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Tuesday, June 23, 2009

BBA Challenge #6 – Challah: The Spiritual Side of Bread

I love it when things like faith and food come together for me in meaningful ways. That happened last week when I made Challah.

If I may quote Peter Reinhart:

“Challah, the braided Sabbath bread of Judaism, is a European celebratory loaf symbolic of God’s goodness and bounty. The braids traditionally separate the loaf into twelve distinct sections representing the twelve tribes of Israel. The use of eggs in the bread was probably a way to use up excess eggs, as harvesting is one of many activities considered work in Orthodox Jewish communities.
…. garnishing the loaves with seeds, such as poppy or sesame, symbolizes the falling of manna from heaven and the covering of the challah with a cloth as it is served at the Sabbath meal represents the heavenly dew that protects the manna.”

I honestly did not know these symbolic aspects of the challah loaf. But it got me to thinking about it. And then I got into a bread discussion with a co-worker who enjoys making bread in his bread machine for himself and his kids.

The thing is, that bread is spoken of throughout the Bible and is a food that has many spiritual implications for us. The Passover consisted of a Festival of Unleavened Bread where the Israelites were to remove all yeast from their houses (Exodus 12:15). Manna was called bread from heaven (Exodus 16:4). There was a table for the bread of the Presence in the tabernacle (Exodus 25:30). Christ quoted the Deuteronomy 8:3 when he rebuked the devil and stated that man does not live on bread alone (Matthew 4:4) and referred to himself as the Bread of Life (John 6:35). I know my list could have gone on and on, but I wrote the bulk of this in the car and the rest of it without my chain reference Bible.

I have mentioned this video of Peter Reinhart before. It is worth a watch.

I know that we have “traditional” ways that we spiritually look at some of the elements of bread making, but hang with me here for a minute.

Think about this for a minute… as Mr. Reinhart points out, when we get the wheat into our hands, it is dead. Then, we introduce the yeast and it introduces life. Then, in the process of baking, the yeast dies to bring a transformation.


I know we normally view yeast as bad stuff (see Matthew 16:5-12), but can we think of it in a good light for a moment? Like the yeast, Christ came to bring life to us and gave up his life so that we (the flour), who were once dead in our sins (flour is technically dead wheat) could be transformed into a new creation (bread).

I don’t know about you, but the entire bread baking process is just amazing to me, much like salvation. One of the most amazing things is the wild yeast in a starter, but that’s another post for when we do sourdough. But just the thought that the yeast must die in order for there to be transformation from dough into bread just as Christ had to die for there to be transformation in my life from unrighteousness into Christ’s righteousness… it’s mind boggling.

Anyways, I know that’s a much heavier topic than just talking about the bread itself for this post, but it’s what has been on my heart from the time I began reading about this bread.

So on to my experience with the challah.

Mine didn’t turn out as pretty as I had hoped. I had a hard time getting the kind of stretch that I wanted to achieve the window “pain” test. And then, I may have braided my loaves a little too tightly. Therefore during proofing, at least one strand ripped. Then during baking and with a pretty decent oven spring, several more strands ripped and or broke.


We ate some with our evening meal one night. I also made French toast one morning for the kids and that was pretty good. In the past, I have purchased challah to make my Chocolate Bread Pudding so I’m looking forward to being able to make my own bread for it now.

Overall impressions:

I have purchased challah loaves that were much softer with a more tender crust. I’m not sure what is more authentic and I’m not saying that it might not have been baker error that caused mine to be drier than it should be.

Will I make this again? Yes, but I may look around at other formulas and try some different ones. Do you have any suggestions?


beyond this moment said...

1) I LOVE challah bread! It's yummy on its own and even better in things like bread pudding and french bread and french bread casserole.

2) Your borrowed illustration is beautiful... mind if I borrow it too for a women's breakfast devotional at my church??

Sallye said...

I would look around for a jewish lady when you get home and ask her how she makes hers.

Kinda Sassy said...

I havent listened to the whole talk yet (I will) but I wanted to say that I was really blown away by this post. I love the idea of doing a whole bible study of what bread means... I had never thought of it before. thank you.

Laurie Ashton Farook said...

I wasn't surprised to read about the symbolism in challah bread - much in Judaism is symbolic. But still, it's very interesting to learn such things. You brought up an excellent point about learning about the symbols and meaning in bread, Biblically speaking. I'm going to end up paying more attention to that...

My challah was soft with a tender crust. We loved it. We mostly ate it with butter & jam and we loved it enough that it's now at the top of our list. Well, until I made ciabatta yesterday... Mine was done with wild yeast. Turned out very, very nice.

Reminds me, I need to blog about it...

Tammy said...

I heard Julia Childs has a great challah recipe.

I made french toast with my challah also.

It's great baking along side of you. Love your blog.

God Bless,

Cindy said...

Thanks so much for that thought provoking post. Bread is definately symbolic in many religions. It's something we eat everyday yet never really pause to think about it.

I was also not really blown away with PR's challah recipe. I make challah every week and I'm happy to pass on my recipe to you. it's our family's favourite.

You can find the recipe at: