We Knead To Bake #35 : Cinnamon & Raisin Challah
The New Year hasn’t started out on a particularly good note for us. I’m not saying it’s been a bad start, just that all of us (including the dog) have been taking turns being ill with something or the other. Since I haven’t been in a position to pick and try out a bread for the We Knead To Bake Group, I thought it was best to do a “Pick Your Own Recipe” style challenge rather than miss out on a month of bread baking.
My chosen bread to bake was an enriched dough bread called Challah. It’s interesting how I’ve book marked this bread to make a long time ago, baked so many kinds of bread since but never got around to Challah till now. I have to admit that what has always attracted me about the Challah is the decorative braiding that is used to shape it. There are so many ways to braid this bread starting from the simple three stranded Challah to the more complicated 4 and 6 stranded ones, then round shaped ones and more.
The Challah is a Jewish braided bread specially made for and eaten on Sabbath and Jewish holidays. In fact, Challah is the Hebrew name “cake” in reference to a passage from the Torah which says, “of the first of your dough you shall lift up a cake as an offering”. Many orthodox Jews still observe this as a ritual and take a small piece of their challah dough and burn it on Fridays, representing the traditional burnt offering.
Traditionally, housewives made the dough on Thursday, allowed it to rise overnight, and then baked it early on Friday morning. However, the origin of Challah was supposedly medieval Germany when it was called “berches/ barches” and baked by Christians for their Sabbath. It seems the name Challah was first used in Austria sometime in the 15th century. Jewish people in Germany, Austria, and Bohemia adopted as their own and then took it with them when they migrated to Eastern Europe and later to the West. (Source : John Cooper in Eat and Be Satisfied: A Social History of Jewish Food)
Challah, being a ritual food, is surrounded by much tradition and symbolism. The different sizes and shapes in which Challah is baked all have meaning. The braided loaves are supposed to symbolise love because the braids look like entwined arms, and I understand that the three braids stand for truth, peace, and justice. The twelve humps from two small loaves or one large braided loaf are said to represent the miracle of the 12 loaves for the 12 tribes of Israel.
Round loaves, usually baked for Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, symbolizes continuity. On certain Jewish festive occasions, two loaves are baked and blessed as a symbolism of the two portions of the manna distributed to children of Israel during their Exodus from Egypt. Ladder and hand shaped Challah are usually eaten before the fast of Yom Kippur, and the ladder signifies great heights to be attained. For Purim, the day that celebrates the safety of Jews from death by Haman, triangular loaves of Challah are baked, said to represent Haman’s ears. These are just some examples and there are more.
I decided to bake a 6 stranded, mildly sweet cinnamon flavoured raisin Challah that I brushed with honey before baking. I know I was being very adventurous never having tried braiding 6 strans of anything before, but this video helped a whole lot. If you are stuck with left over Challah, you can make the most awesome French toast, bread pudding, or even sandwiches with it.
- Put the yeast, 3 cups of flour, sugar, salt, cinnamon and the raisins in the bowl of your processor or kneading machine. Run a couple of times to mix them together well. Add the eggs, and the oil, and run the processor to mix well. Then add the warm water and run the machine, adding as much more of the flour as required to reach a soft and smooth dough of that is just short of sticky, and holds a ball shape.
- Place the dough in an oiled bowl, turning it to coat and then cover loosely. Let it rise till double in volume for about 2 hours. Gently deflate the dough and divide into six equal portions. Very lightly dust your work surface (too much flour will make the dough difficult to roll) and roll each portion into a long rope that is 1” thick and about 12” long. If the ropes tend to shrink back while rolling, let them rest for about 10 minutes before rolling them again.
- To braid the ropes, please see this video for detailed instructions first. Gather the ropes together and pinch them together at the top end. Then proceed to braid the dough according to the instructions in this video. After tucking both ends of the Challah underneath, plump it out slightly to give it better shape. Gently lift the shaped loaf and place it on a parchment lined baking tray.
- Cover loosely with a kitchen towel and let the dough rise for about an hour until puffy. Brush the dough with a mixture of honey and cream all over making sure all the folds and cracks are covered well. Bake at 190C (375F) for about 30minutes till done and a deep golden brown. Let it cool till slightly warm and serve. The best way to apparently eat Challah is the traditional way where chunks are pulled off, but you’ll be forgiven if you want to slice the bread.