Saturday, October 3, 2009

Challah For Good -- My Wizard's Recipe

If you know me, you know I am a total fan of the musical Wicked.   It really touches me on many levels.  In it, there's a song called "For Good," which totally gets me every time.  The heroines face each other for what could be their last time and admit that are blessed to have known each other: "I've heard it said that people come into our lives for a reason, bringing something we must learn..."   I, too, have been blessed to meet people who have shared with me, taught me, and left their "handprint on my heart" (and sometimes my stomach, too!).  Bibi was one of those ladies.  She was kind, loving, funny, generous... she knew how important it was to express your creative side.  She was a fabulous painter.  And she made awesome challah!

Challah is a traditional egg bread consumed during most Jewish holidays.  It's eaten weekly for Shabbat, baked in a beautiful braid; for the New Year, we make them in a round shape.  As a breadaholic, I have always had weak knees where challah and its sweet doughyness are concerned, and always dreamed of baking them from scratch for Shabbos.

In Search of the Holy Grain
I have tried several challah recipes over the years, but none touched the majesty of what I recalled from my childhood.  Some challahs were overly yellow inside--that just doesn't look/seem natural.  Some were too fluffy and airy or dry instead of being  moist, chewy and dense.  While a few recipes came close to nirvana, all failed in one way or another.

Then, one day, I was sitting at my aunt's house for dinner.  Challah was passed around the table...  I took a bite... and was in heaven!  "Where did you get this?!" I asked.  (Ok, demanded.)   My aunt pointed to her long-time friend and fellow guest, Bibi.  Like I said, Bibi was a very generous woman, so it didn't take much pleading and begging to get a copy of her recipe for scrumptious challah!

Unfortunately, Bibi has since left this world--and way too early, in my opinion.  I had always hoped to take her up on her offer for an in-person baking lesson, but it just didn't work out.  Still, I make her challah often, and think of her every time I do. Her memory--and her challah--will continue to touch my heart and nourish my stomach and soul!

Bibi's Fabulous Challah (with minor alterations)


- 2¼ teaspoons active dry yeast (preferably for bread machines) (alternatively, use 1 envelope of active dry yeast)
- 1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon sugar
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 3 cups bread flour
- 2 ¾ tablespoon oil
- 1 tablespoon + 2 teaspoons honey (I prefer buckwheat or wild flower honey, but always buy fresh from a Farmer's market)
- 1 egg
- less than 1 cup warm water (essentially, fill your measuring cup between ¾ and 1 cup)
- egg wash (1 egg mixed with 1 tablespoon water)


In the bowl of a stand mixer* add oil, honey, egg and warm water.  Add sugar, salt and 2 cups of bread flour.  Add the yeast.  Add remaining cup of bread flour.

Using the paddle attachment, mix to combine on low to medium setting. Switch to dough hook and mix on high setting for about 10 minutes. (You really want the gluten to get all nice and chewy!)

Roll dough in ball, place dough ball in a large bowl (I generally use the bowl of the mixer), cover with plastic wrap and let sit for at four to six hours.

Remove your inflated dough and place on silpat. For braided challah, divide dough into three equal pieces. Roll between your hands or on the surface into long snakes and braid, pinching top and bottom.  Spray one side of plastic wrap with nonstick cooking spray and cover braided dough for one hour.

Meanwhile, heat oven to 400. When an hour has elapsed, brush the inflated braid with egg wash.  Bake challah for 10 minutes.  Cover with aluminum foil and bake for another 11 minutes, and then remove from oven.  Slice (or rip a piece) and serve.  As we say "downtown": Hamotzi lechem min ha-aretez, baby! 

* Don't have a mixer?  No problem.  Use the dough attachment of your food processor.  No equipment?  Really?? Gosh, people--go shopping!  Of course, you can always mix and kneed the dough by hand.

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