Thursday, October 1, 2009

A Recipe for Challah: Commitment, Patience, and Faith

Monday was Yom Kippur.  I don't know much about Judaism, but from friends who are Jewish I do know that the holiday is the holiest day of the year for Jews.  It means fasting from sundown of the night before to sundown the day of the holiday.  But it is more than just fasting--it is a day of atonement, of prayer and meditation about your sins against God.  I take that to mean you think about those places in your life where you feel far from God.  I like the idea of setting aside a day to be intentional about that.  And while I did not fast, I did help prepare the meal that my roommates and I shared with neighbors in order to break the fast.  My contribution was the challah bread.  I love challah!  It is a relatively easy bread to make and it looks oh so beautiful when it comes out of the oven.  It is slightly sweet and egg-y tasting.  Whenever I make bread, I get a lot of compliments because I think it seems like a very daunting task to create homemade bread.  I think many people would love to make bread from scratch but are a bit intimidated. Or perhaps people do not have quite as much free time as I do! 

If you have never made bread, you should try it.  I love everything about it.  I love getting covered in flour, I love the physicality of the process--all that kneading, and I love way the smell of flour and yeast permeate the entire kitchen and apartment.  Really I think there are just three main requirements to making bread: commitment, patience, and faith.  The rest is just following directions!

Commitment is very important since making bread can require that you allow the dough to rest and rise two or more times.  You see, making bread is really more of an event, or a process, than regular cooking or baking.  And it must be intentional and planned--I don't usually make bread on a whim--because of the time it takes.  All along you must be patient, you simply cannot rush the rising or any other step along the way.  You must follow all the directions and wait (and wait and wait in some cases) for that dough to rise.  Most importantly though, making bread is an act of faith.  No one taught me to make bread.  I just saw lovely recipes and decided to jump head first into those accompanied by beautiful glossy photos of perfect loaves.  I simply had faith that somehow it would all work out.  Lo and behold, it usually does.  Of course there have been failures--of course there were times I killed the yeast and the dough didn't rise.  But more often than not, I have success.  It isn't always a perfect looking or tasting result, but I guess that's life! 

The recipe I used came from the Enchanted Broccoli Forest by Mollie Katzen (of the Moosewood Cookbook, I have 3 of her books, I love them!!).  I altered it slightly because I ran out of white flour, but I think I will keep the substitutions in the future because it turned out lovely.  Here are some pictures of the process and product and the recipe is below:


2 1/2 c warm/room temp water
1 package active dry yeast
1/2 c honey
4 tbsp canola oil
3 eggs (1 of those is for the crust)
1 tbsp salt
6 c unbleached white flour
2-3 c wheat flour

  • Place the water in a very large bowl (you want the water to be warm but NOT hot, you want it to feel comfortable on your skin, if it is too hot it will kill the yeast).  Sprinkle in the yeast and then use a whisk to mix in the honey, oil, 2 eggs, and salt.
  • Start adding flour one cup at a time.  I started with the white flour.  At first you can just whisk it in and eventually, around the 3rd cup, you need to start using a wooden spoon.  Keep stirring!!  As you start adding in the wheat flour, you will need to start using your hands to stir.  If after adding 2 cups of wheat flour the dough is extremely sticky you should add another cup of wheat flour....but I think it is better to err on the side of less than more flour since you will add in more as you knead the dough later on.
  • Cover the dough to let it rest.  I cover it with an oiled piece of plastic wrap and then put a dish towel on top.  Let it rest in a warm area.....since our stove top is somehow always a little warm, I put it in between the burners (make sure the burners are off though if you do that!!).  Come back in about 1 1/2 hours or when the dough is doubled in bulk.  (Hint:  if the dough is not doubled after this time, wait a while longer, remember the patience part!!  But the dough should at least look like it is starting to bulk up after around an hour and a half.  Have patience and come back every half hour until it looks like it is doubled in size.  If you are still having issues, you may have killed the could be time to start over, remember to use just warm not hot water in step one.)
  • Punch down the risen dough and take it out onto a well floured surface.  Flour your hands very well and divide the dough into 2 then knead each half for 5 minutes....if the dough gets very sticky add a little to your hands and the dough.  Divide each half into thirds as you see in my picture above and roll out into a long snake-like log.  Aim for about 1 1/2 inches in diameter and then line them up next to each other and begin to braid!  Just keep crossing the outer pieces over the middle--just like braiding hair.
  • Oil 2 baking sheets and place a finished braid on each.  Cover with some oiled plastic wrap and/or a dish towl and let it rest and rise for another hour until they bulk up again.  Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 375.
  • Beat the remaining egg in a dish and brush it over each braid once they are risen.  Bake for about 40 minutes (enjoy the wonderful smells!!).  You will know the bread is done when it sounds hollow if you tap the sides and bottom.  Take the loaves off the trays right away and put onto a cooling rack for at least 30 minutes.  Enjoy!

Last time I wrote about the cheese straws I was planning on making.  They were so fun to make and people really liked them!  I took some pictures that are below to show the process of that, I highly recommend them.  Next post, I'll share a craft or a book (or at least a recipe that is gluten free)!


  1. I am glad that you posted the recipe for challah, it was so good. I would like to attempt to make to at some point. :)

    p.s. the cheese straws were great too!

  2. The cheese straws were a complete hit at the party! So unique and tasty!

  3. yay i loooove challah! it is addicting!!

  4. i forgot to say your challah is absolutely beautiful!!
    mazeltov! =) and also... lvoe your blog... i feel like im listening to you speak!! its great!