Challah is bread for the Jewish sabbath: a luxury wheaten loaf to mark the holy day, to set it apart from the incessant work of the rest of the week - and a daily diet of dark rye bread. Bread holds the key to much religious symbolism for Jews as for other communities. Challah was the dough set apart and given to the priests. This symbolic gift is still re-enacted - by the breadmaker of the house, or by the commercial baker. A portion of dough is abstracted before the final loaf is shaped, it is blessed and then burned to a cinder in the oven. In Middle Eastern cultures, the same ritual is thought to ward off the evil eye.
Challah is usually a braided or plaited loaf, witness perhaps to a medieval German origin of the bread we eat today (compare the Swiss Plaited Loaf), but this coiled shape is also traditional for the celebration of the Jewish New Year - its roundness symbolizing the fullness of time.
The luxury implicit in the bread is gained from butter and eggs (though not all recipes have these). A golden colour inside and out - has also been ever popular. Some bakers add saffron to the dough to accentuate this.
© 2005 Tom Jaine. All rights reserved.