Metaphors have a way of holding the most truth in the least space. ~ Orson Scott Card
‘Bread‘ is a gentle, unimposing word. It is also an incredibly powerful metaphor.
To us, ‘bread‘ stands for warmth, comfort and sustenance. Depending on the context, it could also denote nutrition, bare necessity, and/or kinship. Over the centuries, the term has acquired layers of meaning – like a rich patina on a copper urn. Think phrases like ‘give us our daily bread’, ‘bread-winner’, ‘bread basket’, ‘the greatest thing since sliced bread’, ‘putting bread on the table’, ‘breaking bread’.
Each language has such a word – ‘roti’ in Hindi, ‘pain’ in French, ‘pane’ in Italian.
It’s interesting how in areas where rice in predominant (China, south India and southeast Asia), ‘bread’ has a different set of connotations. It is something you eat when you’re unwell or simply as a snack. It’s something you buy, never make at home. A friend of ours (originally from south India, but living in California) asked what we were cooking for dinner, and we said, “bread”. The next day we visited her home for a party, and she insisted on packing a huge bag of leftovers for us. “Poor things. You’ve only been eating bread,” she said. In India, growing up, bread usually meant the cottony Wonder bread kind of thing. Now, in the big cities at least, artisan breads are not difficult to find.
Mercifully, bread is not associated with a sick person’s diet in Israel. The Hebrew word for bread is ‘lekhem‘ and a common slogan in workers’ demonstrations is “Lekhem, Avoda” (bread, work).
And there’s Challah, (pronounced ‘hallah’), which has great symbolic significance in Jewish culture. It is a rich bread which incorporates eggs and is best known in its braided form (though not always the case). It is often sprinkled with poppy seeds or sesame seeds – to signify prosperity.
Challah is a religious offering – a biblical tithe or tax to be donated to a priest or kohen.
Challah is known in different parts of the Jewish world as barches (German and western Yiddish), berches (Swabian), barkis (Gothenburg), bergis (Stockholm), khale (eastern Yiddish), and kitke (South Africa), is a special braided bread eaten by Jews on the Sabbath and holidays.
The word challah does not mean bread or dough. The root of the word is chol which means ordinary or secular.
It is customary to begin the Friday night meal and the two meals eaten during the Sabbath day with a blessing over two loaves of bread. Challah (plural: challot), an enriched, braided bread is usually used…
The term challah also refers to a small piece of dough — about the size of an egg — that is traditionally separated from the rest of the dough before braiding. In biblical times, this portion of dough was set aside as a tithe for the Jewish priesthood. In Hebrew, the ritual is called “hafrashat challah.”
Today, this commandment applies more to professional bakers than the home cook, as it involves batches of challah using more than 2 kilos of flour.
The Bible does not specify how much dough is required for challah, but this issue is discussed in the Talmud. The rabbis said that 1 part in 24 was allocated to the priest in the case of private individuals, and 1 part in 48 in the case of a baker. If the baker forgets to set aside challah, it is permissible to set aside the same portion of bread.
According to the Talmud, the requirement to separate challah from the dough was imposed on the owner of the dough, not on the person who kneaded it; hence if the owner was not Jewish, even if the kneader was, hafrashat challah was not mandatory. (Source)
To us, challah simply denotes “pretty, braided, eggy bread.” It’s a lot of fun to make, and can be done in 3, 4, 5 or 6 braids The six-braid version (which we made) gets the most ‘height’. Or you can simply make a coil. (Check out some fun challah shapes HERE and HERE.).
A challah loaf has lots of eggs, plus added yolks. We usually use just egg whites in our recipes, and feed the yolks to the plants. This time, we had four egg yolks waiting to be taken to the yard, when we came across this recipe in Peter Reinhart‘s Whole Grain Breads.
He has two versions – a 100% Whole Wheat Challah, and a transitional one using 50% whole wheat flour. We tried the latter. If you like the flavour of egg yolks, you will love this bread. If not, try Vaishali’s fantastic vegan version with flaxseeds. Either way, you will be proud of your beautiful creation.
WHOLE WHEAT CHALLAH
from Peter Reinhart’s Whole Grain Breads.
Makes 1 large loaf or 2 small loaves or 16 dinner rolls
8 oz. whole wheat flour (1.75 cups)
**preferably fine grind. atta (chapati flour) works fine
0.5 tsp salt
6 oz. filtered or spring water (0.75 cups)
Mix everything for about 1 minute and form a ball of dough. Adjust liquid if necessary. Cover with a plastic wrap and leave to ferment at room temperature for between 12 to 24 hours.
8 oz. unbleached bread flour (1.75 cups)
**or all purpose flour
0.25 tsp instant yeast
3.5 oz. filtered or spring water (7 tbsp)
1 large egg, lightly beaten
4 egg yolks
Mix everything for about 1 minute and form a ball of dough. Adjust liquid if necessary. Knead for about 3 more minutes. The dough will be smooth, but a bit tacky. Cover with a plastic wrap and refrigerate for between 8 hours to 3 days. Bring to room temperature before using.
all the soaker (chopped into a dozen pieces)
all the biga (chopped into a dozen pieces)
2 oz. whole wheat flour (7 tbsp)
2 tbsp vegetable oil or butter
0.5 tsp salt
2 tablespoons sugar or 1.5 tbsp honey
2.25 tsp instant yeast
Knead everything together (add water if necessary) into a cohesive dough. Then dust some flour on the work surface and knead until the gluten is well developed. If you stretch the dough, it should be fairly elastic and stretch into a thin membrane.
Place the dough back in a greased bowl, cover and ferment for 45 to 60 minutes until the dough is 1.5 times its original size.
Gently transfer to a floured board and fold. Spread it out a little on the board, fold it in thirds like a letter, rotate it 90 degrees and fold it up again, return the dough to the bowl and cover it again. Folding degases the dough without damaging the gluten.
Shape in to a loaf or dinner rolls. Rest the dough for five minutes. You can make a simple strand and coil it, or use braids – three, four, five or six. Whenever you have difficulty shaping the dough ‘cos it springs back, let it rest for a few minutes, covered with a tea towel.
We divided the dough into six balls, made strands out of them, and made this six-braid version, as demonstrated in this video by Maya @ Chai Time.
Place the loaf on a baking sheet lined with parchment or silicone.
Beat 1 egg and brush it all over the loaf. (Keep aside the remaining egg wash. We need it.)
Cover loosely with plastic wrap or place the whole pan in a large plastic bag.
Set aside for a final rise, approximately 30 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 400F with a rack in the middle. Brush with the remaining egg wash. Sprinkle with poppy seeds or sesame seeds.
Reduce the oven temperature to 325F, bake fo 20 minutes.
Rotate loaf 180 degrees and bake for another 30 to 35 minutes. It should be a rich dark brown and register 195F if you insert a thermometer in the center.
Cool on a wire rack for at least one hour before slicing.
Whole Wheat Challah is our entry for A.W.E.D Middle Eastern Cuisine at Siri’s Corner.