A Challah story 30 years in the making

5 Mar

Searching for and preparing recipes from my cookbook collection has been an interesting journey full of surprises. Yesterday I unearthed a cookbook that my son, Jay, created in third grade. Titled Cooking Around the World, the spiral-bound paperback cookbook is filled with recipes from students at Meadowbrook Elementary School in Golden Valley, Minnesota in 1991. My son’s original artwork on the cover depicts his recipe for Challah that’s inside. And the recipe is handwritten by him (see pictures below). I no doubt contributed this recipe, but I have no recollection of its origin. It should be noted that Jay is a married father of three – the oldest in third grade and turning nine this month – same as her dad 30 years ago when this book was “published!”

Not familiar with Challah? It’s an egg-rich yeast-leavened bread that is usually braided or twisted before baking and is traditionally eaten by Jews on the Sabbath and holidays.

I have shared here repeatedly that I’m not terribly successful at baking. Cooking, yes. Baking, not so much. And I have baked dozens of challahs over the years without being enamored with any of the results. But I knew I had to try this recipe. And much to my surprise, it was easy – rising times were shorter than customary – and the end results stunned me! Yikes – the “crumb” as experts call it – is nearly perfect – and the crust browned up beautifully and it slices like a dream. In fact I did not pick up my standing order for challah bread today because I MADE MY OWN! Who knew?

Challah by Jay Sandler

1 package yeast

5 cups flour

1 teaspoon salt

⅓ cup sugar

1¼ cups warm water

⅓ cup oil

2 eggs

1 cup golden raisins

1 egg mixed with 1 tablespoon water

Optional: sesame or poppyseeds

Combine yeast with 1½ cups flour, salt and sugar in a large bowl. Stir and pour in water. Beat until smooth. (Can be done by hand or with a stand mixer – I used a mixer). Add oil and eggs, throw in raisins and gradually add enough flour to make a soft dough. Continue mixing until mixture forms a ball, remove from bowl and knead on floured board about 10 minutes, adding flour as needed. Texture should be elastic. Place dough in a greased bowl, turning so that the greased end is on top. Cover dough with a dish towel and let rise, til doubled about one hour.

Punch down and divide dough into two equal parts. Roll out each part into a snake-like strip. Twist strip around to make a spiral shape tucking end into center of the spiral. Repeat with remaining dough (I opted instead to braid the second loaf – from three strips). Place on greased cookie sheet. Cover with a dish towel and let rise again, one hour. Brush with egg and water mixture and sprinkle with sesame or poppy seeds (optional). Bake at 350 degrees for 35 (check at 25) minutes.

Note from Jay: my mom makes this special bread on Friday, the Jewish Sabbath.

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