Over the past year, I’ve embarked on a scent-filled adventure that ushers a sense of divine presence into my home. As an aromatherapist, I find myself enveloped in a world of aromas, each one with its own unique way of enhancing the tapestry of daily life.
The weekly tradition of baking challah has brought this realization closer to my heart. With an intention to infuse a traditional ambiance within my home, I've uncovered a beautiful truth: baking challah has been a bridge to my spiritual roots, extending a warm invitation to divine presence into my living space.
Challah is more than just bread. Its aroma, a comforting blend of tradition, permeates my home, echoing an age-old call to Jewish families to unite and celebrate over a hearty meal. The braided appearance of challah symbolizes the intertwining of various life aspects such as relationships, gratitude, and reflections on the week's events, both the highs and the lows.
Every Friday, as the Sabbath whispers its gentle arrival, the preparation of challah transitions from a routine to a cherished ritual. Each measured ingredient and every gentle fold of the dough embodies an intention to craft a haven of peace and sacredness amidst the whirlpool of modern living.
The journey starts with humble ingredients:
- Wheat flour (Triticum aestivum), a representation of earth filled with joy
- Yeast (Saccharomyces cerevisiae), embodying transformation and growth;
- Honey , derived from bees, symbolizes the sweetness invited into one's life;
- Water, symbolizing life’s gentle flow of life
- Eggs, portraying prosperous potential and life;
- Sunflower oil (Helianthus annuus), anointing each individuals with grace for their specific needs.
- Vinegar: Renewal
- Salt, standing for accountability and groundingEach ingredient pays tribute to the rich tapestry of life.
In the oven, these ingredients embrace each other. The warmth catalyzes a cascade of chemical reactions, giving birth to the comforting aroma of freshly baked challah. This fragrance, a mix of caramelized sugars, toasted bread, and a whisper of yeastiness, envelops us, kindling a sense of warmth, home, and tradition.
This olfactory voyage tantalizes our senses, nurturing a feeling of comfort and joy. It accentuates the cherished ambiance of the day of rest, while grounding our spiritual essence in our home.
The challah stands as a testament to divine bounty and the rich, aromatic tradition. The essence of bliss and sacredness floating through the home is not merely a sensory delight but a soulful connection, blending the divine with the earthly in a comforting, aromatic embrace.
A Symbolic and Fragrant Recipe
Wheat Flour (Triticum aestivum): 4 cups
- Symbolizes: Earth filled with joy.
Warm water, 1 1/4 cups
- Symbolizes: Life's Flow.
Yeast (Saccharomyces cerevisiae): 2 1/4 teaspoons
- Symbolizes transformation and growth.
- Honey: 1/3 cup
- Symbolizes: sweetness invited into one's life.
Salt: 1 teaspoon
- Symbolizes accountability and grounding. It’s important not to mix salt with yeast initially, as salt can inhibit yeast fermentation.
Eggs: 2 (plus 1 for egg wash)
- Symbolizes: prosperous potential and life.
Vegetable Oil (derived from Sunflower seeds) (Helianthus annuus, 1/4 cup)
- Symbolizes: anointing each individual with grace for their specific needs.
Apple Cider Vinegar, 1 teaspoon
- Assists in enhancing the yeast activity and improves dough's texture. Vinegar symbolizes the acknowledgment of flaws and the promise of new beginnings or rejuvenation.
In a large mixing bowl, dissolve the sugar in warm water, then stir in the yeast. Allow the mixture to sit for about 10 minutes, or until it becomes frothy.
In a separate bowl, combine the flour and salt. Make sure the salt is well distributed within the flour to avoid direct contact with the yeast mixture in the initial stages.
Once the yeast mixture is frothy, add the eggs, vegetable oil, and apple cider vinegar to it, stirring well to combine.
Gradually add the flour and salt mixture to the wet ingredients, stirring continuously until a dough forms.
Turn the dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead for about 10–15 minutes, or until it becomes smooth and elastic.
Place the dough in a lightly oiled bowl, cover with a clean kitchen towel, and let it rise in a warm, draft-free area for about 1.5 to 2 hours, or until it has doubled in size.
Once the dough has risen, turn it out onto a lightly floured surface and divide it into strands for braiding (typically 3, 4, or 6 strands, depending on your preference). Braid the dough to form the challah loaf.
Place the braided loaf on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper, cover it loosely with plastic wrap, and place it in oven that has a bowl of steaming hot water. (this prevents moisture loss) and let it rise again for about 45–60 minutes.
Take out the challah. Preheat your oven to 375°F (190°C). Beat the remaining egg and gently brush it over the challah for a golden finish.
Bake in the preheated oven for 25–30 minutes, or until the challah is golden brown and sounds hollow when tapped on the bottom.
Enjoy your homemade challah, infused with symbolic meanings and aromatic essence, as part of your Shabbat celebration.