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May’s Daring Bakers’ Challenge was pretty twisted – Ruth from The Crafts of Mommyhood challenged us to make challah! Using recipes from all over, and tips from “A Taste of Challah,” by Tamar Ansh, she encouraged us to bake beautifully braided breads.
Our host Ruth grew up in a traditional Jewish household where this beautiful bread graced the table every week. She gave us lots of information and background relating to traditions of Challah. Believe it or not, the word “challah” does not actually mean bread. Any whole loaves can be used at the Sabbath or holiday table for the traditional blessing. Challah, instead, is the word referring to the portion of bread which, in the days of the Jewish temple in Jerusalem, was set aside and given to the high priests.
A brief historical introduction:
Challah is a bread of celebration in Jewish tradition. At a time when white flour was considered a luxury, its use was reserved for either the wealthy or for festive events. In Judaism, the Sabbath is a weekly holiday, and therefore is a festive occasion. It was around the 15thcentury when Jews in parts of Austria and Germany adopted an oval braided loaf from their neighbors to make the Sabbath special. These fancy shaped loaves made with white flour were seen as a fitting way to honor the Shabbat (Sabbath), symbolized in Jewish culture as a queen, therefore deserving of the finest one can achieve. In honoring the Sabbath as a day of rest, two loaves are traditionally put on the table. This is generally seen as a representation of the double portion of manna provided to the Children of Israel on Fridays during their wandering in the desert after fleeing from Egypt. This double portion allowed them to maintain the commandment to not do “work” on the Sabbath.
Another symbolic comparison to the manna eaten by the Israelites is the fact that challah is traditionally covered with a cloth prior to being blessed and eaten. According to tradition, manna was encased in dew to preserve its freshness. Covering the challah with a decorative cloth serves as another reminder of the special quality of the day of rest. There are other explanations given regarding why the challah is covered. The one which I always liked was that we cover the loaves so they will not be “embarrassed” by having to wait while the wine is blessed first. (A traditional Sabbath dinner begins with a blessing over the wine first, followed by the blessing of the bread, after which the meal is enjoyed.
Ruth gave us three different recipes. The only thing that was mandatory was that the bread should be braided or shaped. I made the Honey White Challah she suggested. I halved the recipe and made a 6 strand braid challah. I really enjoyed baking this beautiful six strand braid and thank you Ruth for this lovely challenge and also for providing lots of interesting information about Challah!
This Challah is YeastSpotted.