Can any of you believe that 2017 is actually almost over?! I’m not really sure where this year has gone, and though it hasn’t really slowed down, baking has been my way of setting aside intentional time for me to do nothing more than simply be. My main passion for food comes from a deep longing for community, belonging and empathy. Our recipes and ingredients are this amazing legacy of love — shared stories that we can pass along or maybe even pass down to another generation someday. There isn’t one thing I bake that doesn’t come with a story.
Though I am not Jewish, many years ago I was a nanny for a wonderful Jewish family who allowed me into some of their Hanukah traditions, and those are some beautiful memories that I still hold very closely, especially around the holiday season. I learned how to braid challah from a 5 year old boy, and though my version may have come out just a tad more tidy, I owe all of my bread making skills to him. There is a ripple effect that happens when we engage in another culture and have the hunger (pun intended) to learn something new. I was texting with my dad the other day, sending him proud mama pictures of my challah baby. His first text back read, “What’s challah?”
After giving him a very brief description that it’s a traditional Jewish sabbath bread, a few moments of iPhone silence went by. Then, being the critical thinker and constant learner that he is, my dad did his research and turned the tables on me. He asked if I knew about the various meanings intertwined with each type of challah, and it caused me to do some reading myself. I found that my 3 braid challah represented truth, peace and justice. You know me…I am ALL about kneading in some deeper meaning. And those 3 words feel so timely and needed for what is happening in our world right now. Through embracing new traditions this holiday season, I am discovering more about myself, my own family, and a culture that I have so much more to learn from. Yes — all of this from a loaf of bread.
There’s something really fascinating about how hands-on AND hands-off this recipe is — a lovely balance of kneading and braiding along with plenty of patience and rest during the proofing process. I will be baking a different type of challah and sharing my recipes each day this week, so stay tuned! Don’t be overwhelmed by the waiting time — this recipe is incredibly simple. I encourage you to learn something new about a different culture this week, whether that happens through a conversation or a baking adventure (but I highly recommend combining the two!).
***Note: I don’t have a proofing drawer, so I always place my dough in the oven (turned off). It just needs a warm place to rest and expand.
What you need:
• 3 cups all-purpose flour or gluten-free 1:1 flour if you’re gluten-free
• ¼ cup sugar
• 1 packet of instant yeast
• 1 teaspoon salt
• 3 large eggs, 1 divided
• 4 tablespoons canola oil
What to do:
1. Mix the flour, sugar, yeast, and salt in a medium bowl.
2. Whisk together 2 eggs plus 1 egg yolk (save the egg white for later), canola oil, and ½ cup of lukewarm water in a large bowl.
3. Knead until a smooth and elastic ball forms, about 10 minutes. If dough sticks to the sides, add more flour as needed.
4. Place the dough in a lightly-oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and set in a warm place to rest until it doubles in size (2 hours).
5. Separate your dough into three equal pieces, and roll each piece into a 1”-diameter rope. Don’t be afraid to stretch and pull! Transfer to a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Pinch one end of the ropes together, braid the strands firmly, then pinch the other end to seal. Drape the braided dough with plastic wrap, and let it rise for 1 hour until doubled in size.
6. Heat oven to 350° F. Whisk the reserved egg white with one tablespoon of water, and brush all over the loaf. Bake until deep golden brown, 30 minutes.