Challah is a loaf of braided bread made from eggs, white wheat flour, water and sugar. It is eaten by Ashkenazi and most Sephardic Jews on holidays and the day before the Sabbath and on the Sabbath proper.
Traditionally, two loaves of challah are prepared and blessed to commemorate the double portion of manna that fell from Heaven the day before the Sabbath during the 40-year period the Israelites wandered in the wilderness.
Traditionally, the challah was a small piece of dough separated from the rest of the dough as a tithe for the priests. This act was abandoned upon the destruction of the temple, and though a small piece of dough is still removed, it is discarded, and the whole loaves of bread are referred to as "challah."
In addition to being eaten on Friday evenings before the Sabbath, challah is also prepared for Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish New Year). The braided loaf is formed into a circle to represent life without end and a year of uninterrupted health and happiness.
Shabbat Mevarchim falls on the first Sabbath after Passover. During this holiday, a loaf of what is known as schlissel challah, or key challah, is prepared by either baking a key into the loaf of bread or baking a key formed from dough onto the top of the loaves.
Today, challah variations abound with eggless recipes, recipes using oat or spelt flour in lieu of white wheat flour, and honey or molasses being used to sweeten the loaf instead of the traditional sugar. Some loaves will be topped with sesame seeds or poppy seeds and can include raisins or chopped dates.
In Ashkenazi homes, challah will usually accompany a meal of fish or chicken, or a bean and potato main dish. Kugel is also commonly served with challah. During Rosh Hashanah, sweet dishes, such as apples dipped in honey, are preferred.
- Food and Culture in America, Pamela Goyan Kittler and Kathryn P. Sucker, 1998.
- Photo Credit Aviv Had
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