No Shabbat dinner or Rosh Hashanah celebration is complete without a tender loaf of freshly baked challah on the table. For symbolic and practical purposes, it’s worth slicing through some commonly asked questions about challah bread.
Woven into a golden braid, it has been the centerpiece of Jewish celebrations worldwide for centuries. Challah persists as a cherished staple both for its delectable flavor and profound significance. As a symbol of unity, gratitude, and continuity within the Jewish community, no other food comes close.
What is challah bread?
“Challah” simply refers to any bread shared in Jewish practice to represent the manna from heaven passed down to Moses from God. Historically, it was a very humble affair made from little more than flour and water, given the expense and scarcity of luxurious ingredients like eggs and honey.
Why is challah important for Shabbat and Jewish holidays?
Challah holds significant importance for Shabbat and Jewish holidays as it symbolizes unity and holiness, serving as a centerpiece for the Shabbat meal and marking the separation between the ordinary week and sacred days.
The blessings and rituals associated with challah underscore the significance of these occasions, while its delicious taste enhances the festive atmosphere of Jewish celebrations.
Additionally, the tradition of making and sharing challah connects generations, preserving Jewish heritage and history through this cherished custom.
It’s a well-loved companion to all kinds of Jewish meals. Explore more Jewish Vegan Recipes.
What’s the symbolism of challah, and why is it braided?
The most common shape for challah is a long braid, seen as a symbol of unity and togetherness within the Jewish community. It represents the interconnectedness of Jewish people and their shared heritage.
The three strands commonly used in challah braiding can also have various interpretations, such as representing the three patriarchs (Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob) or the three components of Jewish life: Torah (learning), Avodah (service), and gemilut chasadim (acts of loving-kindness).
Round challah loaves are more frequently associated with Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. The circular shape symbolizes the cyclical nature of the year and the ongoing cycle of life.
See our amazing golden Vegan Challah Bread recipe
What are the usual ingredients of challah, and how can it be made vegan (without eggs)?
Traditionally, there are just seven essentials required for making a basic challah bread: water, yeast, sugar, oil, flour, and salt.
Eggs, though frequently included to represent rebirth, renewal, and fertility, are not strictly necessary. Some recipes simply omit the eggs while others strive to replicate their color and richness by swapping them with plant-based alternatives, such as mashed sweet potatoes, butternut squash, or commercial egg replacers.
Does challah contain dairy?
The short answer is no, challah is dairy-free. In keeping with kosher mandates, all challah is naturally pareve. That means it’s prepared without meat, milk, or their derivatives and therefore permissible to be eaten with both meat and dairy dishes according to religious dietary laws (kashrut).
Is challah considered Kosher?
The kosher status of challah depends on the specific loaf, and it also depends on who you ask. Even if the ingredients are kosher by default (containing no meat or dairy), it technically still isn’t considered kosher by orthodox observers unless it’s officially blessed by a rabbi.
You can find commercial loaves with this certification on the label, though it’s increasingly rare, especially in the base of small bakeries.
If challah is so important to Jewish holidays, why isn’t it allowed for Passover?
Passover is the only Jewish holiday where you won’t find challah on the menu because you won’t find any sort of leavened foods at all. It’s a way to remember how the Jewish people, led by Moses, had to escape from Egypt in a hurry and didn’t have time to let their bread rise before heading into the desert.
Thus, for the seder and the following week, there are no fermented grains or risen bread to honor the struggle to gain freedom from Egyptian slavery.
What are some other rituals associated with challah?
Beyond the standard blessing, known as hamotzi, some additional rituals and customs associated with challah include:
Dipping in Salt: Before eating challah, it is common to dip a piece of bread in salt. This practice serves as a reminder of the offerings that were made in the ancient Temple, where salt was a required component of various offerings. It also symbolizes the idea that the bread is a source of sustenance and should be seasoned, like all aspects of life.
Separation and Burning: In Orthodox Jewish tradition, a small piece of dough is separated from the main challah before baking. This portion is set aside and intentionally burned as a symbolic offering, recalling the biblical commandment to give a portion of the dough to the priests in Temple times. This practice is known as hafrashas challah, literally “taking challah.”
Is challah like brioche?
While both challah and brioche are both rich, often egg-laden breads, there are some crucial differences. Brioche uses butter, in tribute to its French heritage, whereas challah uses oil as a way to omit the dairy. For that same reason, brioche is often richer, and uses more sugar, making it sweeter, too.
What are some good ways to use leftover challah?
It’s a good thing that most challah recipes make 2 to 3 loaves at a time because the leftovers are so versatile. You can use challah that calls for bread, but it’s especially well suited for decadent desserts. A few foolproof ideas include:
- Toasted with peanut butter, cinnamon sugar, date caramel, or any of your favorite toppings
- Bread pudding, enriched with spices, fruits, and/or chocolate
- French toast or French toast casserole
- Croutons or breadcrumbs
- Panzanella, also known as Italian bread salad
- Panini or grilled cheese sandwiches
- Traditional stuffing for Thanksgiving or the winter holidays
- A base for the plant-based version of Bostock
Contributed by Hannah Kaminsky: Hannah has developed an international following for her delicious recipes and mouthwatering food photography at the award-winning blog BitterSweet. Passionate about big flavors and simple techniques, she’s the author of Vegan Desserts, Vegan à la Mode, Easy as Vegan Pie, Real Food, Really Fast, Sweet Vegan Treats, The Student Vegan Cookbook, Super Vegan Scoops, and The Everyday Vegan Cheat Sheet Pan. Visit Hannah at BittersweetBlog.com.