My first memory of challah is the smell of it toasting, and then toasting some more, until my grandpa had burned it enough that he would then stand by the kitchen sink and perform his ritual scraping off of the blackened edges. Grandpa ate challah with breakfast every day, and he burned it every day.
He may not have known that burning at least some challah hearkens back to the time of the Temple. The word “challah” refers to a bit of baked dough that Jews gave to the priests as a weekly Sabbath offering. To commemorate the ancient law of setting aside “challah,” some Jews to this day separate a small portion of prebaked dough, which they bless and burn. “Challah” means “offering,” and the sweet bread itself is now also known by that name.
Funny enough, I learned that history from a book that spells the bread’s name differently: “The Hallah Book,” by Freda Reider. It’s a book I’ve had since 1988, when I got it at a Hadassah book fair, captivated by its many intriguing, artistic suggestions on the shaping of the bread.
Lately I’ve been having fun trying out challah recipes and designs, as I prepare to lead a session on challah at Hazon’s Food Festival: Rocky Mountains, an all-day foodie extravaganza to be held at the Denver Jewish Day School on April 28. My “students” will get to shape dough and then take it home to bake. But I’ll bring some finished samples for tasting, too, and in a perfect pairing, the challah will be enriched by butter that my co-presenter, Rachael Goldman, will demonstrate how to make by shaking the right ingredients in a jar. Thus, we’re calling our session “Shake and Bake: D.I.Y. Butter and Challah.”
In other challah news, the festival includes a challah contest, which all are invited to enter. Just bring your homemade challah to the festival, where judges will decide who makes the best challah in the region. Winning includes prizes as well as bragging rights. If you’ve not entered the contest yourself, you might be asked to be one of the many tasters who will rate their favorites.
So, Sunday the 28th will be a “Challah-day” at the Hazon Food Festival, a day to break bread together – but we won’t burn it.
~~Lorrie Guttman, former Florida resident and longtime food editor of The Tallahassee Democrat, who now does her baking at altitude