(photo credit: ING IMAGE/ASAP)
The shape of a loaf of bread is a distinctive visual cue that tells us what type of bread it is, and there is no more attractive shape than a braided halla.
Braided hallot are a relative newcomer to the bread world. They originated in the 16th century in the Rhineland area of Germany, where they were copied from a plaited Christian Sunday bread. Since then, the braided halla has assumed a Jewish symbolism all its own and has become an icon on every Shabbat and festival table.
Symbolically speaking, the intertwining of the braids represents love – love between husband and wife, love between man and his Creator. The most symbolically significant customs are the three-braid and the six-braid hallot.
Three braids represent the three different references to Shabbat observance in the Bible: Shamor (Deuteronomy 5:12), Zachor (Exodus 20:7) and the concept of Bedibur ehad, that these two references were commanded by God in the same breath. The custom of the six-braid halla is similarly based but takes into account that two loaves are to be used on Shabbat (lehem mishne) – three times two equals six.
Despite the kabbalistic symbolism, many people use whatever braiding style they prefer in terms of aesthetic appearance.
In fact, the number of braids determines not only the pattern of the halla but also its height. Some braiding techniques are more conducive to a flatter, wider halla, while others contribute to a higher loaf.
For a comprehensive description of the different braiding techniques, visit: http://saidels.com/articles/braidingtechniques.htm.
The way you shape your braids also determines the halla’s final shape. If the braids are tapered on the ends, the resulting loaf shape will also be tapered. If the braids are cylindrical, the halla will be as well.
Many people take a disproportionate amount of time rolling out their braids and making them absolutely perfect before braiding the halla. One of the beautiful things about working with dough, as opposed to other materials, is that it is a very forgiving medium. When the loaf rises, all those bumps and wrinkles that may be present in the braids will smooth out and miraculously vanish in the finished halla.
A tip to halla braiders is to flour the braids well before beginning to braid.
There is nothing more frustrating than trying to keep track of where you are in the braiding process and having the braids stick together unnecessarily.
If you are just learning to braid, it may appear daunting, but it is like riding a bicycle. Once you have mastered it, you never forget it. Braiding is definitely a case of the hands teaching the brain. Constant repetition of the tactile steps and the movements of the hands form a mental pattern in your brain. For this reason, the only way to learn to braid is hands-on. You may study as many books and theory as you like, but you will never get the hang of it until you actually do it, often.
If your braiding efforts result in a disproportionate- looking halla – fatter on one side than the other, etc. – you may simply jostle the final loaf around, adjusting the shape, shortening, lengthening, etc., until it looks more attractive and symmetrical.
A final professional tip for braiders is called “tucking under the carpet.” Often when you finish braiding the halla, the beginning and end look haphazard and unattractive where they are pinched together. Simply tuck these ends underneath the halla, out of sight, and your halla will look professional from end to end.
Braiding a halla is a rewarding activity.
It will enhance your skill as a baker and accord you much well-deserved appreciation from those eating it.
WHOLE-WHEAT HONEY HALLA
✔ 2½ cups whole wheat flour
✔ ²⁄3 cup water
✔ ¹⁄3 cup honey
✔ 1 egg
✔ 2 Tbsp. oil
✔ ½ Tbsp. instant dry yeast
✔ 2 tsp. salt
Mix ingredients in a bowl until incorporated.
Knead for 10 minutes by hand or 7 minutes by machine. Leave to rise (covered) in the bowl for 90 minutes, punching down every 30 minutes. Separate dough into however many braids you need, and braid with your preferred pattern. Leave halla to rise for 90 minutes.
Baste with egg wash (50% water, 50% egg).
Bake at 180° for 25 minutes.
For braiding techniques please go to
: http:// saidels.com/articles/braidingtechniques.htm
Master baker Les Saidel is CEO of the Saidel Artisan Baking Institute (http://www.saidels.com), which specializes in training and education in the field of organic, healthy, artisan baking, and inventor of Rambam Bread. He also lectures and works as a consultant in the fields of cereal chemistry, health and nutrition.