Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Challah on Wednesday

Challah is the traditional Jewish Sabbath bread eaten with the Friday evening meal. Back in 1973, when we lived down the street from an excellent Jewish bakery, we started buying challah every week. Mr Neff passed for Jewish (little did he know, back then, that he wasn't just passing) until one Friday afternoon when our neighbor Arthur J. Balderman saw him across the bakery and hollered, "Happy Sabbath, Reverend!"

To do it right, you need two loaves and a challah cover and candles and prayers in Hebrew. Gefilte fish is nice too. We never did it right. We just enjoyed the bread along with cheese and fruit and grape juice. It became our Friday night tradition. So in 1975, when we moved far from our bakery, I had to learn to bake challah.

Here are the proportions I use. You can do this by hand, in a food processor, or in a big old mixing machine. You can even mix it in a bread machine, but you'll have to shape the dough by hand.

For one big loaf
3.5 C (=1 lb) bread (or all-purpose) flour
4 tsp sugar
1 tsp salt
1.5 tsp yeast
1/4 C butter or vegetable oil [Note: If you will serve your challah at a meal where meat will be eaten, do not use butter. At least not if you want to be Jewish.]
2 eggs plus most of the 3rd egg--leave out about half the yolk for glazing
3/4 C hot tap water

Etc., etc. Mix, knead, let rise, shape, let rise, bake at 400 for about 25 minutes or at 350 for about 45 minutes or whatever.

To shape the loaf, divide dough into three balls and roll out into three long strands. Starting at the middle, braid out to each end. Tuck ends under and seal. Just before baking, lightly brush top with the reserved egg yolk which has been diluted with about a teaspoon of cold water. If you like, sprinkle with sesame or poppy seeds.

Alternately, divide the dough in half. One "half" is always larger than the other, right? Don't try to fix it. Take the larger portion, divide in three, and braid as above, except don't seal the ends. Then take the smaller portion, divide in three, braid, and plop the braid on top of the larger braid. Seal all the ends together. This produces a beautiful loaf (see the picture for how it should look), unless the top braid slides to one side, in which case it still tastes good.

You can make two loaves from this recipe, but they'll be pretty small. If you do that, shorten the cooking time by 5 or 10 minutes. Or you can increase the proportions. Try 5 C flour, 2 T sugar, 1.5 t salt, 1 pkg (2.5 t) yeast, 1/3 C oil, 1 C hot water, 4 eggs.

Tonight we attended the last Lenten Loaf and Ladle supper at St Barnabas. I brought challah--inappropriate for Wednesday, but everyone liked it--and whole wheat bread. Matt Rodman brought apple and brie soup, the Swansons contributed cream of tomato--an old family recipe that has nothing whatsoever in common with Campbell's--and the Pelches brought Italian wedding soup. Mr Neff, who tried all three, reports that all were excellent.


Matt Rodman said...

Glad you posted the recipe!!

I'll send you the apple-brie soup recipe!

cas said...

And perhaps let her post it ...?

Glenn said...

Ah yes, challah is one of my favorite Friday night traditions, too. Haven't had it for awhile, since our clan tradition has become collapsing at a local restaurant after a too-long workday every Friday, at a place where my sister can find food without wheat, corn, sugar, and all the other stuff that makes her sick. Thanks for the wonderful memory!