypt. The manna did not fall on Sabbath or holidays; instead, a double portion would fall the day before the holiday or sabbath. Each single loaf is woven with six strands of dough, which together represent the twelve tribes of Israel.
Traditional חַלָּה recipes use eggs, fine white flour, water, sugar, yeast, and salt. Sometimes honey or molasses is substituted as a sweetener. The dough is rolled into 18-inch rope-shaped pieces which are then braided before baking. Some bakers like to add raisins to the dough, or sprinkle sesame or poppy seeds on top for flavor. חַלָּה contains neither dairy nor meat.
According to Halakha, the blessing over bread takes precedence to the blessing over wine. Therefore, before reciting kiddush the חַלָּה is covered with a cloth (this is to “remove” it from the table). Some do not put the חַלָּה on the table at all until after kiddush. After that a blessing is recited over the challot. After kiddush over a cup of wine, the head of the household recites the blessing over bread:
בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְהוָה אֱלֹ֫הֶינוּ מֶ֫לֶךְ הָעוֹלָם, הַמּוֹצִי לֶ֫חֶם מִן הָאָ֫רֶץ.
Baruch atah Adonai, eloheinu melech ha’olam, hamotzi lechem min ha’aretz”
“Blessed are you, LORD, King of the Universe, who brings forth bread from the earth”.
According to Jewish law and practice, salting חַלָּה is a critical component of הַמּוֹצִי HaMotzi, the blessing over bread. Salt has always played an indispensable role in Jewish life and ritual dating back to the biblical period of ancient Israel. In the Bible, salt has come to symbolize the eternal covenant with God. As a preservative, the mineral never spoils or decays, signifying the immortality of this bond. It is the custom to dip the חַלָּה or bread into salt before the HaMotzi.
It is customary for guests to remain silent between the recitation of the blessing over the חַלָּה and the consumption of the bread. However, a man is permitted to ask for salt in the case that the bread is inferior and salt has not been placed on the table.
This custom is illustrated further within the Jewish tradition. A Yiddish proverb declared that “”no Jewish table should be without salt” which is in accordance with the homily that makes one’s table “an altar before the Lord” (cf. Avot 3:4).
Makes 2 braided loaves
2 1/2 cups warm water (110 degrees F/45 degrees C)
1 tablespoon active dry yeast (חמץ, שמרים)
1/2 cup honey (דְּבַשׁ)
4 tablespoons olive oil (שֶׁמֶן זַיִת)
3 eggs (ביצים)
1 tablespoon salt (מֶלַח)
8 cups unbleached all-purpose flour (קֶמַח)
In a large bowl, sprinkle yeast over barely warm water. Beat in honey, oil, 2 eggs, and salt. Add the flour one cup at a time, beating after each addition, graduating to kneading with hands as dough thickens. Knead until smooth and elastic and no longer sticky, adding flour as needed. Cover with a damp clean cloth and let rise for 1 1/2 hours or until dough has doubled in bulk.
Punch down the risen dough and turn out onto floured board. Divide in half and knead each half for five minutes or so, adding flour as needed to keep from getting sticky. Divide each half into thirds and roll into long snake about 1 1/2 inches in diameter. Pinch the ends of the three snakes together firmly and braid from middle. Either leave as braid or form into a round braided loaf by bringing ends together, curving braid into a circle, pinch ends together. Grease two baking trays and place finished braid or round on each. Cover with towel and let rise about one hour.
Preheat oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C).
Beat the remaining egg and brush a generous amount over each braid. Sprinkle with poppy seeds if desired.
Bake at 375 degrees F (190 degrees C) for about 40 minutes. Bread should have a nice hollow sound when thumped on the bottom. Cool on a rack for at least one hour before slicing.
Recipe from www.allrecipes.com