This Shavuot I baked, with the assistance of my son Max, a siete cieli (“Seven Heavens”) challah. It’s become a regular tradition in our family, along with cutting roizelekh (“roses”) from origami paper, to bake this Mt. Sinai-shaped round challah adorned with various symbols of Torah and revelation – the 2 tablets of the covenant, a ladder, a fish, a bird, and a hamsa.
Max made the fish that you can see in the picture. There’s an excellent, illustrated description of how to construct the “seven heavens” challah in the cookbook by Rabbi Robert Sternberg, The Sephardic Kitchen, though I don’t use his recipe for challah. Rather, I use my favorite whole wheat challah recipe from Marcy Goldman’s Treasury of Jewish Holiday Baking. By the way, this is a fantastic cookbook. I have yet to bake a recipe from it that I haven’t liked. The whole wheat challah recipe follows below the break. I have also adapted this Shavuot hallah to celebrate the end of the term with my Wheaton College First Year Seminar “Rituals of Dinner” students, adding other, more contemporary dough symbols, i.e., a mortarboard hat and diploma. I mix and knead Marcy Goldman’s recipe for whole wheat challah as per her instructions in a bread machine, and then shape it, and bake it in the oven. The quantities are
1 1/2 cups warm water
4 teaspoons yeast (plus pinch of sugar)
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup honey
1/3 cup oil
2 cups whole wheat flour
4 cups unbleached white flour
1 tbs. salt
1 beaten egg for eggwash
First I proof the yeast in the water with the pinch of sugar in the bread machine container. Then I add the rest of the sugar and wet ingredients, and then the flour and salt. I set the bread machine to the knead and rise cycle. I usually have to “help” the machine a bit by stirring the wet and dry ingredients together with a spoon, since the container for my bread machine works best with less than six cups of flour. You may need to adjust the amount of flour depending on the humidity.
Once the cycle is complete, I shape the bread, either into two braided loaves for Shabbat hallot, or into one big round Mt. Sinai shaped loaf following Robert Sternberg’s instructions in the Sephardic Kitchen. I let them rise for @another hour on pans lined with parchment paper until doubled in size, brush with the beaten egg (and for the Shabbat loaves, sprinkle with sesame seeds), and bake in a 350 degree oven for @30-35 minutes, or until done.