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The Story of Challah


Challah–the best bread in the world.

Does any bread taste better than challah? Probably not! Challah, that twisted, doughy staple of Shabbat is a huge favorite in our community.

Our kosher catering business makes challah for bar/bat mitzvahs and Oneg Shabbat at temples and venues throughout the Toronto area. We can make it the traditional way or with adjustments for food allergies or vegan practices, such as egg-free challah.

How Jews Enjoy Their Challah

If Shakespeare were Hebrew, he would have written “that which we call challah by any other name would taste as sweet.” Fittingly, challah translates from Hebrew as “cake” Aish.com comments.

Jews in present-day southern Germany were probably the first to start eating challah as we know it on Shabbat and holidays. Sometime in the 15th century, they decided to make the bread special so they braided oval loafs before baking. Some people say the braids symbolize truth, peace, harmony, and other ideals we should weave into our lives.

We lay out two loaves of challah at Shabbat to commemorate the double portion of manna Gd gave the Jews as they wandered the desert during the Exodus from Egypt. The Hamotzi prayer is recited before the challah is shared, preferably by tearing it.

Interestingly, a braided candle is used for the Havdalah ceremony at the conclusion of Shabbat.

Traditionally, a small piece of challah (1/24th is what’s commanded) is separated to give to the kohanim, if you happen know anyone named Cohen.

Rosh Hashanah challah is often baked round in spirals to symbolize the continuity of creation. Some people bake it in the shape of birds for the last meal before the Yom Kippur fast, to symbolize prayer reaching into heaven.

Challah Variations

People add things like honey to challah to make it sweet like Shabbat or holidays, or add poppy or sesame seeds to remember manna raining down from the sky. I found a website called AdventuresInChallah.com, by a Los Angeles realtor who made baking challah his Friday morning hobby.

The site hasn’t been updated in a couple of years, but the recipes are intriguing for those who don’t mind mixing a little adventure into their traditional bread. As far as I can tell, nothing this realtor chap adds renders the challah unkosher, as long as you use kosher ingredients.

Here are some of his favorites:

  • Oatmeal craisin challah
  • Za’atar challah
  • Indian masala challah
  • Churros challah

Since he’s a Yank, he also created a “patriotic challah” for their July 4th holiday by braiding plain dough with dough stained with strawberries and blueberries to make a red, white, and blue challah. To me, it looks rather green but maybe it’s the photograph.

Did Your Kosher Bakery Already Switch to Passover?

A friend of mine who lives in New York recently turned 50. To celebrate, she volunteered to read the Torah portion at services just before her birthday. The rabbi invited her to bring a kosher cake to mark her birthday. However, when her husband visited their local kosher bakery, they found it had already switched over for Passover. So, they had a Passover cake a little earlier than usual.

If you find your local baker has also made the switch, try making challah at home! This is from A Blessing of Bread by Maggie Glezer, reprinted on Food.com.




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