Today is the beginning of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. Rosh Hashanah is a time of observance for “people, animals, and legal contracts”1. Rosh Hashanah also observes the creation of the world and marks the countdown towards Yom Kippur. Yom Kippur occurs ten days after Rosh Hashanah and is considered to be one of the holiest days for the Jewish people. Yom Kippur is commonly known as the Day of Atonement.
One of the longest running traditions of Rosh Hashanah is a large gathering of friends and family at the dinner table enjoying a large wonderful feast of traditional foods. One of these traditional foods is Challah bread.2
Challah bread is often baked braided and in a round shape to symbolize that the world has no beginning and no end; the three strands symbolize truth, peace, and beauty; and the spiral coil indicates the ascent to God.
Traditionally, Jewish families would not add any sugar to Challah bread that is sometimes referred to as “Sweet Challah”. Sweet Challah actually gains sweetness through the raisins that are an optional ingredient. Some Jewish Americans are taking advantage of the various ingredients available year around and adding different dried fruits: dates, cranberries, and apricots to the dough prior to baking. Also some believe that eggs are used in this recipe as a way of using up eggs prior to the strict Judaic Sabbath which forbids any form of harvesting (gathering fresh eggs would be considered harvesting). Three other traditions that have developed are: adding additional sugar as a sign of beginning the New Year in a sweet way, garnishing the loaves with seeds (such as poppy seeds or sesame seeds) symbolizes the falling of manna from heaven, and the covering of the Challah with a cloth as it is served at the Sabbath meal represents the heavenly dew that protects the manna. 3
Now that we are done with the history lesson, let us move to the baking :)
Here is my "mise en place" (MEEZ ahn plahs) which is French and means "everything in its place":
One of the major points in baking is to have all of the ingredients gather together prior to baking or mixing. The last thing you want to be doing is searching for "room temperature" butter at the last minute!
This is my first braided dough to complete. I thought the initial braiding went well but when the dough started to ferment a little longer I ended up losing a braid.
It should also be noted that the three braid twist that is common for Challa bread is started from the middle, not the ends. I am sure there is a metaphoric connection to this.
The final product is a labor of love for all of my friends celebrating this holiday.
What a beautiful and colorful way for bread to add to a celebration of people and family! I wish to all of my Jewish friends a happy and wonderful Rosh Hashanah and humbly offer to you my interpretation of Challah bread.