Thursday, January 23, 2014


Once in a while, it happens that Christmas falls on a Friday or Saturday. In that case, you might be celebrating a different holiday, for which you'll want challah, the traditional Jewish sabbath bread. This recipe comes from The Joy of Coooking, and is in fact one of the few I ever found in the Joy that was really much use. (I'm told the pre-World War II editions are better than the mid-1970s edition.) The other is cream of tomato soup, to which challah makes a beautiful accompaniment.

To begin, you'll need 6 cups of flour, 1 Tbsp salt, 3 eggs, 1/4 cup vegetable oil, 3 Tbsp plus 1 more tsp sugar, and 2 packets of dry yeast.

Mix the flour and salt in a large bowl. In a separate bowl, mix the eggs, 3 Tbsp sugar, and oil -- use a combination of part vegetable oil and part olive oil if you like, since olive oil alone gives too strong a taste.

Meanwhile, place the 1 tsp sugar in a Pyrex measuring cup, and measure into it 1/4 cup warm water. Sprinkle the yeast over the water, stir it in, and let it stand and bubble for 5 minutes.

Add the yeast mixture to the flour and salt. Then, stir two cups of warm water into the egg mixture, and pour that carefully into the bowl with the flour and yeast. With everything in one bowl, mix and stir until you have a sticky dough that you can maneuver from the bowl onto a floured tabletop.

Flouring the table, the dough, and your hands as needed, begin to knead the dough. Knead for ten minutes, until it becomes smooth and satiny (as the cookbooks all say. And it will).

Put the dough in an oiled bowl to rise. Cover with a clean towel. Let it rise for about an hour in a warm place. The large amount of yeast and sugar means that challah rises quickly.

When it has risen, punch it down and divide it in half. Knead each half just a little, to get rid of any stickiness. Then, divide each half into three pieces, and roll them out into longish tubes. They shrink up as you work, but don't worry.

Braid the three sections, and lift the braid onto a cookie sheet. Do the same with the other half of dough.

Cover the braids with the towel again, and let them rise about half an hour in a warm place. Preheat the oven to 400. Brush the dough with an egg wash, either of an egg yolk mixed with water or (simpler), a beaten egg.

Put the bread in the oven, and bake for 15 minutes. Reduce the heat to 350 F, and continue baking 15 minutes more.

The whole process takes three hours from start to finish, but, as with so many recipes that sound time consuming, it does not require what you might call three hours' work work. And the bread is so good with anything -- any meal, as the base for any sandwich, certainly as a Christmas party offering. Need we say, it will go with any wine?

And as for French toast, well. Next up, with the leftovers of this bread, will be Jinx and Judy's "Eve's toast," from The How to Keep Him (After You've Caught Him) Cookbook (p. 38). This is a French toast fried in an orange flavored batter and topped with honey-dipped oranges. I think they call it Eve's toast to conjure up images of delectable, wicked temptation, and so on.

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