Sunday, 25 April 2010

Grandma's Challah

I've spent on and off nearly the past five years trying to extract, put down in written form, and make all of the foods from my Grandma Helma's cooking repertoire- ranging from all of her delicious soups she used to make us come winter time (cabbage soup saw me through many a nasty Cleveland winter), to her desserts, and perhaps most importantly her traditional holiday food.

Being brought up in a family that acknowledged and celebrated our Jewish heritage, food always took center stage at any holiday or celebratory function. Great Grandpa Joe infamously made his horseradish for Passover Sedar, Grandma Bess's 'ugly cookies' made their rounds at Chanukah, it became a family affair for us to make Kreplach in early September for the high holidays, and my Grandmother turned out beautiful Challahs for Shabbat.

Though many of these recipes require quite an undertaking, I decided to begin this blog by taking on Grandma's Challah bread (or as my mother-in-law calls it 'egg bread'), something she is so proud of that she at nearly 90 years of age is continually asked by her temple's congregation to make them for regular events. At this point she could most likely make these beautiful looking breads in her sleep.

Challah is a traditional Jewish bread eaten at the beginning of Shabbat (Friday after sundown) and again at the end of Shabbat (normally with the meal at lunchtime on Saturday, after temple). You'll find that most recipes for Challah call for you to make two- as the need for two whole loaves within a very short period of time is necessary.

Challah can normally be recognised by its braided shape, its delicious and rich eggy taste, and the golden and shiny egg wash and sesame or poppy seed glaze. It is a food so steeped in the Jewish religion and culture that there is a blessing which is performed over the bread during Shabbat, or any time the bread is eaten as a celebration of a holiday (my grandmother made one, blessed by my grandfather for my Bat Mitzvah- my 'coming of age' in the eyes of the Jewish people).

Needless to say neither I nor my husband said anything thing resembling a blessing over these breads, but rather dove right in, excited to see if the taste was familiar. It was. Though not as beautiful as my grandmother makes them (although she has much more experience than I do) they reminded me of so many Shabbat meals when I was young, wanting to dip my slice into the grape juice I had been poured instead of wine, or slather it with honey. I did change my grandmothers recipe a touch (sorry Grandma) by adding 1/3 cup honey to the dough, giving it just a hint of sweetness. In retrospect I think I would let the dough prove for longer before braiding it, adding more depth to the braids then I got, but that's for next time round! Here's my grandma's recipe as it stands:

Braided Challah
Yeast Bread- makes 2 loaves

** Grandma says: Beautiful to look at, quick and easy to make. The ten minutes of kneading this bread is essential to it’s success, but my newly purchased Kitchen Aid Mixer has shortened the “by hand” time to five minutes.**


5 ¼ to 5 ¾ cups all purpose flour
2 tbsp sugar
2 packages rapid-rise yeast
1 ½ tsp salt
1 cup water
4 large eggs (separate one egg and reserve yolk to brush on top of bread)
1 tbsp butter
poppy seeds or sesame seeds
*1/3 cup honey

Baking Directions

1. In a large mixer bowl combine 2 cups flour, sugar, un-dissolved yeast and salt.
2. Heat water and butter combined until very warm and stir into the dry ingredients. Beat two minutes at medium speed.
3. Add the 3 whole eggs and 1 egg white to the mixture and beat at high speed for two minutes, scrapping side occasionally. *This is where I added 1/3 cup honey*
4. Reserve 1 cup of flour and set aside. Stir in enough of the remaining to flour to make a soft dough. Then knead on a lightly floured surface for 10 minutes until smooth and elastic.
5. Cover with a large bowl and let rest for 10 minutes.
6. Divide dough in half, set aside one half.
7. Divide remaining half into 2 pieces- one about 2/3 of the dough and the other 1/3.
8. Divide the large piece into 3 equal pieces and roll each to 12” length rope. Divide the remaining piece (1/3 dough) into 3 equal pieces and roll each into 10” rope.
9. Braid the 3 larger ropes and place on a greased cookie sheet. Repeat with 3 smaller ropes, placing the small ropes on top of the larger. Pinch ends firmly and tuck under to seal and secure to larger braid.
10. Repeat procedure with the second half of the dough to make a second loaf.
11. Cover with a piece of plastic wrap and then a towel. Keep in a warm place away from drafts and allow to rise until it doubles in bulk (approx. 45 minutes).
12 Beat reserved yolk with 1 tsp water, brush on loaves and sprinkle with seeds.
13. Bake 400F/200C 20 minutes or until done, switching positions of cookie sheets in oven half way through baking time.
14. Remove from sheets and cool on wire rack.

Sunday, 18 April 2010

If everyone else jumped off a bridge...

So I'm not starting a food blog because everyone else is doing it (even though they are) I am starting one because of the following;

1. How much time I spend reading other peoples (mostly about food)
2. Because I have been trying for years to get my thoughts and my family's food background down on paper in a public readable form
3. Because I have a wonderful husband who has not only offered to eat my creations, but also to photograph them nicely.
4. Because in my new job/career I am constantly inspired to come home and cook and
5. Because I can, and I have proof of that by the fact that everyone else is doing it.

I am an American woman finishing off the end of her 20's- Jewish by heritage, food preferences and occasional behavior- with a love of New Mexico where I spent some time growing into myself and my tastebuds- married to a British man and soon to be entering my fourth year of living abroad in London.

I love to cook, to eat, to experiment in the kitchen, to read five different recipes on how to make the exact same dish and then do my own thing, to feed people, to read about the history of food and people and when and why people started eating what they did.

I also love lists.