Three years ago, challenged to figure out what Sabbath really looked like in my life, I discovered one of the hidden treasures of the special, set-apart holy day. And of all places, I found it in my kitchen! I learned that a key to a traditional Jewish Sabbath meal is Challah (sounds like “ha-la”)—a beautifully intricate and rich braided loaf of bread—so I decided to make it.
I thought, I can do this! What’s so complicated about a little flour, water, eggs, and yeast? Thankfully, I found the entire process to be very forgiving, friendly, and just plain fun!
My first attempt was comical. But lost in the flour mess and watching the yeast bubble, I tapped into a wonder and awe watching the ingredients all work together. And in a short amount of time, my house was filled with the wonderful aroma of freshly baked bread and my heart with a warm “well done.” Oh, I wish you could smell the yumminess through these pages.
Now, I bake Challah every week as part of my Sabbath. I listen to worship music as I mix the ingredients and wait for them to rise, and I meet with the Lord. Then I share my newly baked masterpiece with family and friends, bonding over its goodness while we bless the Lord and one another. In the past three years, I’ve discovered the gifts of rest, worship, prayer, fun, hospitality, and mentoring through this simple act. The hidden treasure is in the simple, unforced rhythm of the baking process. The secret of the Sabbath is slowing down, changing your normal hectic pace by praying, worshipping, and honoring God. And each time I bake bread, I slow down and find rest. I come away full physically but hungry spiritually. It’s funny how one loaf a bread can transform how I rest, live my week, pray, and understand Scripture. I tell my worship-leading friends that baking bread is my guitar or piano. I need to knead.
It’s often said that the more you make bread, the more you will get to know how it is supposed to look and feel as you mix and knead it. But I have discovered just the opposite. The more I mix and knead and bake bread, the more God shows me new things about tradition, family, blessing, and Sabbath rest. And the more I find others who are hungry as well. Not only for the bread but also for the joy of baking and for rest. I’ve gathered up to 25 women in my kitchen, and together we’ve laughed and prayed around the simple process of baking bread. It’s ageless, it’s genderless, it’s timeless, and it binds us together. I’d like to think that when we reach heaven, the Lord Himself will gather us all for a meal in His presence. And I imagine there will be bread on the table.
“Thus God blessed day seven and made it special— an open time for pause and restoration, a sacred zone of Sabbath-keeping, because God rested from all the work He had done in creation that day.”
Genesis 2:3 (The VOICE)
Check out Pastor Mary Jo’s Honey Challah recipe below! For more recipes and some baking adventures, visit maryjopierce.com.
MARY JO’S HONEY CHALLAH RECIPE
Ingredients (Makes two loaves)
- 2 packages (5 tsp.) active dry yeast
- 1 cup warm water (110°F)
- 4 eggs
- ¼ cup sugar
- ¼ cup honey
- 8 Tbsp. unsalted butter, room temperature
- 2 tsp. salt
- 5 cups bread flour (or all-purpose)
- Canola oil
- 1 Tbsp. poppy seeds, sesame seeds, or honey crystals (optional)
Step 1: Dissolve the yeast in the warm water, add 1 Tbsp. honey, and whisk together. Let stand until foamy, about 5 to 10 minutes.
Step 2: Using a stand mixer with a dough hook on low speed, slowly add ingredients to the bowl: 3 eggs (whipped together), sugar, remaining honey, butter, and prepared yeast. Then, one cup at a time, while periodically adding the salt, add 4 ½ cups of flour until the dough is smooth, elastic, and sticky. Then place the dough on a lightly floured surface.
Step 3: Knead the dough 100 times (about 5 minutes) until it is not sticky but not stiff (add dusted flour as necessary). Form the dough into a ball, transfer it to a lightly oiled bowl, and lightly gloss the dough with oil. Cover the bowl with a kitchen towel and let it rise in a warm area for about two hours.
Step 4: Preheat oven to 350°F. Place dough on a lightly floured rolling surface and punch it down (this removes air bubbles). Use cutter to divide the dough in half (to make two loaves). Then cut each into three or four long strips, and braid them! Place the loaves on an oiled baking sheet, and cover with a kitchen towel. Let the dough rise until the loaves double in size and are spongy to the touch, about 45 to 60 minutes.
Step 5: Gently brush the bread with a beaten egg and sprinkle with seeds or honey crystals. Place bread loaves on lower third of oven for 30 to 35 minutes. Remove when they look golden brown and bounce back when lightly pressed and smell yummy! Let them cool completely on a wire rack (if you can keep from tasting them right away!).