Traditions that feel good, especially during a pandemic
Over the last few weeks of being at home I have been baking challah every Friday. It has been a way for me to mark time, differentiating Friday night shabbat dinner from all of the other days of the week which seem to blur into each other. I have tried a different recipe each week in my quest to find the ultimate challah; it had to be easy and delicious.
In February of this year, I read about the passing of a Montreal kosher culinary icon, Norene Gilletz. Most of Jewish Montreal grew up with her famous cookbook, Second Helpings, in their kitchens. She had other cookbooks which were also very popular but one look at that orange book with black bindings and you could smell your mother’s kitchen.
In my quest for the tastiest challah I thought about Norene Gilletz. She must have had a perfect challah recipe. And she did. Here it is. I highly recommend it as does the rest of my family.
1 tsp sugar
1/2 cup warm water (105 to 115°F)
1 pkg regular or quick-rising yeast (2 and 1/4 tsp)
1/2 cup canola or grapeseed oil
1/2 cup warm water
1/4 cup sugar
2 tsp salt
3 1/2 to 4 cups flour (part whole wheat or spelt flour can be used)
1 egg yolk beaten with 1 tsp water
Poppy or sesame seeds (or Trader Joe’s Everything but the Bagel Sesame Seasoning Blend)
1. Dissolve 1 tsp of sugar in 1/2 cup warm water in a large mixing bowl which has first been rinsed with hot water. Sprinkle yeast on top and let stand for 10 minutes. Stir to dissolve.
2. Combine with oil, warm water, 1/4 cup sugar, salt, eggs, and half of the flour and beat well (this is where your mixer can come in). Gradually stir in most of the remaining flour (you probably won’t need it all). The dough will be sticky to touch (I used my stand mixer with dough hook).
3. Turn out onto a floured board and knead for a few minutes, until smooth and elastic, adding just enough flour as needed to prevent the dough from sticking.
4. Place dough in a large greased bowl and turn it over so all surfaces are lightly greased. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place until doubled in size, 1 1/2 to 2 hours. I put mine by our radiator.
5. Punch down on the dough. For a lighter texture cover and let rise again until doubled, about 45 minutes.
6. To shape, divide the dough into 3 or 6 equal parts (note: to make two smaller challahs, first divide dough in half, then divide each half into 3 or 6 equal parts). Shape into long strands. Place on a parchment-lined baking sheet and braid loosely. Pinch the end of the strands together and tuck them under the loaf.
7. Cover with a towel and let rise until doubled, 45 to 60 minutes. Brush with egg glaze and sprinkle with seeds.
8. Bake in a preheated 375 F oven for 30 minutes, or until golden brown. If making two smaller challahs, baking time will be about 25 minutes. Keep a close eye on the oven! Dough will sound hollow when tapped with your fingers.