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It's served at weddings, on holidays, and every week on the Sabbath. This rich, sweet and fluffy egg bread is a staple in Jewish tradition. Challah (pronounced "khalla", in the back of the throat) comes in different sizes and shapes, depending on its use: braided for the Sabbath and extra large in size for a wedding; round and sometimes filled with raisins for the Jewish New Year. Occasionally, sesame or poppy seeds are sprinkled on top.

When the Jews wandered in the desert after the Exodus from Egypt, they had no food to eat. Their meager supply of matzah was depleted and they were not equipped to produce food. It is said that a daily supply of “Manna” or food from heaven, appeared each day. The Jewish people received a double portion of Manna on the Sabbath. Challah symbolizes this Manna and is a reminder that we should not take for granted the availability of food. In fact, Challah or any other bread may not be eaten, according to Jewish law, until thanks is given.

Today, this tasty egg bread is available in many bakeries and grocery stores, but making Challah from scratch is a fun and fulfilling experience. The intricate braiding of the dough is a traditional art form and the final product represents a major accomplishment. A true comfort food, nothing tastes better than warm, homemade Challah.

To create two golden brown Challahs, you will need one cookie sheet or two bread pans, a large bowl, and the following ingredients:

13 to 14 cups flour
¾ Cup oil
4 Packages dry yeast
2 Tablespoons salt
3 Eggs, beaten, plus 2 eggs for egg wash
1 Cup sugar
4 Cups hot water (about 100 degrees)

Completely dissolve yeast in the water. Add the sugar and salt, then add the beaten eggs and oil, alternating with the flour. Mix well, adding more flour if needed to create thick dough.

Place the dough onto a floured cutting board and knead for approximately 10 minutes, or until the dough is springy and elastic. Grease the inside of a large bowl and add the dough, rotating it so that all sides are greased. Move the bowl to a warm place, cover and let the dough rise for about 1-1/2 to 2 hours, or until the dough has doubled in size. Punch down the risen dough to remove any air pockets.

Divide the dough into six even pieces and roll to form ropes. Braid three ropes together to form each Challah, and place on a well-greased cookie sheet or well-greased bread pans. Allow the Challahs to rise once more, until their size doubles. Beat the remaining 2 eggs and brush the Challah tops. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 to 35 minutes or until the tops are golden brown.

For variety, poppy or sesame seeds may be sprinkled on top of the egg wash before baking. Round, rich, sweet Challah is traditionally eaten on Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. To make this version, add an extra egg and ½ cup sugar to the recipe. One cup of raisins may also be mixed in. Roll enough dough for one Challah into a large, thick rope. Place one end in the middle of a round cake pan and wind the rest of the dough around it. Bake as usual.

Challah may be sliced when it is cool, or for a real treat, tear warm pieces from the center of the bread. Follow the recipe for this wonderful egg bread and you’ll soon see why Challah is considered “food from heaven.”