The special Friday feeling when preparing for Shabbat would not be the same without a visit to your favourite bakery - standing in line, sharing conversation with fellow shoppers and sniffing the amazing, intoxicating aroma of freshly baked challah.
The ritual of challah not only consists of choosing from large, medium or small, with poppy seeds or sesame seeds. There is huge history and meaning behind this iconic bread.
The word "challah" refers to the portion of dough which was set aside as a tithe for the Kohanim - an offering to the priests. However, as the Second Temple is no more, a portion of the dough used when making challah is burnt to cinders as a symbolic gesture. If you plan to make your own challah, remove a small lump of dough, wrap it in silver foil and oven–bake it until it is black, then throw it out - chalking up another mitzvah.
There are symbolic reasons why we buy not one, but two challahs for Friday night. The two plaited loaves (lechem mishneh) represent the double helping of God's manna, the miraculous food which provided sustenance to the wandering Israelites in the desert. For Shabbat, God served up double portions. Even the plaiting of the challah reminds us of the 12 loaves of bread which were placed in the Temple on the eve of each Shabbat, representing the 12 tribes of Israel.
Throughout the year, challah can take on different shapes and sizes depending on the Yomtov or simchah we are celebrating. At Rosh Hashanah we purchase round challahs representing the circle of life, made with honey for a sweet new year.
At Purim, the challah grows in size. Known as keylitsh challah, it has many braids to represent the rope used to hang Haman, and it can be decorated with multicoloured sugar sprinkles to reflect the nature of the festival.
The moment Passover ends we dive into a schlissel challah. For weddings and bar- and batmitzvahs the giant challah is big enough to feed everyone, even if you just get a tiny mouthful.
There are many kosher bakeries vying for our dough. We decided to put challah to the test and find out which baker provides the consumer with the best value and taste on the market. We collected freshly baked challahs. Unfortunately, as there are so many bakers to choose from we could not test every kosher challah, but we chose seven well-known bakers from London and Manchester.
Then we set up our stall on neutral territory and took the bread to the people for a blind tasting. See below to discover out who came out best.
All our taste-testers preferred a long challah rather than a round one except Judith Cohen from NW11 who had no preference. Our testers' favourite topping was sesame seeds.
Well bread? Our tasters' verdicts
● DANIEL'S BAKERY
12-14 Halleswelle Parade, Finchley Road, London NW11
www.danielscatering.co.uk, 020 8455 5826
Medium challah £1.85
Lesley Woolf from Finchley loved the Daniels. She said it was "soft, tasty and sweet".
● M & D GRODZINSKI
223 Golders Green Road, London NW11
0208 458 0909
Medium challah £1.60
Chana Weisz and Esther Kopstein, our team players from NW11, thought this challah was a great shape, and great value for money.
● SHARON BAKERY
106 Brent Street, London NW4
020 8203 6623
Medium challah £1.85
Liz Coleman from Finchley said this was just her sort of challah.
● BRACKMAN'S BAKERY AND COFFEE SHOP
45 Leicester Road, Salford, M7
This bakery only produces a small and large challah
Large challah £1.70
John Whiting from NW11 who is a food critic and a member of Guild of Food Writers felt that this challah was delicious but that it was let down by the cracking on its crust. However, Chana Weisz and Esther Kopstein thought it looked amazing.
● CARMELLI BAKERIES
128 Golders Green Road, London NW11
www.carmelli.co.uk, 020 8455 3063
Medium challah £1.85
Danielle Jones from N20 pointed out that this challah was irregularly shaped but loved the eggy taste and the soft and doughy texture.
● PARKWAY PATTISSERIE
326-328 Regents Park Road, Finchley, London N3
020 8346 0344
Medium challah £1.75
Mimi Lucas from Finchley felt the challah was a great consistency and fabulous flavour, and Ida De Groot from NW11 loved the topping.
● THE BAKERY
12a The Square, Hale Barns, Cheshire
Produce small and large challah £1.75. Are only open Thursday, Friday and Sunday so get your challahs quick
Large challah £1.75
Lisa Mendel from N20 felt this challah had the perfect crunchy crust with a delicious doughy centre
Results based on average scores marked from 1-10