Creature of Habit
October 10, 2008
I am an unabashed creature of habit. I’ve enjoyed routine—its dependableness, its ease, its comfort—since I was very young. Let’s just say that I’ve been picking out the next day’s outfit before I go to bed since my bedtime was somewhere in the neighborhood of 8:00 p.m. Oh, and that’s another thing: I firmly subscribe to a bed time. Ten-thirty every school (er, work) day. (Wow, I’m making myself sound like a barrel of laughs here, eh?) So, as I’ve started to settle into a routine with my new job (a new gym time in the morning; a new spot to stop for a cup of coffee; a new el station), I can feel myself relaxing even as my workload and responsibilities increase.
Given this proclivity, I suppose its no great surprise that this blog has developed its own steady cadence: I post and comment at the same time of day, I upload photos to Flickr about 24 hours in advance, I lay out each post in almost the exact same format. And, even though I hadn’t planned it this way, it turns out that my Friday posts since I’ve started working have fallen into a pattern of their own.
(Click “more” for the rest of the story, more photos & the recipe.)
My last two Friday posts have featured project-type recipes: thousand layer lasagna and fresh roasted pumpkin puree. They’re high maintenance recipes, demanding a lot of time and attention, but in the end, putting on a good show. Today I’m following in those Friday footsteps with this challah recipe. Don’t be fooled by its deceptively short ingredient list and and set of instructions. You’ll spend the better part of a day allowing the dough to rise, shaping (braiding!) the loaves, swabbing on an egg wash, scattering on poppy seeds and, finally, baking. Which is precisely why the last time I made it was almost a year ago. It took a Rosh Hashana dinner at my inlaws’ house to get me to dust off the recipe again this fall and I am so so so glad I did.
Just like the pumpkin and the lasagna, this recipe is worth every single minute and every single dirty dish spent on it. Watching the heap of flour and yeast and a pool of eggs and oil transform into a plump, golden, glistening braid is a little bit like witnessing a magic trick slowly unfold. It will leave you awestruck. (And delighted by its light texture, eggy crust and gentle sweetness.) That’s the kind of recipe I’m more than willing to donate a Saturday or (and?!?) Sunday to. In fact, I’m hoping to make a habit of it.
Via Ruthieki’s Flickr Page
Yield: 2 loaves
5 1/2 – 6 c. flour
1 T dry yeast
1/2 c. sugar
1 1/4 t salt
6 T vegetable oil
1 1/2 c water plus 2 t
1. In a small bowl (#1), put yeast, 1 T sugar, 1/4 c water. Mix and let it stand for 10 minutes or until it bubbles.
2. In bowl #2 put all dry ingredients: flour, salt, sugar; mix them well.
3. In bowl #3 put all wet ingredients: water, oil, egg, and the yeast mixture after it’s bubbled; mix them well.
4. Mix everything together to make the dough. If the dough is too sticky, add a little flour until you can handle it. Use your hands to mix and press the mixture until it forms a ball of dough.*
5. Cover with a towel, and let the dough stand in a warm place for an hour or an hour and a half until it doubles in size.
6. Punch the dough to let out the air bubbles (this is the fun part!).
7. Let stand for 10 minutes.
8. For traditional-style challah, separate dough into six even pieces, roll each piece into a snake either between your hands or on the table, and make two braids. Turn the ends under so they look pretty. You may need to keep a little flour out to keep them from getting too sticky. Or, weave them into any design you like. Place them on greased and floured cookie sheets.
9. Beat one egg in a small bowl. Brush both braids with egg. Let them stand half an hour, and then brush with egg again. If you like, sprinkle with poppy or sesame seeds after the second egg wash.
10. Let rise for an hour or an hour and a half until the loaves double in size. Be patient!
11. Heat oven to 375F. Bake for 22-26 minutes or until the tops turn golden.
* I wasn’t quite sure what “press” meant. I stirred the ingredients all together until they were cohesive enough to turn out onto the counter. I then kneaded the dough for a couple minutes, because it just seemed like the thing to do. It definitely yielded much more of a “ball” then I would have gotten just pressing the dough together with my hands (like making a snowball).