Making Challah with Jaala
When Knitcircus editor Jaala Spiro was here recently for the magazine’s blog tour, she mentioned that she’d been a professional baker in an earlier phase of her life. My ears perked up at that, and I simply had to invite her to come back on a Friday, with a recipe. Being a woman who understands the potent allure of bread, she didn’t hesitate, and suggested that we bake her mom’s recipe for challah.
I’d never made challah. How could I resist? Well, I really couldn’t resist when I got my hands on the recipe. It’s one of those recipes that makes its goodness obvious with just a reading, before you even pick up a whisk. In a word: butter. Lots of it.
Here’s what Jaala had to say about the recipe:
“As a kid, it was a banner day when we’d walk in from school and smell the Challah in the air. She’d slice it and steam would rise from the soft, flaky bread, and my brother and I would wolf down fat slices with strawberry jam. Not Jewish by birth, but always an amazing baker, she always made this Challah recipe — I’m guessing she received it from a friend, but not quite sure.
Now she — and I — make it for our family, and my mom, the kids and I can eat pretty much an entire loaf when they get home from school. Luckily, the recipe makes three loaves, so there’s still plenty left to share at dinner.”
Wolfing is about the most restrained you can be with this bread.
Jaala sent me the recipe and we both set to work. Here’s what you need (there’s yeast mixed with warm milk in the big bowl in front) :
After mixing up the dough (which is easily accomplished with a bread whisk), you have to knead it. It looks like this before you wear out your arms:
And this afterwards:
Jaala says that her mom kneads it for 15 minutes. That’s a lot longer than it sounds, when you’re kneading. I did it for 13 and declared that to be enough, since Jaala’s mom couldn’t see me all the way from Wisconsin and raise objections. I actually like kneading — it’s like working with clay — but, ahem, my kneading muscles could be in better shape. Should I be making bread more often? Or would all the inevitable eating of bread be counterproductive? All that is certain is that I clearly do not make bread as often as Jaala’s mom does. Regardless of my two minute deficiency, I thought that the dough looked very pretty when I got done with it.
After the rising and the punching down (my favorite part!), you shape it. Again, reminiscent of clay, which is always a good thing. This recipe makes three big loaves, so you cut the dough into nine pieces.
That’s because you’re going to braid it. Now, I often wear my hair in a braid. One long braid, straight down my back. I have no trouble plaiting my own hair, and I can get it nice and even without looking. But braiding dough that’s right in front of me? Uh uh. I have to be reaching behind my head to do it properly. I had to think about it, and do each one over after messing it up several times. There should be some special bread board that fits on your back, so that…oh, never mind.
According to the recipe, you can bake this bread either in pans, or more freeform, on a cookie sheet. I opted for the cookie sheet version. Otherwise I would have had to look for my bread pans, and that was too much work. Jaala did hers in pans. I am very impressed that she knew where her pans were. Isn’t her bread pretty?
Mine wasn’t too shabby either, I have to say, despite the rather ridiculous scene with the braiding.
Between the two of us, we covered all the bases. Jaala used poppy seeds (being out of sesame, she told me, which was the preferred seed at her house). I used sesame, because I had them on hand, and I left one loaf plain because the M.E. is not a big fan of any sort of seeds.
Need I tell you it was delicious? We devoured as much as we could reasonably get away with that night, put one loaf in the freezer, and delivered the third to my mom, who behaved just like we did with it. There’s a nubbin left, and I’m thinking French toast this weekend.
Want to make some, after all these photos that are probably making you drool on your keyboard? Here’s the recipe, with huge gratitude to Jaala and her mom, for sharing it with me…and with you.
3 pkgs yeast (each package is 2.25 T)
2 C warm milk
4 t salt
1/2 C honey
1 C shortening (I use butter), melted
3 eggs (plus one for the top)
8-9 C all-purpose flour
Melt shortening and allow to cool a bit. Dissolve yeast in milk and allow to rest for 5 minutes.
Add salt, honey, shortening; blend in 3 eggs and 4C flour. Slowly add rest of flour (4-5C) Stir. Knead well (my mom usually does it for 15 minutes). Place in greased bowl; cover and let rise for 1 hour or until double. Punch down.
Divide dough into thirds, and each third into 3 parts. Roll into strips; braid (makes three loaves). Put on greased cookie sheet or in bread pans. Let rise 1/2 hour. Brush tops with beaten egg and top with sesame seeds (Jaala’s note: if your kids won’t eat sesame seeds, leave one plain).
Bake 45 minutes at 325 degrees.
Thank you, Jaala, for visiting again with your wonderful recipe! I can’t wait for our next adventure. Oh yes, there will be another one…
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