Like I’ve mentioned, my boyfriend David and I recently made a trip to Southern California, during which I met his mother Esti for the first time. Luckily it wen’t well. She’s a sweet woman, and I definitely felt welcomed into the family by her.
However, the looming visit to meet her had been causing me a shit ton of anxiety. When we first decided to visit Los Angeles, I suggested to David that I’d like to make dinner for everyone. Though I had not yet made a challah, I jokingly suggested making one since I figured it’d be a good way to impress Esti. A few hours later, I overhead David on the phone telling his mother that I was planning to make the traditional Jewish bread during our visit.
Immediately I grabbed my cell phone and sent a text message saying, “WTF? Why did you tell your mom I’m making a challah? Now I need to start practicing.” By the time the call was over, I’d already been to Whole Foods to get eggs and sesame seeds to make my first test challah.
You see, I like to perfect dishes before I serve them to guests. It’s a rule of mine I blog about frequently, and it’s especially true with more complicated yeast breads. Fortunately, I had a solid month to practice my challah skills. I tried a few recipes, but ultimately wrote my own. During my test bakes and discussions with David (who has eaten far more challah in his lifetime than I), I decided to go for a sweet bread that wasn’t too eggy.
Half a dozen challahs later, and I had perfected my recipe and method for making the perfect braided bread. Knowing that I could easily knock out a challah set my mind at ease, and allowed me to get a decent nights sleep before our trip to SoCal.
Though I anticipated that the weather change could affect my challah, it’s quite a bit warmer in Los Angeles than it is here in San Francisco, I allowed myself enough time to make a second loaf in case the first one came out poorly. Unfortunately, the temperate change had a more significant impact on my challah than I’d expected. The dough rose at a faster rate than I was used to, and although the final product tasted great (David even said it was my best tasting challah yet), it didn’t look perfect.
And that seriously pissed me off.
I’d been making a challah pretty much ever weekend for the past month and a half, but when it came time to present a challah to the woman who gave birth to the man I love, perfect was unattainable. But you know what, it didn’t matter. I often have a desire for perfection, and put quite a bit of pressure on myself. But you know what, absolute perfection is impossible, and sometimes it takes things like imperfect looking challahs for me to remember that.
I had a blast spending the afternoon (and most of the evening) in the kitchen cooking. The best part? David’s nephew Hunter became my little helper. Here are a few photos of him and I working on dinner. He was quite fascinated with the eggs I was using in the challah and chocolate mousse. “I love eggs,” he would shout repeatedly. So cute!
Ok, enough of my blabbering. Here’s my challah recipe and directions. Though it may seem daunting, I promise you making the challah is actually pretty straightforward. Plus, if you come from a Jewish family then busting out a homemade challah is guaranteed to impress.
1 1/8 c water
1/2 tsp and 1/2 Tbsp salt
1/2 tsp and 1/4 c sugar
1 Tbsp yeast
2 Tbsp canola oil
4 c flour
1. Add 1/2 tablespoons of salt and sugar to warm water. Stir, then add yeast. Let sit until frothy.
2. Crack two of your eggs into the yeast water, then add canola oil and stir.
Edgy tip! Make sure that your eggs are room temperature, if you add eggs right from the refrigerator then your dough will be too cold and it will take longer to rise. If you forget to let the eggs come to room temperature over a few hours, then you can let them sit in warm tap water for a few minutes before using.
3. In a glass bowl combine flour, 1/2 Tbsp of salt, and 1/4 c sugar in a glass bowl.
4. Mix wet and dry ingredients with a fork.
5. Use your hands to finish mixing the dough.
6. Transfer dough to a lightly floured surface and knead for 5 to 7 minutes.
7. Clean out your glass bowl. Drizzle canola oil into bottom of bowl. Place your dough into the oiled bowl, press down, then flip to ensure all of the dough is coated. Cover with saran wrap then let sit in a warm place for an hour.
8. Uncover, punch down down, then recover and let rise for another hour.
9. Remove saran wrap then punch down the dough again.
10. Separate dough into strands and braid your dough.
Now, you have a couple of different options here. Traditionally challahs have 6 strands. It’s customary to actually make two challahs together, and the combined 12 strands are symbolic of the 12 tribes of Israel. However, the 6 strand braid can be a bit tricky to master. I actually find the 4 strand braid to be pretty easy, and still quite beautiful. Since I spent weeks perfecting my challah recipe though, I decided to include two examples in this blog.
The first is a basic 4 strand challah. It’s pretty simple, but not as basic as a regular 3 stand braid. I really like a 4 strand challah, not only because it’s easy to braid, but it’s also easy to divide the dough into 4 equal sections.
Now, I looked up a couple of videos online of braiding a 6 strand challah. I really wanted to be able to do a traditional loaf, but each time I tried to mimic what I saw on YouTube, I messed it up. Luckily I discovered a helpful trick. Just make two braids of 3, then stack whichever one comes out smaller on top of the larger. Tuck in the edges, and boom, easy 6 strand challah.
11. Make an egg wash using the yolks of your two remaining eggs and a splash of warm water. Whisk, then brush onto challah. Sprinkle with sesame or poppy seeds. You could also bake without seeds, but I feel like seedless challahs look a bit plain.
12. Bake at 385 degrees fahrenheit (365 confection) for about 30 minutes.
13. Let cool on a rack and enjoy!
Oh, and here’s a picture of David and I outside of the It’s A Small World ride in Disneyland. I don’t care what anyone says, Disneyland is awesome.