I am not Jewish, but occasionally I attend events in the Jewish community. The most recent was a community challah-making event. It was in a big room filled with men, women, and children working together and making the bread known as challah.
We were told that similar events were going on in 900 countries around the world. It was interesting to be a part of a big community event like that, even if I was a bit of an outsider. I attended with a friend of mine. We had previously learned how to make challah together.
I am a big bread fan, and I certainly love homemade. The recipe that was used here yielded multiple loaves of bread; I had at least six loaves by the end. The biggest thing is doing the braiding. The woman giving us instructions was impressive with her six braids, but we stuck with a safer three braids. My friend likens it to braiding her daughter’s hair. I am still working on perfecting my braiding, so of course my challah isn’t that pretty.
Here is the recipe that we used:
• 3-3/4 tablespoons yeast
• 1 tablespoon sugar
• 5-1/2 cups warm water
• 2 cups sugar
• 1 cup oil
• 16 cups flour (1 five lb bag, plus 1-1/4 cup)
• Optional: 1 egg for egging the top of each loaf
1. In a large mixing bowl, add yeast, sugar, and then warm water. Gently mix and let sit for 5-7 minutes until the yeast proofs. Next, add the 2 cups of sugar, oil, and flour. Knead, then cover, and let the bread rise for 30 minutes to one hour.
One thing about making challah that differs from other kinds of bread is the blessing. If over 59 ounces of flour is used, it is customary to take a handful of dough and say a blessing — this is the separation of the challah. Some then take the dough, wrap it in foil, and burn it on the stovetop or in the oven. Others wrap it in foil and throw it away. I include the blessing at the end of the article for anyone who may be curious.
2. Next is the task of braiding the bread. Three is the basic number of braids, but you could also try four, five, or six to make it a little more fancy. If desired, whip the egg with a fork and brush on top of the challahs.
3. Bake at 350 degrees F for 35-40 minutes. It seems best to bake it on a cookie sheet.
I know when I was baking my loaves, the house smelled wonderful. It is something fun and a little different to make; t is a yummy, homemade bread with a long history of tradition and spirituality tied to it. I have never tried it, but my friend says it makes wonderful French toast!
Blessing over separating the challah as it appears in prayer books:
Blessed are You, L-rd our G‑d, King of the Universe, who has sanctified us with His commandments and commanded us to separate challah.
ba-ruch / a-tah / a-do-noi / elo-hai-nu / me-lech / ha-o-lam / a-sher / kid-sha-nu / b'mitz-vo-tav / v'tzi-va-nu / l'haf-rish / chal-lah