"Geflachtene Challah": Braided (?) Challah
One of the things I've been wanting to do for a long time is find some old Yiddish recipes and translate them into English and, if possible, work off of them. Luckily for all of us, YIVO has a digitized collection of cookbooks that anyone can browse and download from. (Unluckily for me, I don't know Yiddish, or even German...) The recipe below is screen-shotted from "Das Familien Koch-Boch", whose cover title in English is, incongruously, "Jewish Cookbook". The book is written by H. Braun and published in 1928 in New York.
Below, you'll see the recipe for "geflachtene challah", which based on my terrible knowledge of German, Google Translate's pretty rough understanding of Yiddish, and my pretty good skills as a linguist, I've translated as "braided challah". (Find the root "flacht" which is quite similar to our modern English "plait", and you'll see how I arrived there, despite Google Translate suggesting "sewn" as the translation for the Yiddish, which of course is not dissimilar semantically from braids or other manipulations of strings and fabrics, in any case. Alternatively it could also be stranded challah, as I'll explain later.) Or perhaps, this is just a projecting of a modern understanding of how this bread should be shaped. In his Encyclopedia of Jewish Food, Gil Marks points out that a glossy braided challah is a bit of an American thing; in other times and places, a challah could be any bread, so long as it is consumed on the eve of the Sabbath. (If you get your hands on it, pp 96-100.) In any case, for all you Yiddish readers out there, here is the recipe:
Here is the Google-Translated version:
Like most things that have been Google-Translated, this makes no sense. So it's going to take a little more ingenuity to get a usable version of this recipe. First, I replaced every mention of "challah" (a word you'd think Google should know, but apparently they don't ... ) with "broyt", basically the only word in Yiddish I know that works in the context, and conveniently one that means "bread". I'll also add here that there are many dialects of Yiddish, primarily divided into Eastern and Western, but I don't know enough about the language to tell you which dialect the author of this book spoke (or, if by the time of writing, it had become a new, American dialect, which is entirely possible).
Rough transliteration, first (pardon any weird typos, it is very strange to move between typing in Hebrew/Yiddish, English, and then English transliteration of Yiddish):
geflachtene chalah vert gemacht grede ezoi vey andere chalah. aver anshtet areynzolegen ayn shtik ein a pan, flacht man es oys.
oyv men vil das nar benotzen zo milchigen, dan aiz gut men zal anshmiren yedes flachtel mit poter. van dei chalah iz oysgeflachten, oyv men vil es zal nachher glanzen, kan man das avshmiren mit a gut tzushlagenes gelchel pon an ayy.
manche menshen vas vilen nit keyn ayyer, kenen machen a glantz oyf der chalah mit abshmiren bloytz mit avisel heises vaser.
And a translation:
A braided (0) challah is made the same way as other challahs. (1) But instead of putting (2) one piece in a pan, one braids it out. (?)
If you want it dairy (3), then it is good if one shmears (4) each strand (5) with butter. When the challah is risen/braided (6), if you wish it should be radiant afterwards (7) (it should afterwards shine), you can shmear with a well-percussed (8 / shlag = beat, percussion) yolk of an egg (9 / middle english y/g merger and re-distinction).
Anyone [husbands? men? boys?] who doesn't want eggs can make a glaze for their challah with only a shmear with a little bit (10) of hot water.
What's interesting about this recipe is that it's very much about the shape and the appearance of the challah; there is nothing about the actual content of the bread, from which we can assume of course that the woman (and it was surely a woman) reading the book will already know how to make challah, have her preferred recipe, etc. We might also assume that a braided, glossy challah — the kind we are so used to seeing today — was, if not entirely new, at least exciting and interesting and mysterious (or challenging) enough to bother explaining how it was done.
I want to point out a few things about this recipe and the translation that are particularly interesting to me, as noted above:
(0) As I've mentioned, I am drawn to translate this as "braided", because this is how we think of challahs today. And, etymologically, it is at least superficially related to "plait (v)" or "plat (v)", "to fold, braid, or weave", which does mesh with the idea of sewing. However, based on a later context, noted in (5), it seemed that "geflachtene" has a sub-part "flacht", which one should coat in butter, which leads me to believe that in fact it is "stranded", rather than "braided". This tells us little about the shape (are they braided, twisted, laid in side-by-side?), but some about the general aesthetic of the bread. It could also be something along the line of "flay"; as the end of the paragraph would make good sense with this reading.
(Meta-translation note: it's useful to note at this point that Yiddish has so many word senses that we just can't capture with English. I actually like to think of this as "flayed", because it's a little violent and but also distinctly accurate for what we are doing when were are cutting, shaping, braiding, twisting breads like this. The are flayed, most importantly; without this they cannot be braided.)
(1) As I mentioned above, "challah" seemed to be deleterious to my translation efforts so I switched it for "broyt", which helped somewhat.
(2) I couldn't figure out a very useful translation of "areynzolegen", so settled on the catch-all "put", since that is what one does with a piece of dough to enter a pan. The Google Translate machine incessantly suggested variations of "accessible", "enter", and the like, which is too agentive (in my opinion) for an English reading. A cook doesn't really enter dough into a pan; the dimensions are wrong. Instead the dough is just put there, or perhaps laid. In the end of the sentence (at the (?) in the translation), we see why I want to translate "flacht" as "flay"; see flay and fleck for reasonable etymological arguments on both counts. It helps the reading quite a bit: "Instead of putting one piece in a pan, you flay it out."
(3) "Benotzen" I couldn't figure out at all; there was no variation or component of the word that Google Translate knew. Of course, skipping words is bad because they are there for a reason and will contribute to our understanding of the text, but refusing to be beaten, I am ignoring it for now. Besides, "If you want it to be dairy" is a perfectly reasonable sentence. Normally (now, anyway), a challah wouldn't be dairy since Friday night is typically a meat meal. So this is a noteworthy modification.
(4) I had to comment on all of the inflections of "schmear" that appear in this recipe. Google Translate didn't seem to know any of them, but it's one of the Yiddish words that has moved into the American English mainstream, so we hardly need the computer to give us a sense of what word is intended here. It's probably not "schmear" so much in the way we think of it, more like "spread" or "brush" or "wipe", but regardless, the concept of "covering" still applies.
(5) Here we see the first nominal (and relatively un-inflected) use of "flecht", and the reason that led me to suggest the translation of "strand". "Flecht" is unlikely to mean "braid" if we are told to coat each "braid" in butter, since a braid is one larger piece made up of smaller units; "flecht" here is clearly the smaller unit, and therefore I think best-translated as "strand".
(6) I want very much this to mean risen, but given that we already have a reasonable translation for what "flacht" means, it is far more likely that this is inflection (oysgeflachten) for the completion of the braiding (or flaying, or strand-ing, or or or ... ). So, once we have coated all of our strands in butter for a dairy meal, we can proceed.
(7) GT doesn't think that "nachher" means anything, but it does think that "nach" means "after"; I would posit that this compound (if that's what it is, and I suspect so based on context) ought to be translated as "afterwards". Google Translate also had trouble with "glantzen", but had an answer for "glantze", which was "radiant". If you would like to see a picture of a radiant challah, I have one, but I'll also here take the GT suggestion of "shine" since it makes a little more sense to our obstinate English ears. Thus, "if you want it to shine afterwards" ...
(8) I originally had a lot of trouble with tzushlagenes, probably mostly because I don't speak enough German and was having trouble finding the root. But once I figured out which the inflections were and reduced it down to "schlag" (which Google Translate miraculously translated as "beat" or "percussion"), and once I figured out the next few words (which are their own story and I could never have figured out tzushlagenes without them), this clearly became "well-beaten".
(9) Google Translate does not like this dialect of Yiddish, primarily because it has no idea what the end of this sentence means. I was fortunate to attend a historic cookbook workshop, in which I read a Middle English cookbook The Form of Curye, in which I discovered (well, I didn't DISCOVER it) a curious character, often rendered "ȝ". I noticed this appeared near discussions of an egg, and then in what I realized was the plural "aȝren"; so I gave it the sound of a modified "g". Then I noticed it in "ȝolke", which embarrassingly-belatedly I realized was "yolk". This was curious, because it signified that there was a sound related to both modern "g" and "y" which has since differentiated into either/or. Anyway, the Middle English led to me to realization that this Yiddish ayy was in fact egg, and gelchel was yolk; it makes perfect sense if we start at yolk: we know that Yiddish "book" is "buch", so the k in yolk => yolch. We also know there is a relationship between ȝ and y and g, and here we are seeing a g. We also have to remember that Yiddish is functionally very close to Old High German, so easily could be similar to Middle English pronunciations of g/y/ȝ; so where we see a g in an old home word in Yiddish we can easily try switching it for an English y. Thus, gelch => yolk. Of course, once I knew we were dealing with egg yolks, and knowing as one does that a beaten egg yolk atop an unbaked bread will indeed lead to a radiant shine, it was clear that we must schmear our flayed bread with the well-percussed yolk of an egg.
(10) This last sentence was difficult; the best translations I could come up with for the first two words had some relation to men, or people generally, but I couldn't find a reliable translation for any version of them except possible for man or husband. Here also we need to remember about ayy (egg) and see that the plural could easily be ayyer (ayren), and know also that hot water (a little bit? we're unclear) will create a similar, if less radiant glaze.
So, there you have it. A method for creating a glossy, flayed challah; nothing at all like the recipes we have today, and very interesting as a cultural and historical artifact. However, if you already know how to make challah, and have a husband who doesn't want eggs, know that you can make it shine with just a little bit of hot water.