The word “challah” once meant the portion of bread that was tossed into the oven as an offering in memory of the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem. Today, challah refers to the particular bread (or lechem) we eat on the Sabbath or holidays. Regular challahs are braided into a long loaf. For Rosh Hashanah, and for each new month, however, the challah is shaped into a circle, symbolizing the cycle of life.
Through the years I have gathered an array of challah recipes from bakers I have visited around the world. Some, like Yemenite Jews, make floppy flat rounds, often fried in a large frying pan, or breads like kubbanah or jahnoun that are slow-baked overnight and served on the Sabbath morning. Others, like the Moroccan Jews, add sesame and anise seeds to theirs and sometimes bake them in a tabun oven.
My favorite recipe by far is the Ashkenazic braided loaf I learned to bake in Jerusalem’s Mea Shearim quarter, in a Hasidic bakery called Brizel’s.
I have played around with this recipe—which, like all Jewish food, is always evolving—until it is what my family and friends love to eat.
Joan Nathan is Tablet Magazine’s food columnist and the author of 10 cookbooks including King Solomon’s Table: a Culinary Exploration of Jewish Cooking from Around the World.