Sunday, September 20, 2009

Cultures/Challah Bread

I guess I should be starting off this post by telling all of you that I am not actually Jewish, but sometimes I think I am. Actually, I went to a small all-girls Catholic school. Once in university, I found myself surrounded by a lot of wonderful Jewish friends, so my appreciation for the religion as well as for the classic foods grew tremendously. That, and the fact that I am from New York City where Jewish food reigns, means that for me it is comfort food, well some of it (sorry gefilte fish, I am just not ready to try you yet). This weekend while many of my friends were home for Rosh Hashanah, I decided to honor the holiday by trying my hand at Challah Bread.

I am notoriously (kinda) awful at bread making, I never knead enough or correctly, the bread always comes out as a heavy brick, and so I usually choose to accept my weakness and buy bread. Well, not anymore. Today, I realized that bread making is more or less a cinch, now that I am out of my Milanese pseudo-kitchen and have a decent counter to knead on.

I got this recipe from Smitten Kitchen written by Deb Perelman, a fellow New Yorker and food blogger extraordinaire. Deb has great, straightforward recipes that just work and always taste good. I knew that by following her instructions, I would be able to get it right. I obviously omitted the raisins she includes in her recipe because even if they are traditionally found in Challah during the holidays, I refuse to get near a raisin no matter what. And because I am making it myself, I don't have to.

I smeared apple butter that I got at a nearby orchard on a thick slice of it because it was the only "jammy" thing I had in my fridge. After a delicious bite (pictured) I realized how fitting it was because apples are a traditional part of a Rosh Hashanah meal. And then I started laughing out loud at myself for getting so excited about this, and then I realized I was alone in my apartment laughing. After which I realized that this really must be comfort food if it makes me feel good enough to giggle away when I am home alone. I highly recommend you make this bread, it's delicious, it will make your house smell like a home and it is totally freezable. If those aren't enough reasons, consider it a cultural experience; it's worth it to take the time to learn what others do to celebrate their holidays. The world would be such a better place if we could all take the time to learn about and open our hearts and minds to each other.

Challah Bread
makes 2 loaves
from Smitten Kitchen

• for braiding instructions, there are plenty of videos online to help. I used this video, the instructions are slightly different than Deb's but following the video really helped me get it right.
•remember you can make it into 3, 4 or 6 strands depending on your preference, if you use fewer than 6, look up an instructional video.

1 1/2 packages active dry yeast (1 1/2 tablespoons)
1 tablespoon plus 1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup olive or vegetable oil, plus more for greasing the bowl
5 large eggs
1 tablespoon salt
8 to 8 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup raisins per challah, if using, plumped in hot water and drained
Poppy or sesame seeds for sprinkling.


1. In a large bowl, dissolve yeast and 1 tablespoon sugar in 1 3/4 cups lukewarm water.

2. Whisk oil into yeast, then beat in 4 eggs, one at a time, with remaining sugar and salt. Gradually add flour. When dough holds together, it is ready for kneading. (You can also use a mixer with a dough hook for both mixing and kneading, but be careful if using a standard size KitchenAid–it’s a bit much for it, though it can be done.)

3. Turn dough onto a floured surface and knead until smooth. Clean out bowl and grease it, then return dough to bowl. Cover with plastic wrap, and let rise in a warm place for 1 hour, until almost doubled in size. Dough may also rise in an oven that has been warmed to 150 degrees then turned off. Punch down dough, cover and let rise again in a warm place for another half-hour.

4. At this point, you can knead the raisins into the challah, if you’re using them, before forming the loaves. To make a 6-braid challah, either straight or circular, take half the dough and form it into 6 balls. With your hands, roll each ball into a strand about 12 inches long and 1 1/2 inches wide. Place the 6 in a row, parallel to one another. Pinch the tops of the strands together. Move the outside right strand over 2 strands. Then take the second strand from the left and move it to the far right. Take the outside left strand and move it over 2. Move second strand from the right over to the far left. Start over with the outside right strand. Continue this until all strands are braided. For a straight loaf, tuck ends underneath. For a circular loaf, twist into a circle, pinching ends together. Make a second loaf the same way. Place braided loaves on a greased cookie sheet with at least 2 inches in between.

5. Beat remaining egg and brush it on loaves. Either freeze breads or let rise another hour.

6. If baking immediately, preheat oven to 375 degrees and brush loaves again. Sprinkle bread with seeds, if using. If freezing, remove from freezer 5 hours before baking.

7. Bake in middle of oven for 30 to 40 minutes, or until golden. (If you have an instant read thermometer, you can take it out when it hits an internal temperature of 190 degrees.) Cool loaves on a rack.


Jason M said...

Come on you know you're really a little Jewish! This blog looks amazing, super duper impressed!