Challah With “Amman’s Eye”

As a French girl speaking about food, I have no other choice than to start with Proust’s Madeleine. Sense memory is one of the most potent ways to keep the past alive within us so it can surface at times when it’s least expected. Nothing’s more transient than the food we consume, and yet nothing is more enduring than the way it shapes our experience of the world. Each of us has a unique relationship with food. As members of ethnic groups, we also have a collective relationship to culinary traditions. However different these traditions are, growing up as a Jew is inevitably linked with enjoying — or sometimes loathing — this or that specific food item.

Culinary traditions are not merely a matter of taste or of local influence; they often carry a symbolic meaning linked with the liturgical calendar or with our life cycle. It’s well known that round-shaped foods, such as olives, eggs, and lentils, evoke the cyclical nature of life, death, and eternity. To remind ourselves of this cycling, we often consume circular food in a mourning context.

But being in the month of Adar, harbinger of joy, let’s concentrate on merry foods. Esther’s fast itself is but one episode in the process of salvation, and the Book of Esther is ripe with banquets from the doomed banquet where Vashti is repudiated, to the joyful mishteh (Purim banquet), prescribed to the Jews in memory of their deliverance from the evil designs of Haman.

In my Moroccan family, for the mishteh, we traditionally eat Buyoss (round challah) with a hard boiled egg (shell still on!) embedded inside. The custom at the table is to break the shell of the egg with a fork which, as my grandmother says, is like killing Haman ourselves by plucking his eyes… going after enemies who want you dead is not always a peaceful process!

In our common heritage, a few times a year, sedarim (other banquets, such as Pessah, Roch Hachana) teach us the symbolic meaning of food: the head of the fish at Roch Hachana (“may we always be at the head and never at the tail!”) or bitter herbs at Pessah (to remind us of the bitterness of slavery times). However, ethnic Jewish traditions can be even richer in meaning than that: my grandmother taught me that when preparing cakes for a wedding, bar mitzvah or another simha (joyful ceremony), you always start with a specific kind of cake, the masspan. You start baking on a Monday or a Thursday, at the time when the Torah’s being read.

Other symbols are less obvious, like the custom of putting the Mimuna (Moroccan celebration at the end of Pessah) table ful (fèves, small edible treats) together with flour and oil as symbols of fertility and prosperity. Ashkenazi traditions are also rich in meaning. For instance, my youngest brother was given a homemade chocolate Hebrew alphabet to eat when he had his first haircut at the age of three so he could have a good and sweet relationship with the Hebrew language throughout his life.

Food is a language that the heart and the senses continue to speak even once the observance or meaning has evaporated. It remains a strong link to our past, anchors us a individuals, and reminds us that we are but one part of the Jewish people.

Recipe: Boyoja Ungola Di-Purim Moroccan Purim Challah

Makes 3-4 challahs

From The Times of Israel, adapted from The Essential Book of Jewish Festival Cooking by Phyllis and Miriyam Glazer (Harper Collins)


  • 8 cups unbleached all-purpose flour (or bread flour), plus extra for kneading
  • 2 tablespoons dry yeast
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 tablespoon sesame seeds
  • 1 tablespoon anise seeds (or fennel seeds)
  • 1 cup whole almonds, coarsely chopped (optional)
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 3 eggs
  • 1/2 cup vegetable or canola oil
  • 2 1/4 cups warm water
  • 6-8 hard-boiled eggs
  • 1 egg yolk, beaten with 1 teaspoon water, for brushing
  • 1/2 cup blanched whole or sliced almonds for garnish


  1. Put the flour in the wide bowl of an electric mixer. Use the dough hook to mix in the yeast, sugar, sesame seeds, anise seeds and chopped almonds; then add the salt.
  2. In a separate bowl, whisk eggs, oil and warm water. Make a well in the center of the dough and blend in the egg mixture. Knead with the dough hook until a soft dough is formed.
  3. Remove the dough from the mixer, and transfer to a lightly floured work surface. Knead a few more minutes, adding additional flour if necessary, until dough is elastic. Divide into 3-4 balls, cover each with a warm cloth and let rise one hour or until doubled. Punch down and let rest five minutes.
  4. Preheat the oven to 200º C (400º F). Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or lightly grease them. Knead the first ball of dough briefly, and remove a small amount of dough to make strips that will hold down the hard-boiled eggs.
  5. Form the ball into a round flattened disk, and use a knife to cut crosswise shallow slits on the top in a grid. Place two hardboiled eggs in the center of each bread, and fasten them down individually with crosswise strips of dough. Repeat the process with the remaining balls of dough and eggs.
  6. Make deep slits around the edge of each disk, giving it a sun-like appearance. Brush with the egg yolk and water mixture. Stick a few blanched almonds in around the eggs, and bake in a hot oven for 30 minutes, until golden brown.

Challah With “Amman’s Eye”
Lea Grauz
Lea Grauz

Lea Grauz is a French Moroccan Queen living in San Francisco. You can find her cooking a meal for 30 or partying til late hours. Her love of Judaism and her familial traditions pours through her every moment.

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