What is Challah?

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Challah, pronounced haa-laa, is traditional Jewish yeasted bread. It is made with eggs, as well as flour, yeast, and water, and may be sprinkled with sesame seeds. It is sometimes called egg bread, and has a distinct yellowish interior if egg yolks are used.

Challah sometimes is studded with raisins.
Challah sometimes is studded with raisins.

Challah is a part of many Sabbath celebrations, and also is consumed during many Jewish holidays. Challah is never eaten on Passover however, because the day calls for eating only unleavened bread. Therefore, no bread containing yeast can be served.

Currants can be an ingredient in challah.
Currants can be an ingredient in challah.

Challah usually is braided in threes, but it may be served round, and studded with raisins. On Rosh Hashanah, challah may be made in the shape of a ladder. The bread may be served warm or cool depending upon individual preference.

Eggs are one of the main ingredients in challah.
Eggs are one of the main ingredients in challah.

Since Jewish traditions are enmeshed in the lives of many, the presence of challah in grocery stores and bakeries is not uncommon. In fact many of non-Jewish origin love to buy or make this bread because of it lovely texture, and its relative ease of preparation.

The bread is an excellent choice for slicing, especially in braided form, and is a favorite sandwich bread, particularly in delis in major cities. It is also praised as one of the best breads to use for French toast. It absorbs the egg/milk liquid perfectly, and it can be cut thick. It also goes stale in about two days, which is very desirable when one is making French toast, since this will add to the bread’s absorption of the French toast mixture.

Challah can range from very simple bread, to interesting variations inspired by modern ingredients. On the Internet, one can find recipes for onion challah, or breads made with rosemary and sun dried tomatoes, chocolate chips, nuts, currants or dried cranberries. Since the bread plain does not have an overwhelming flavor, it lends itself well to either sweet or savory additions.

Even with additions, challah owes its smooth, browned top to an egg wash prior to baking. This is also quite helpful if one is adding poppy or sesame seeds, as these will adhere better to the bread. A baked challah should be a rich brown on the exterior, and the bread should have a hollow sound when tapped, assuring it is cooked thoroughly.

One can also make challah with a bread machine, by setting the machine onto the mix and raise setting only. The dough is then removed from the machine, shaped and given a final rise. Some cooks insist that the lightest and best challah is obtained when the dough is allowed to rise twice prior to baking.

Challah can be found in many US bakeries.
Challah can be found in many US bakeries.
Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Tricia has a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and has been a frequent wiseGEEK contributor for many years. She is especially passionate about reading and writing, although her other interests include medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion. Tricia lives in Northern California and is currently working on her first novel.

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