Traditional Challah Bread
Challah (pronounced "haw-llah"), is a Jewish Sabbath/holiday bread.It comes in many shapes and sizes, braids being the most traditional. The braids may be made of three, four, or six strands, and may be straight or formed into rounds. Each shape is a symbol, bringing meaning to the service of the bread.
One common service is to form two four-stranded braided loaves, which symbolize Israel's 400 years in captivity. Then narrow three-stranded braids are laid on top of the main loaves, symbolizing the presence of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit throughout that trying time. The loaves are brushed heavily with egg indicating God's lavish affection, as eggs were a delicacy in those times. Sprinkled over the loaves is a dusting of sesame seeds, a reminder of the manna provided daily during Israel's wandering in the desert. The two loaves are placed on the table under a white napkin or cloth, completing the picture of the manna being gathered in twice the ordinary daily ration the day before the sabbath, as gathering would have been prohibited on the sabbath day. The napkin represents the dew that collected on the manna each morning.
Of course, this is only one example of the Challah symbolism. For Rosh Hashanna, the loaves are typically baked into rounds to symbolize continuity. For Yom Kippur, ladder shapes are formed to signify how we should ascend to new heights, and for Shavuot (the Festival of the First Fruits) two plain loaves are served side by side as a remembrance of the Law being delivered on two stone tablets.
There are many different recipes for Challah, some more simple and others incorporating raisins and honey during times of celebration to symbolize joy and happiness. This recipe is of the simple variety, but the flavor is rich and the finished loaf is a beautiful addition to any table.
The dough is very lenient, and will sit through up to eight hours of a first rising without punching down if you happen to have to walk away from it for a time. Simply re-knead until the dough springs back, and proceed as usual.