Challah is a braided bread eaten by many cultures. Also known as khale (eastern Yiddish, German, and western Yiddish), berches (Swabian), Zopf (Switzerland) barkis (Gothenburg), bergis (Stockholm), birkata (Judeo-Amharic), vianocka (Slovak), tsoureki (Greek), çörek (Turkish), kalács (Hungarian) (although this means sweet bread with eggs and milk, which is not identical to challah), chalka (Polish), colaci (Romanian), and kitke (South Africa). Contrary to popular belief, challah bread is not solely a Jewish bread, at least when called by other names.
Ingredients and preparation
Traditional challah recipes use numerous eggs
, fine white flour, water
, and salt
. Modern recipes may use fewer eggs (there are also eggless versions) and may replace white flour with whole wheat
, or spelt flour. Sometimes honey
is substituted as a sweetener. The dough is rolled into rope-shaped pieces which are braided and brushed with an egg wash before baking to add a golden sheen. Sometimes raisins
are added. Some bakers like to sprinkle sesame
or poppy seeds
on top for flavor.
Challah is usually parve (containing neither dairy nor meat, important in the laws of Kashrut), unlike brioche and other enriched European breads, which contain butter
According to Jewish tradition, the three Sabbath meals (Friday night, Saturday lunch, and Saturday late afternoon) and two holiday meals (one at night and lunch the following day) each begin with two complete loaves of bread. This "double loaf" (in Hebrew: lechem mishneh) commemorates the manna that fell from the heavens when the Israelites wandered in the desert for forty years after the Exodus from Egypt according to Jewish religious belief. The manna did not fall on Sabbath or holidays; instead, a double portion would fall the day before the holiday or sabbath. Each single loaf is sometimes woven with six strands. Together, both loaves have twelve which may represent each tribe of Israel. Other numbers of strands commonly used are three, five and seven. Occasionally twelve are used, referred to as a "Twelve Tribes" challah.