After several months of posting pictures of my weekly challah creations on the Facebookz, I decided it was time to expand my horizons on the interwebs. Also, if we’re really doing it up true confessions style, I’ll be honest that it seemed a heck of a lot easier to throw requested recipes up on a website than to leave them in a Facebook comment. Plus, I’m hoping to get famous. You know, like JLo. Or Milli Vanilli. And I’m relatively positive that a blog about challah is the way to achieve that goal.
So, here we are. At my new internet home. Where I will delight you with my sense of humor, my baking skillz, and perhaps even some Jewish learning (GASP!). Let’s not waste time, kids: onto the challah.
In honor of the secular new year, I decided to get all crazy-like this week and make a butternut squash challah with caramelized onions and fontina. This challah was largely inspired by the fabulous galette from Smitten Kitchen that has made so many tummies happy on so many Shabbes evenings in my apartment. Why not make the whole flavor concept into a loaf of bread!? As my mother pointed out, this was like a whole meal in a challah!
Are you having a panic attack just thinking about making such a thing? Deep breaths, my pretty. I felt the same way two months ago. Instead of diving into the deep end, let’s dip our toes in the kiddy pool, eh?
Since you’re all “Oh my gosh. I could never. I NEED A COCKTAIL. My yeast will never activate. My bread will be like a sinking Titanic. I NEED A COCKTAIL,” (am I projecting here?) I’m going to attempt to allay some of your fears by sharing some of my basic bread-baking wisdom. Because I get you, tender birds. That whole “DISASTER! DISASTER!” feeling is how I felt for the longest time. And then I poured myself a cocktail and took a chance. And challah and I have been happily united ever since. So, put on your grown up pants, pour yourself an adult beverage (or, um, some sparkling cider), and LISTEN UP (I’m bossy)!
From my first Facebook note about challah baking:
“First things first, if you’re thinking, “But I just liked a pretty picture, I could NEVER bake challah,” I hear and validate your fears. However! I’m here to tell you it can be done. I spent 28 years being scared of challah – which is approximately 28 years too long. Don’t be afraid. Just make sure your dry active yeast isn’t dead and therefore won’t bubble (ahem), and then you’re golden. Also, I like to let my yeasties roll around for at least 15-20 minutes to get a good foam going.
So, I’m a novice of novices (we’re on
week #2week 8 of this challah-baking kick) – though I am a frequent cook, as you probably know if you’re reading this note – BUT! I will say this . . . the key to good challah? Making your dough the night before and letting it rise in the fridge overnight! Seriously, y’all. It’s worth having to clean flour off your counter twice. Also, it cuts the time of this project in like . . . major more than half. You whip up your dough, you throw it in the fridge, you get 8 hours of sleep (read: 3 hours of sleep, 5 hours working on your thesis), you wake up and knead/braid, and then you throw it in the oven and go back to thesisthesisthesis (or whatever you real, non-student types do). AGAIN: DOUGH. IN. FRIDGE. RISING. OVER. NIGHT. [EDITOR’S NOTE: If you’re not making it the night before, while you’re doing the first rise, turn your oven on to 100 and then turn it off and put the bowl inside – warm, dark places help with rising.] If you want to do a 6-strand braid (and you should . . . they’re beautiful), here’s the most straight forward link to how to do it. I recommend watching it once before you braid and then watching it AS you braid. By the second time you do this, you won’t need the video. Now, recipes . . .”
Let’s add some other thoughts to this:
1.) You do not need a bread machine or a stand mixer (are those the same thing? sometimes I’m dumb . . . ) to make challah. In fact, if you use one, I’ll probably judge you. That Big Dude in the Sky gave you two hands. USE THEM. Plus, by telling you to knead with your hands, I’m actually saving you a ton of money. That fancy kick boxing class you’ve been taking? Yeah, you can quit. Just spend a good 20 minutes punching dough each week and your biceps will be strapless-dress-ready in no time. Or, um, whatever dudes wear.
2.) Be fearless! Just repeat, “This will work because I am awesome.” I would say this is actually really good life advice in any situation. If you can’t beat ’em, fool ’em (so rabbinic, I know – I’m sure Rashi said this somewhere).
3.) For the mess-averse amongst us, this can be a three bowl or two-bowl-and-one-measuring-cup shabang. Use one big bowl as your base. Have another medium size bowl in which to activate your yeast in liquid. Have measuring cup to measure your oil or a third microwave-safe bowl in which to melt your butter.
4.) If this is going to be, like, a thing for you – this challah baking, always keep at least a dozen eggs in your fridge, several honey varietals, and a massive bag of flour or two in your kitchen.
5.) For the Tribe Members amongst you, remember that this is a sacred responsibility. Baking challah can be a truly spiritual activity. There is a teaching that you can bake challah in someone’s merit – so you could say tehillim (read: psalms) for someone in your life who is sick as you bake your challah. Or you could just reflect on the week gone by. Or you could listen to Shabbes (read: Day of Rest) music and meditate. Or you could get rowdy and pour yourself a large cocktail (what, that’s not a spiritual experience?!). Just a thought . . .
So, now that we all feel better, I’m going to post a recipe.
Ready . . . set . . . BAKE!