The term "challah" derives from the Hafrashat Challah, the obligation described in Numbers 15: 17–21 to reserve a portion of bread dough for the priests of the Jerusalem Temple as an offering. In the time following the destruction of the Second Temple, scholars debated how this obligation should best be approached. The tradition of offering bread dough was retained, and a portion of the dough is symbolically separated to this day. However, this portion is no longer given in offering, but burned in memory of the Temple.
Over the course of time, Jews in different regions developed various recipes and ways for preparing challah. The challot (the plural form) baked in Europe are often braided and sprinkled with poppy seeds. Other shapes and toppings feature in the countries of the Orient. On Shabbat, two challot are served in memory of the desert wanderings of the Israelites following their exodus from Egypt, when on Friday, a double serving of manna fell from heaven.
The flat oval plate was manufactured in the 1920s by the Gutgesell Brothers silverware factory in Hanau. It is intended for the two loaves of bread consumed on Shabbat, which are depicted on the plate. The braid shape that you see here is particularly common in Europe. It’s flanked by two Hebrew quotations from the Torah: 2Remember the Shabbat day to sanctify it" and "On the sixth day they collected twice as much manna."
Our Recommended Recipe
- 2 ounces (¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons) active dry yeast + 3 tablespoons sugar
- 6 cups warm water, divided
- 4 tablespoons kosher salt
- 1 (6-pound) bag high-gluten flour
- 2 cups sugar
- 4 egg yolks
- 1 ¼ cup canola oil, divided
- 2 whole eggs, lightly beaten
- ½ cup sesame seeds
- ½ cup poppy seeds
- In a medium bowl, dissolve yeast and 3 tablespoons of sugar in 2 cups of warm water, cover loosely with a towel and set aside.
- Place salt in a huge plastic bowl.
- Add flour to bowl.
- Add sugar and egg yolks.
- Yeast should now have bubbled/foamed and doubled in size; if yeast has not bubbled or does not seem active, repeat the process.
- Make a well in the middle of the flour mixture and slowly pour yeast and sugar water mixture into the well. Then add the remaining 4 cups of warm water into the well. Make sure the water is not too hot. It should be no warmer than you would use for a baby’s bath.
- Start kneading ingredients together and add ½ cup of oil.
- For the next 10 minutes, knead, adding another ½ cup of oil slowly during that time as needed to create a workable dough. Dough shouldn’t be too sticky and also should not be dry. It should become one cohesive mass.
- Loosely cover dough with a large kitchen towel and place in a warm spot in your kitchen for 15 minutes.
- After 15 minutes, lightly oil your hand and knead again for another 5 minutes, adding a touch more oil to the dough if necessary. The dough should now be easier to work with and will become smooth and satiny.
- Rub a little oil over the top and around the dough. Cover bowl with a kitchen towel. Place covered bowl in a medium plastic garbage bag and place open ends of the bag loosely underneath the bowl, trapping in air.
- Place in a warm spot and let rise for 1 hour or until double in size.
- Punch dough down and knead (lightly oil your hands if necessary), flipping it and releasing any air bubbles. Cover again, using the towel and the bag, and let rise 1 more hour.
- Lightly oil your hands, and punch down again. With a sharp knife, divide dough into 4 equal parts.
- Liberally spray 4 (9-inch) round baking pans with non-stick cooking spray and set aside.
- Preheat oven to 375°F.
If you need visual support during preparation, have a look at Jamie Geller, whose recipes we’re so excited about that we’ve prepared one for you ourselves!