Sunday, 27 May 2012

Challah: The Daring Bakers' Challenge May 2012

I have never heard of Challah ever before, and I m not proud of the fact! Joining The Daring Bakers since January has made me realize how limited is my exposure to the other wonderful cultures around the world. So far, it has introduced me to the Dutch Crunch bread, so loved and favoured in and around bay area, then we were introduced to the fabulous world of Armenian Pastries and made us fall in love with the melt-in-your-mouth Nazooks and flavourful and the unusual never-seen-before Armenian Nutmeg Cake.
May’s Daring Bakers’ Challenge was pretty twistedRuth 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.

Huge thanks to Ruth for taking us along on this cultural journey. We really enjoyed making and having these light, airy, braided beauties. As I mentioned, I had never come across the word Challah, so I didn't even know how to pronounce it. I was saying Ch (like Ch in China) and llah (like La-ah). When I started researching and reading more about Jewish customs, then I came to know about my mis-pronounciation. It's supposed to be pronounced as Hallah (right Ruth :D).

So what exactly is a Challah?
Challah is a loaf of yeast-risen egg bread that is traditionally eaten by Jews on Shabbat, on ceremonial occasions and during festival holidays. The word "challah" is also used to refer to the portion of dough that is traditionally separated from the rest of the dough before baking.

Ruth has given 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 15th century 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.)

I made a Whole-Wheat-Oatmeal-Honey challah and I managed to make four braided loaves. However I would have loved to make a Challah with filling but didn't get the time. But it's going to be on top of my "to-bake"list.

The three strand braid- Many attribute a word to each of the three strands used: zachor (remember),  shamor (observe or guard), and b’dibur echad (with one word). The braiding of the three words is a physical reminder of the importance of remembering and observing the Sabbath as one commandment. Here's the video on how to make a three strand challah.

The four strand braid- There is not a lot of information written as to the cultural significance of the four strands. Rather, it is viewed as a way to elaborate on the more common three strand braid in order to fulfill the obligation to beautify the commandment and make it more special. Here's a video on how to make a four strand challah.

The four strand round braid- Traditionally used on the Jewish New Year, round breads have no beginning and no end. They are used as an example of the cycle of life, the cycle of the year, and the continuity of the Jewish calendar. Here's a video on how to make a round four strand braid.

The six strand braid- There are traditionally two challah loaves on the Sabbath table. Using the six strand braid, that brings twelve pieces to the table. These twelve strands can be symbolic of the twelve tribes of the Children of Israel. Many also use the twelve pieces to represent the twelve “showbreads” used in the Jewish Temple on special occasions. Here's a video on how to make a six strand braid.

Whole-Wheat-Oatmeal-Honey Challah
Adapted from D’s Whole Wheat Challah and Tammy’s Recipes
 1 ½ cups (360 ml) warm water, separated
1 Tbsp. (15 ml) (15 gm/½ oz) sugar
2 Tbsp. (2-2/3 packets) (30 ml) (18 gm) (2/3 oz) dry active yeast
½ cup (120 ml) honey
1 Tbsp. (15 ml) oil (light colored vegetable oil, or olive oil if you prefer)
4 large eggs
1 ½ tsp. 7½ ml) (9 gm) (1/3 oz) salt
3 cups(330 grams) whole wheat flour
2cups (220 grams) all purpose flour
2 cups (175 grams) rolled oats
plus more all purpose flour as needed
1 egg beaten with 1 tsp. water

 In mixer bowl/large mixing bowl combine ½ cup warm water, 1 Tbsp. sugar and 2 Tbsp. yeast. Allow to proof approximately 5 minutes until foamy.
To the yeast mixture add the remaining water, honey, oil, eggs, salt and flour. Knead (by hand or with your mixer’s dough hook) until smooth, adding flour as needed. Knead for approximately 10 minutes.
Transfer dough to a clean, oiled bowl, turn to coat or add a bit more oil on top. Cover bowl with a kitchen/tea towel. Leave to rise in a warm place until doubled, about 1 ½ hours.
Punch down the dough, divide it into two sections. Use one half to make each loaf (shaped or braided as desired).
Place loaves on parchment lined or greased baking sheets, brush with egg wash, cover with a towel, allow to rise 30 minutes.
Preheat oven to 325 degrees/ 160 degree Celsius. Brush the tops of loaves again with egg wash. (Sprinkle with seeds or toppings here if wanted.)
Bake loaves 30-40 minutes until done.
Cool on wire racks.


  1. This is such a good looking and amazing bread. Looks like something out of a good bakery. Love it!

  2. Wow yours looks so perfect - straight out of a bakery! Well done :)

  3. hi anuja, your challah is perfect. I love all of those braids, beautiful! me too, i also thought they are pronounced as "CHa-Lah"!

  4. love this look amazing and delicious!

  5. Thanx Alida, Ros, Lena and Gloria for visiting :D

  6. This Challah looks intimidating! You guys really are 'daring' bakers :D I could never work up the courage to bake something so beautiful... and intricate!

  7. Looks beautiful! So many challahs... wow! What a great job!
    Pozdrawiam, Anula.

  8. All your challah look verry beautiful and i like the recipe you used!

  9. I love your recipe, your bread looks amazing, I have to try it soon.

    Your Challah is so light and fluffy, mine was so dense,do you have some special tip?

    Congratulations, you did an splendid job!!!

    1. Thanx for stopping by.
      I just followed the recipe given by Ruth. Maybe the super hot climate of Mumbai helped in proving the dough (m just guessing :D)

    2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  10. baked all those braids! They look pretty!

  11. @ Swati- it's not at all fact the braiding part was most fun :D.
    @Anula- Your challah are great too :D. Thanx for stopping by.
    @Yuette- I like it too. Makes a fibre rich bread.
    @Bindiya- Thanx for stopping by. I too love the look of the pretty challah.

  12. Wow! You made all of the different braid types! That's so impressive, and they're beautiful!

  13. Awesome job!!! All of your challah look great! I love how you gave the explanation and meaning behind each of the different varieties.

  14. your loaves look beautiful! great job!

  15. Wow! These look just like the one from the bakery! I'm really impress & well done Anuja! Just Amazing! BTW thanks for the link for the Jane Austen cake! I'll already pinned this cake! Have a nice day, Anuja: HUGS :)

  16. You're right, it has been a cultural whirlwind for the Daring Bakers these last few months! Your challah is beautiful and I'm so impressed with your braiding skills! I love the whole wheat and honey combo as well. Just gorgeous :)

  17. Your Challah are wonderful! I have been wanting to try out at making Challah for quite sometime now! Yours look perfectly baked! Good job!

  18. Wow !! They look yummm !!!
    Great work !!
    Keep in touch !!

    Cheers !!

  19. Hi my dear Anuja, sorry I don't why my comment landed on your reply to INMA.

    Your Challah bread look awesome. Your braids look so neat and even, very beautiful. Good job my dear. Can pass me some bread ;)

    Have a nice day, regards.

  20. wow what a lovely've mastered it so well. looks fantastic. thanks for visiting my blog:)


  21. Wow! Your challahs are all so beautifully shaped and look so soft and yummy. I have baked challah before but never know so much information, background and history of this bread.

  22. looks very yummmy..with inviting cliks
    Tasty Appetite

  23. I love baking bread of any kind and these look so pretty! You are very good with plaiting!

  24. 1st, thanks for dropping by my humble blog ... i found another great blog since i join the Bake Along ... haha
    Oh dear .. ur bread baking here was so beautiful . the braid was nicely done.. i can't really bake a good bread yet ... ..... thanks for sharing this recipe .
    Btw , the ingredients u gave here can bake the above 4 breads ???

    1. Yeah!! At first I was going to make only the six and the four strand braid, but after all the proofing, punching down , dividing, I found myself with way too much of dough. So I decided to brave all the four braids :D.The six and four strand were massive loaves. Even the round one was quite big. The three strand one was comparatively smaller but enough for two at breakfast. The breads also rise while baking.

  25. I know I'm a little late to the party, but this looks AMAZING! I'm so impressed by your fancy braiding and thanks for including all the links--I'll definitely try the next time I make challah!!


Thank you so much for taking the time to comment! Happy baking! :)

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