Monday, 26 October 2015

When is Challah not Challah?

For everyone who bakes and loves to eat challah this blogpost is for you.

When is Challah not Challah? Quite simply when you can taste the sugar! Halachically speaking the taste of a challah and the amount of sugar in a challah make a big difference to how it should be treated. If it is too sweet, ideally one should not make Hamotzi on it unless one eats about half a pound of it!

You might be scratching your head at this moment thinking I regularly eat sweet challah or my spouse often puts sugar in our challah what's the problem?

Rav Yosef Caro writes in the Shulkhan Arukh (Chapter 168) Kisnin bread. Some say that this refers to dough in which honey, sugar, oil, or spices were mixed and the taste of the item mixed in the dough is recognizable in the dough. This is indeed the Halacha and such an item is given the halachic status of Kisnin bread on which a “Boreh Minei Mezonot” blessing is recited. 

Rav Moshe Isserles makes an additional note explaining Ashkenazic custom. Some say this is considered actual bread (on which a “Hamotzi” blessing is recited) unless there was a copious amount of honey mixed into it similar to a sweet baked good which we call “Lekach” in which the honey and spices are primary. This is indeed the prevalent custom.

As such for Sephardim, if one can taste sweetness the beracha is mezonot, for Ashkenazim it is only if the bread is actually like cake that the beracha would be mezonot. Therefore the Ashkenazic custom is to have sweet challah without there being any halakhic problem whatsoever for them. However, in today's world where Ashkenazic and Sephardic families are well blended (no pun intended) there is a problem for Sephardim eating this "bread".

Ideally, (lechatchila) for Sephardim sugar should only be used to aid in the baking process. I.e. anything more than a tablespoon is too much. That is the difference between a plain role and a paneziko! If you can taste the sweetness it isn't fit for hamotzi. However, since it is very common to come to a house that serves sweet challah what can you do?

1. Eat half a pound of it - A little known halacha is that if you eat half a pound (216g) of cake (even though the beracha is normally mezonot) one must wash and say hamotzi and do birkat hamazon. 

2. That is very hard to do and not necessarily very healthy. One can rely on the lenient position that the food one eats with the "bread" can combine. Therefore one needs to eat half a pound of food total. 

All this is after the fact (bediavad), if one is able to ask (without offending one's host) for non sweet challah that is of course preferable. 

One should also note that one should be careful when eating too much cake that one doesn't obligate oneself to make birkat hamazon on what they ate! Based on the lenient position that cake and food can combine to the half a pound amount. It is conceivable that many of us would need to do birkat hamazon after a big kiddush in synagogue!