|Marie Wolf's beautiful Challah from Breadbasketcase|
I was curious about why the Challah is so special and why is it THE bread for every Jewish holiday and Shabbat. As it turns out, summarizing the history of Challah is more of a challenge than summarizing all of your blog posts. Ha! I underestimated the complexity of 3500 years of Challah history across the Diaspora—all those cross-cultural references is certainly very circular and not linear at all. However, I plucked three interesting facts out of the ocean of information—facts that might help us understand the Challah we made and shed some light on some of the traditions that surround Challah (please note that this information is paraphrased from the following link: http://www.aish.com/j/f/A_Brief_History_of_Challah.html)
- The word “cake” is a translation of the Hebrew word “challah.” It was considered a mitzvah (or blessing) to separate the bread and offer a portion of challah to the priests (kohanim).
- Twelve humps of the loaf recall the miracle of the 12 loaves for the 12 tribes of Israel.
- The intertwined strands, (or arms) symbolize love, truth, peace, creation, freedom, harmony, family connection, unity and justice–following the commandments to remember, observe and guard the sabbath or Shabbat.
So when we look at the beautiful braids that we created, we can now understand in part the natural urge (or at least mine) to tear the humps apart and share the bread-cake with others. I suppose form meets function in this case.
To the person, this Challah recipe was a rousing success. Everyone enjoyed the process and the result, and almost everyone transformed it into another dish.
Leave well enough alone is an expression that is often heard when something is near perfect and doesn’t need any improving. For Marie W., Rose’s original Challah recipe in the Bread Bible needed no improving. But in good spirit, she decided to see if Rose’s new recipe was really worth the time. She felt that this new bread really was improved with its soft, but not cottony texture. BTW, her step-by-step how-to-braid-a-challah was as funny as Abbot and Costello’s Who’s on First routine. Seriously.
Kristina confessed that no matter what else she has to do, she loves making bread, mostly for its not-so-intense schedule, forgiving nature and delicious outcome. Her Challah turned into an office share, weekend french toast, and grilled cheese sandwiches.
For Elle, making this Challah was her lifeline, especially with her little 8-month old cutie pie following her every move and occupying her every minute. Her baking spirit is indomitable and her determination to bake bread each month with us is unshakeable. Elle’s experience, in her own words read: “What a joy this dough was to work with. And I am immensely proud of my four-strand braiding! I’ve never attempted this before, not even with hair, so I was pretty excited to give it a go.” I think Elle said it all when she concluded that this Challah is fantastic and delicious. She too turned it into french toast.
Vicki too was interested in researching the history of Challah. Her bread was mammoth in that it continued to get bigger and bigger, much like Julia Child’s ocean sized fish (you have to see the picture in her post). So after having tea and Challah toast, she cut the challah into large cubes and added dried cherries, blueberries, raisins and one tsp of orange oil, baked it off and drizzled it with maple syrup. Challah becomes Strata.
Who knew that Nancy was a Challah aficionado? She told the Tale of Four Challahs: 1) Rose’s Traditional Challah from hard copy of The Bread Bible (not so crazy about this one), 2) her personal whole wheat version with dried cherries, 3) Smitten Kitchen's Fig, Olive Oil, and Sea Salt Challah (a once per year treat), and finally 4) Rose’s improved Challah recipe, adding rehydrated dried cherries. Nancy concluded that Rose’s latest version was indeed better than the original Bread Bible recipe. It was moister, and it had some tang on account of the biga. In the end, she’ll return to her whole-wheat version, but if she ever needs a white challah, Rose's recipe will be her choice.
Marie B had never made Challah before and hers was a great success. For convenience sake, she made a few changes to the recipe, but it clearly didn’t suffer at all. Next time she will ambitiously attempt a 6 strand braid, as if 4 strands wasn’t complicated enough. Marie made French Toast with her Challah and said that it was “verrrry good.”
Our next bread for January 6th will be the Sweet Potato Loaf (p. 276). It will be our first following the holiday season, and an interesting way to start the New Year. I chose it because I am always interested in exploring ingredients that make bread sweet, and moist. It could be really good for turkey or ham sandwiches!