Here we go again, gearing up for the challah-days. Continuously bombarded with images of challahs mimicking red velvet cake, multi-colored unicorns and curiously enough, buffalo chicken, I understand; there’s an audience for everything. Personally, I prefer a classic challah, one that is content to simply twist and egg wash, embellished with a little poppy or sesame seed. Today’s challah is a totally different animal, preferring to twist and shout, “Look at me! I’m studded with dark chocolate and bling-y with pomegranate seeds. You can dress me up in tahini and whatever you do, don’t forget the halvah!”
I get it. Eggy bread is another blank canvas hungry for artistic expression. Contemporary challah artists are certainly worthy of applause. But when we’re talking about the High Holidays, it seems appropriate to save room for a classic challah, one with fewer whistles and perhaps fewer strands to weave. We all have our favorite recipes, the ones we all turn to; Joan’s or Marcy’s, Jennie’s or Marian’s, the Ladies of Hadassah; influencers all.
For Rosh Hashanah, the traditional oval-shaped challah is replaced by a spiral, formed from a singular rope of dough. As one who prefers to play with her food, I always opt for a braided loaf, turning it over to tuck in the ends, and turning it once more, nudging it into a circle. Some years it’s a little more lopsided than others, but in the end, round challah is a reminder of introspection, continuity, a fresh start with a date no one can quite remember. (This year it’s 5781.) The entire process requires a substantial part of a morning or afternoon, but the results are well worth the time. Challah teaches patience and attention to detail in the rising of the dough and the weaving of the braid. It also allows for a little reflection during the torturous waiting period between oven exodus, cooling, and slicing.
I’ll keep a watchful eye on the parade of challahs marching through social media this week, but the challah we will slice will not resemble a mythical animal, nor will it be tinted red nor will we serve it alongside celery sticks and blue cheese dressing. We’ll happily slather the thick, egg-rich bread with good butter and try to exercise restraint, saving some for the next morning. While cautiously optimistic, I can make no French toast guarantees.
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