May’s Daring Bakers’ Challenge was pretty twisted – Ruth from The Crafts of Mommyhood challenged us to make challah! Using recipes from all over, and tips from “A Taste of Challah,” by Tamar Ansh, she encouraged us to bake beautifully braided breads.
I was super pumped to participate in a challah challenge (should that be called a challahenge?) because a) I love bread, and b) for whatever reason, I’ve been thinking about challah all year. The bread must have been something I considered tackling as part of a baking resolution, but I never got around to it until now.
As someone raised in the Methodist church, the only things I knew of challah were it is a braided bread and associated with the Jewish tradition. Ruth’s instructions informed the Daring Bakers that challah refers not to bread, but to the portion of bread which, in the days of the Jewish temple in Jerusalem, was set aside as an offering to the high priests. The braid symbolizes the coming together of separate pieces into one combined entity, like the everyday and the holy, and the coming together of family and friends.
It wasn’t until I was in graduate school studying for my social work degree that I really started to consider the privileges I enjoyed in society simply because my faith celebrated Christmas and Easter. A classmate who was very vocal about her Jewish faith made it clear those of the Christian faith had an unfair advantage in the workplace because employers recognized Christian holidays like Christmas and Good Friday, but not Jewish holidays like Chanukah or Passover. I will always remember her discussing how she felt it unfair she had to take a day off for Christmas, a holiday that held no meaning for her, yet she had to use her vacation time for Yom Kippur. I am grateful that hearing her story allowed me to consider the structures I had always known in a different light.
More recently, with the recent passage of Amendment One here in North Carolina, I have realized how a country founded on the separation of church and state does a pretty bad job when it comes down to it. We certainly seem to find many more ways to use our differences to drive each other apart (hate?) than to use our differences as a reason to come together to learn and celebrate (love?). Fortunately, I got to use the challah I baked for a celebration.
I made a traditional three-strand braid and a four-strand braided round. Ruth explained round challah is traditionally used on the Jewish New Year (Rosh Hashanah) as an example of the cycle of life and the cycle of the year. I needed no help with the three-strand braid, but I found the video Ruth made about how to make a four-strand braided round invaluable. I think my braids turned out well because I had learned from my experiences rolling snakes of dough (see butter mints and pretzels) and braiding dough (see King Cake).
I used a Honey White recipe Ruth provided, and I turned it into Honey Wheat because (gasp!) I ran out of all-purpose flour. As I near my one year goal of blogging, I notice I am slipping when it comes to planning to have ingredients on hand. Ruth also suggested we check out The Challah Blog, and I echo that suggestion to you all. Challahs like stuffed pizza challah, nutella challah, and pumpkin challah can be found within its pages.
Though non-practicing, my friend Jenn is of the Jewish faith. It just so happened Jenn recently celebrated her birthday, so I gave her the braided round to enjoy for her new year. It made my day to receive her verdict, “Challah is delcious!” Indeed.
- 1½ cups warm water, separated
- 1 Tbsp. sugar
- 2 Tbsp. (2-2/3 packets) dry active yeast
- ½ cup honey
- 1 Tbsp. vegetable oil
- 4 large eggs
- 1½ tsp. salt
- 4 cups all-purpose flour*, plus more as needed
- 2 cups wheat flour*
- 1 egg beaten with 1 tsp. water
- In a large mixing bowl, combine ½ cup warm water, 1 Tbsp. sugar and 2 Tbsp. yeast.
- Allow to proof approximately 5 minutes until foamy.
- To the yeast mixture add the remaining water, honey, oil, eggs, salt and 5 cups of flour.
- Knead (by hand or with your mixer’s dough hook) until smooth, adding flour as needed, approximately 10 minutes.
- Transfer dough to a clean, oiled bowl, turn to coat or add a bit more oil on top.
- Cover bowl with a clean kitchen towel, and leave dough to rise in a warm place until doubled, about 1½ hours.
- After the rise, punch down the dough and divide it into two sections. Use one half to make each loaf.
- Place loaves on parchment-lined or greased baking sheets, cover with a towel, and allow to rise 30 minutes.
- After the second rise, brush the tops of the loaves with egg wash.
- Bake loaves at 325 degrees F for 30-40 minutes until done.
- Cool on wire racks.