Saturday, October 14, 2006

The Secrets of Challah

Who doesn’t dream of being able to create a shiny bronze loaf of braided Challah bread? I’ve had Challah envy just walking down the bread aisle of even the most rudimentary grocery store. There were always all sorts of questions. What is the origin of this exquisite bread? How do you achieve the braided effect? How do you create that glossy, golden sheen?

On Friday in Classic European Breads, we became privy to the secrets of Challah. Originating in Europe, the shimmering yellow dough is enriched with oil, sugar and honey. The slightly-sticky dough forms nicely into balls, which are then rolled into ropes.

There are many braiding techniques, but we focused on braiding three and four ropes of dough at a time. The “three” technique is just like braiding hair and uses three strands of dough lined side-by-side on the work bench. The “four” technique creates a thicker chain link effect. Four strands of dough are positioned on the bench at 90 degree angles and then alternately folded over each other until they bulge into a braid. Once shaped, the loaves are brushed with egg wash to achieve that burnished gold look during baking.

The “bumps” of the braid are meant to represent the 12 tribes of Israel (assuming you braid it properly and get twelve bumps!) Challah is traditionally served on a white towel that symbolizes the manna from heaven, and rather than slicing, guests pluck a bump from the loaf with their hands.

Rich, fresh and downy soft, the end result was a blessing of theological scope!

© 2006 T.W. Barritt All Rights Reserved

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