What kind of mother would I be if I didn’t bake the family challah? Especially a mother who went to pastry school. Mothers come in all shapes and sizes, and provide a wide array of services to their families. Many mothers are the breadwinners of their families; some moms drive carpool, oversee homework or fix boo-boo’s. Me, well, I make baked goods for my family.
I find the smell of challah baking in the oven permeates the house, and makes it a home. I was sitting with my mother the other day and she was sharing her memories of what the holidays were like growing up in her house. Her most vivid memories were those of the smells and tastes of the dishes her mother prepared, especially her sponge cake. It’s interesting, but when we reflect on warm times with our families, it seems to be food that brings back those cherished thoughts.
To me, this homemade challah is just a big ‘ol loaf-of-love. You have to put your heart and soul into making it. It takes time, and a whole lot of kneading, but the pay-off is the end result. Whenever I see these famous chefs interviewed, they always talk about the food that their mother’s or grandmother’s made that brings back warm memories of their childhood’s. Especially Wolfgang Puck. He always refers to his mother’s cooking, and many of the dishes he serves today were inspired by her recipes. I guess that’s what I’m trying do to with my two sons…create warm memories. I hope I do.
Makes 2 large loaves
From the Silver Palate Cookbook
- 2 cups milk
- 6 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1/3 cup sugar
- 2 packages of active dry yeast (14 grams)
- 3 eggs, room temperature, plus 1 egg for egg wash
- 2 teaspoons Kosher salt
- 5 cups all-purpose flour
- 1/3 cup cornmeal
- poppy seeds or sesame seeds
1. Bring milk, 6 tablespoons of butter, and the sugar to a boil together in a medium size saucepan. Remove from the heat, and pour into the bowl of an electric mixer and let cool to lukewarm (105 degrees F).
2. Stir yeast into the milk mixture and let stand for 10 minutes.
3. Beat the 3 eggs well in a small bowl, and stir them and the salt into the milk and yeast mixture.
4. Using the paddle attachment on the mixer, stir in 5 cups of flour, 1 cup at a time, mixing on speed 2 for about 8 minutes until you achieve a sticky dough. Lightly flour a work surface and turn the dough out onto it.
5. Sprinkle additional flour over the dough and begin kneading, adding more flour as necessary until you have a smooth, elastic dough.
6. Oil the inside of the bowl and add the ball of dough, turning to coat it lightly with the oil. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and set aside in a warm place to rise until tripled in bulk about 2 hours.
7. Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface and cut into halves. Cut each half into 3 pieces. Roll the pieces into “snakes” about 18 inches long. Braid the 3 snakes together into a loaf and tuck the ends underneath the loaf.
8. Sprinkle a large baking sheet with cornmeal, and transfer each loaf onto its own sheet. Cover each loaf with plastic and let rise until doubled, about 1 hour.
9. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
10. Beat an egg and 1 tablespoon of cold water in a small bowl. Brush the egg wash evenly over the loaf. Sprinkle immediately with poppy seeds or sesame seeds to taste.
11. Set baking sheet in middle rack of oven. Bake for 30-35 minutes, or until loaves are golden and sound hollow when the bottoms re thumped. Cool completely on a rack.
For the sweet challah, I kneaded some golden raisins and dried cherries into the dough, and then brushed it with a mixture of 4 tablespoons melted butter and 1/3 cup honey (melted together in microwave). When I took the bread out of the oven I brushed it again with the mixture.