Jewish Bread Challah

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Soft, fragrant and delicious with any combination, Jewish Bread Challah is the typical bread consumed on Saturdays during the holidays except during Jewish Easter or Pesach. It’s excellent as table bread but also to prepare savory and sweet sandwiches, in fact it’s the favorite bread for the preparation of French Toast. Personally I love it with smoked ham or with chocolate spread, and dipped in hot milk it’s really a pleasure, perhaps with a veil of strawberry marmalade.

challah recipe

What is Jewish Bread Challah

Jewish Bread Challah is a woven Jewish bread prepared with eggs, with a beautiful shiny appearance given by brushing with eggs, decorated with poppy or sesame seeds. It is a versatile type of bread called (incorrectly) also pan-brioches, but it is a bread rich in history and ancient traditions and religious meanings, consumed on Saturday and during Jewish holidays.

History and Diffusion of the Challah bread

The origins of Jewish Bread Challah can already be found in the Middle Ages, but in the form of a simple and flat bread that was more reminiscent of a Pita which is also present in Jewish culture. Its name at the time was “Berches”, a term still used today in some areas.

Jewish Bread Challah as we know it today took shape in the 15th century in Austria, according to John Cooper’s book in Eat and Be Satisfied: A Social History of Jewish Food. More precisely, the first mention is found in the Austrian book, Leket Yosher of 1488. In addition to being called Challah, I begin to be prepared in the form of woven loaves, inspired by the traditional ones prepared by Austrian and German housewives.

During the days of Thursday, the housewives prepared the dough and left it to rest until Friday night where they began baking bread for Saturday and for the rest of the week.

Jewish Bread Challah didn’t originate as sweet bread, but once it became popular in Poland, sugar was also added due to the large production of sugar beets. In some cases saffron was also added to give the typical golden color of the manna. During the post-war period, in Europe the ingredients were rarer and more expensive so that white bread was a delicacy reserved for Saturdays while the cheaper black bread was consumed during the rest of the week.

With the continuous migration especially in the post-war period, the Jewish people also arrived in America, where sugar was abundant and cheaper as well as eggs. Here white bread could be eaten and prepared easily all week.

Jewish Bread Challah in America began to be produced also in the sweet version, and with the spread of instant yeast even at home level, it began to be a leavened bread, with an abundant and inviting appearance that we know today.

jewish bread recipe

Origins of the Name

The term challah comes from the Hebrew word for “portion”. This name was given to him in reference to a passage in the bible where the Jewish people were commanded to donate 1/24 of the dough to the kohanim (priest) every Saturday, or to the priest who would subsequently burn it while reciting a blessing or prayer. This ritual still survives today in bakeries and homes, at the time of making bread.

Meaning of the Various Forms

The Jewish Bread Challah is woven into different shapes and each of them has a meaning:

  • The intertwined: the most common have 3/4/6 threads and symbolize love, since the intertwining recalls the arms that are tightened. The more complex one with 3 braids, on the other hand, means truth, justice and peace. The intertwined form that is usually served on Shabbath features 12 “humps” which traditionally represent the 12 ceremonial loaves kept for the 12 tribes in the Jerusalem Temple.
  • Round and Spiral: they are prepared for the Jewish New Year or Rosh Hashanah. Those with a round shape symbolize continuity and seasons. Those with aspiral symbolize an ascent intended as progress. In both cases, a lot of raisins are added to the dough for this occasion to symbolize abundance.
  • Hand-shaped: the wish for a good year and is served during Yom Kippur.
  • Oblong: two are served, during the festival of Shavuot and symbolize the tables of the 10 commandments.

There are also sweet challah breads with honey as well as raisins and they symbolize joy and are usually prepared during Christmas.

Usually the Jewish Bread Challah is decorated with sesame or poppy seeds which symbolize the manna fallen from heaven.

Sources:

My Jewish Learning

Modernist Bread

5 from 1 vote

Jewish Bread Challah

"Typical white braided bread of Shabbat, or Jewish Saturday, also consumed during the holidays. Soft and tasty, perfect with sweet and savory accompaniments…"
Servings 1 loaf
Prep Time 25 mins
Cook Time 25 mins
Leavening 2 hrs 30 mins
Total Time 3 hrs 20 mins

Ingredients

  • 600 g All Purpose Flour
  • 175 ml Water
  • 50 g Honey
  • 2 – 3 Eggs
  • 25 g Butter soft
  • 12 g Fresh Yeast
  • 10 g Salt
  • 1 Yolk
  • 1 tbs Milk
  • to taste White Sesame Seeds or Poppy Seed

Instructions

Dough and First Rising

  • Dissolve the yeast in the water.
  • In a bowl, put the flour, honey, whole eggs and yeast dissolved in the water.
  • Start kneading, when you see the dough almost ready add the soft butter and salt.
  • Knead until you get a soft and smooth dough. Cover it with a damp cloth and let it rise at room temperature for 1 hour.

Folds and Second Rising

  • After 1 hour, deflate the dough by crushing it, without re-kneading it.
  • With a rolling pin, roll it out to get a more or less rectangular shape, without making it too fine.
  • Now make a 3 fold: bring one side of the dough towards the center of the pastry and then do the same with the other side.
  • Roll it out with a rolling pin and repeat this for 5 or 6 times. At the end of the last fold, form a ball with the ball, cover it with a damp cloth and let it rise for 30 minutes.

Braiding and Third Rising

  • Cut the dough into three equal parts, form three long loaves of dough and place them on a baking sheet with parchment paper and let them rest for 10 minutes.
  • Pinch the three ends of the loaves together and twist them gently. When you have finished weaving, fix the ends of the loaves.
  • Cover with the plastic wrap and let it rise for 1 hour.

Baking

  • Heat the oven to 180 °C (356 °F).
  • Mix the milk with the egg yolk and brush the loaf of bread, sprinkle with the seeds of your choice and bake for 25 – 30 minutes.
Chef: Taira by R.J.
Calories: 2712kcal
Course: Bread and Leavened, Breakfast
Cuisine: Israeli, Jewish, Palestinian
Keyword: Baking
Difficulty: Easy
Temperature: 180 °C/356 °F

Nutrition

Serving: 982g | Calories: 2712kcal (136%) | Carbohydrates: 505g (168%) | Protein: 81g (162%) | Fat: 37.5g (58%) | Sugar: 43g (48%)

The nutrition information shown is an estimate provided by an online nutrition calculator. It should not be considered a substitute for the advice of a professional nutritionist.

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