Challah (ha-LA; roll the “h” back in you throat so it comes out as though you’re clearing your throat) is Sabbath bread, served at the Friday night meal commanded of observant Jews to open their day of rest each week.
But in New York and other cities with large Jewish populations, it’s also a favorite sandwich bread and many bakeries make challah rolls stuffed with meats or other ingredients.
It also happens to be one of the easiest yeast breads to make because it’s not overloaded with butter or other ingredients that can make proper rising tricky.
The only part that’s difficult to master is the traditional braiding of the loaf. My six-braid challah isn’t quite correct; a chef friend, observing the bread, blurted “Is it supposed to be braided that way???” I just grimaced; I’ve gone over detailed directions, watched videos and still can’t quite get it. But Steve Gelson of This Is It Bakery came to my rescue: Stop trying to do a six-bread, do three or four, he suggested. It’s much easier and though the bread may be less high in the center, it will taste the same. Or bake Kaiser-style rolls and forget the braiding altogether.
The beauty of challah is that, in order to keep it “neutral” according to Jewish dietary laws, no dairy (butter, milk) is used; thus it can be served with either milk or meat meals, food groups kept separate under kosher law.
The oil- and egg-based loaf is both tender and long-lasting; even kept in the bag on the counter, it doesn’t go stale for several days; in the fridge, it lasts even longer.
Challah isn’t widely available in Honolulu but This Is It bakery, makers of authentic bagels and crisp bagel cousins called bialys, sells challah every Friday. The 1 ½-pound braided loaves sell for $5.25 and it’s best to call ahead, especially if you are going to their second, downtown, location or if you’d like them to make you some challah rolls for a Friday sandwich.
If you enjoy baking, try this fool-proof recipe from famed Jewish food expert Joan Nathan. See the link below: