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 a Cinnamon & Raisin Challah, made with an enriched dough.
It’s interesting how I’ve book marked this bread to make a long time ago. I baked so many kinds of bread since but never got around to a Challah till now. 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. You could start with 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. Challah in Hebrew means “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. They 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. It was allowed to rise overnight, and then baked it early on Friday morning. However, the origin of Challah was supposedly medieval German. Then 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.