Bread sets tone for new year -- and afterward Challah Rises to the Occasion

August 31, 1994|By Leslye Michlin Borden | Leslye Michlin Borden,Special to The Sun

The round challah is one of the most important symbols of the Jewish holiday season that starts with Rosh Hashonah (on the evening of Sept. 5) and ends with the solemn fast of Yom Kippur (the evening of Friday, Sept. 14).

The round shape indicates the importance of the "head" of the year. In addition, it underscores the wish for a full and healthy year. Third, the dough usually is shaped in a spiral, rising in the center, to emphasize the hope that prayers during this all-important period will wind their way directly to heaven.

If you've never prepared a challah, this is a good time to start. One advantage of making your own is the delicious, warm aroma of the baking bread. It will fill your house. If anyone in your family didn't realize a special occasion was at hand, the baking bread smell wafting through the house would tell them it is.

Second, it's a rare bakery that can match the flavor of homemade bread. When you make your own, you don't add preservatives, flavor enhancers, extenders or fillers. These additions take away from the true bread flavor. When you're in charge of the ingredients, you add only the freshest and best. You're not trying to maximize profits, cut losses, etc. All you want to do is please yourself and your family.

If you're trying to cut down on fat and cholesterol, and feel that challah is off your list of appropriate foods because it is so high in eggs and oil, here's good news. By baking your challah, you can alter the ingredients list to fit even the most stringent of low-fat, low-cholesterol diets. In addition, new products make it easier to remove fat and eggs from the traditional ingredients list and still come out with a delicious bread.

Start out by using no-fat egg substitute in place of whole eggs. Some manufacturers just remove the yolk's cholesterol and/or replace the "harmful" fat in the yolk with canola oil, a "healthy" oil. It seems a waste of fat calories to add it to egg substitute when there is a fat-free alternative. In addition, reduce the amount of oil. My challah comes out so rich and delicious that many guests compliment me by saying, "With bread like this, you don't have to eat cake."

Challah is important for this occasion not just at the festive dinner. Observing the holiday season correctly involves setting the pattern for behavior for the rest of the year. Even what and how you cook has important implications. If you prepare your own challah and make a low-fat, low-cholesterol version, you will be giving your family a good start toward a sweet, happy and healthy year.

But this is just the beginning. Continue this pattern into the New Year. Use the challah to make French toast. Continue on the low-fat, low-cholesterol road by soaking the bread in a mixture of nonfat milk and egg substitute. "Fry" it in a pan with a non-stick surface. Use vegetable oil spray instead of butter. Enhance the flavor with a little cinnamon. Present it with poached apple rings, honey or apple jelly.

Or use challah to make bread pudding. Serve this tasty dessert to break the Yom Kippur fast. Soak cubed challah in a mixture of nonfat evaporated milk and egg substitute. Add a few golden raisins. Assemble it the day before and refrigerate until everyone comes home from the synagogue. Bake it while you're putting out the rest of the break-the-fast foods. Present it all hot and puffy from the oven. It will make a starving stomach feel better. With almost no fat, it's easily digestible -- an important consideration for this occasion.

So start the New Year right. Give yourself and your family the wonderful treat of homemade challah. The recipe makes two large loaves, so you have enough after the festive meals to treat the family to challah French toast or challah bread pudding.

Best of all, you know that you can indulge in these otherwise rich foods because you have removed the fat and cholesterol form the recipe. L'shonah tovah tikontaivu v'saichosaimu! (May you be inscribed and sealed for a happy, healthy and good year.)

"Yolkless" Challah

Makes 2 large loaves, 24 slices each

2 packets dry yeast

2 1/2 cups very warm water (about 110 degrees)


pinch of crushed saffron (optional)

10 cups unbleached white flour

1 1/2 teaspoons salt

8 ounces egg substitute (equivalent to 4 eggs)

6 tablespoons canola oil

sesame seeds

1 egg white

In a small glass bowl, combine the yeast with 2 1/2 cups of water. Add teaspoon of honey. Stir well and set aside. After about 5 minutes, the yeast should be bubbling. Now it's ready to use. Stir in the saffron, if desired.

In a very large ceramic mixing bowl, combine 6 cups of flour and the salt. Make a well in the center and add the yeast mixture, stirring well. Scrape the sides of the bowl to combine all the flour.

Add 1/3 cup honey, 2 cups more flour, the egg substitute and the oil. Continue stirring. Work in one more cup flour. The dough should be sticky. Combine these ingredients well.

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