The Comfort of Challah

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It dawned on me when my husband photographed my freshly-baked challah yesterday that I’d never actually posted my recipe for it or for the challah French toast we had for brunch this morning.

I baked my first loaf of challah – my first loaf of any bread requiring yeast – the day we first started bombing Iraq in 1991.  Ever since, I’ve found the act of baking and the aroma emanating from the oven incredibly comforting during times of national duress.  These days, I’m baking lots of bread.

My two nanas and my bubbie (great grandmother) were all bakers extraordinare, working without recipes, simply by feel and tradition.  I remember watching them work their challah dough by dropping the egg into a volcano of flour and working the flour gently into  the egg to incorporate it into dough.  Theirs being a kosher challah to serve with Shabbat supper, the additional ingredients were water and oil.  My favorite recipe is not kosher, unless you’re serving it with a dairy-based meal, as it’s the Silver Palate recipe using milk and butter.  I’ve done other challahs with water and oil and just don’t like them nearly as much.

The braiding technique is a trick I learned from one of my Jewish cookbooks.  A three-braid loaf is boring, so I simulate a more complex braiding technique by dividing the dough as if I were making two loaves, one much larger than the other.  Braiding both with three strand of dough, I then lay the smaller one atop the larger, then brush with egg wash and sprinkle with poppy seeds before baking.  The result is, as you see, one very large and impressive loaf.

SILVER PALATE CHALLAH RECIPE – ADAPTED

INGREDIENTS:

2 cups milk

8 tbsp butter (divided 6 tbsp for challah, 2 tbsp for buttering the dough bowl)

1/3 cup sugar

14 grams yeast (2 packets)

4 large eggs (3 lightly beaten, one reserved for egg wash)

2 tsp salt

6 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

1/2 cup cornmeal

1 tbsp cold water

poppy seeds

PREPARATION:

Heat the milk, 6 tbsp butter and the sugar in medium saucepan until butter and sugar are melted.  Pour into large mixing bowl of a stand mixer and cool to lukewarm (105-115º).  Stir yeast into the mixture and let stand 10 minutes.  Beat 3 of the eggs and stir them and the salt into the mil/yeast mixture.  Stir in 5 cups of flour, 1 cup at a time, and then use mixer’s dough hook to knead for about 10 minutes on medium-low speed.  Add additional flour until you achieve a sticky dough.

Schmeer another large bowl with remaining 2 tbsp butter and turn the dough out into it, turning to coat it lightly with the butter.  Cover with a cotton towel or napkin and let rise until tripled in bulk, about 1-1/2 hours.

Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface (wooden bread board if you have one) and divide into two pieces, one 2x the size of the other.  Divide each piece into three and roll the pieces into long snakes about 18-20″ long.  Braid the three pieces from the larger dough portion into a loaf, tucking the ends under.  Repeat with the smaller pieces and lay that loaf atop the larger one.  Sprinkle  your baking sheet with cornmeal and lay the loaf on top.  Cover with a cotton towel and let rise for an hour.  Meanwhile, preheat oven to 350.

Beat the last egg with 1 tbsp water and brush the egg wash evenly over the loaf.  Sprinkle with poppy seeds.  Bake on center rack of oven 35 minutes, until golden brown and hollow-sounding when thumped.

Let cool on a rack, resisting the temptation to cut a slice right away.  Enjoy any way you like, and make sure to save some for this……..

CHALLAH FRENCH TOAST

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