The minister of our church traveled to be with his extended family in Australia for the holidays. In his absence, our Christmas services were celebrated by Ilene, a rabbi new to our community, and Brendan, a young man from Boston, who has studied Zen Buddhism, is a recent graduate of divinity school and is in the process of seeking ordination. They were wonderful services, and services out of the ordinary, even for our less than traditional church.
When I thanked the rabbi for her participation in our service, she invited me to attend a Shabbat service the following Friday evening at her synagogue. At that service, I was in the midst of fellow Vermonters, in a sacred space, enhanced by the art and craft of New England artists. The prayers, songs, and the sharing of joys and concerns gave voice to the common ground we share. The bread we broke after the service was evidence of culinary common ground. Although, I hadn’t baked golden brown, braided challah since we moved to Vermont and left an Episcopal community, it was the perfect thing to serve at the dinner party planned for Brendan’s last night with us. Here’s how I made it:
1 1/2 Tablespoons active dry yeast
1 3/4 cup lukewarm water
1/4 cup honey
1/2 cup canola oil
5 large eggs
1 Tablespoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/2 cup crystallized ginger, cut in 1/2 inch dice
8 to 9 cups all purpose flour
oil to grease bowl
1 egg, to glaze dough
I combined the yeast, the water and one tablespoon of honey in the mixing bowl of my heavy-duty stand mixer. When the yeast and honey had dissolved, I set the mixture aside in a warm place. When it became foamy, (it took about fifteen minutes), it was time to add the oil, the eggs, the salt, the remaining honey, the cardamom, and the crystallized ginger. The mixer was turned to medium speed and fitted with the dough hook and the flour was slowly added the flour to the bowl.
When the dough held together, I tipped it out onto the well-floured counter and continued adding flour as I kneaded the dough. When it was smooth and elastic, I turned it into a large bowl that had been greased with vegetable oil, covered the bowl with plastic wrap, and let the dough rise in a warm place for one hour. When it had almost doubled in size, I deflated the dough, covered it and let it rise again. After rising for an additional half-hour, I divided the dough in half, formed each half into three balls and then rolled each ball into a strand that was about twelve inches long.
I put the strands side-by-side, onto a greased baking sheet and pinched them together at one end. I braided the dough by lifting the center strand over the left strand, then lifting the strand that was then the one in the center and placed it over the strand on the right. I continued, alternating the strands to form a braid. I pinched the three strands together to hold the braid together and used a pastry brush to paint the braid with the beaten egg. I repeated this process with the remaining dough and put the second loaf on a separate baking sheet. Adding another layer of beaten egg to each loaf, after it had risen for another hour, and before putting them into an oven that had been pre-heated to 375º, guaranteed golden loaves. After thirty-five minutes in the oven, the loaves were golden and an instant read thermometer, poked into the center read 190º. When the loaves had cooled on a wire rack, one was sliced and serve it with soft, unsalted butter. The cooled second loaf was wrapped in aluminum foil and frozen so until it was shared at a New Year’s Day brunch.
If braiding the dough is daunting, make two, rather than three strands, and twist them together before pinching the ends together. Cardamom and ginger are not traditional additions to challah, but non-traditional flavors can be as wonderful and delightful as non-traditional services. I made two large loaves, but the dough can also be divided to make three medium or four more modest loaves. The braided challah was the centerpiece of the buffet and reminded us that the beliefs, customs and traditions of our community are interwoven.
|Challah – Interwoven Traditions||
- 1 1/2 Tablespoons active dry yeast
- 1 3/4 cup lukewarm water
- 1/4 cup honey
- 1/2 cup canola oil
- 5 large eggs
- 1 Tablespoon kosher salt
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
- 1/2 cup crystallized ginger, cut in 1/2 inch dice
- 8 to 9 cups all purpose flour
- oil to grease bowl
- 1 egg, to glaze dough
- Combined yeast, water and 1 T honey in bowl.
- Stir to dissolve, set aside in warm place for 15 minutes.
- Add oil, eggs, salt, remaining honey, cardamom, and crystallized ginger. Use stand mixture, fitted with dough hook to slowly combine flour with yeast mixture.
- When dough holds together, tip out onto well-floured counter.
- Continue adding flour while kneading dough until it is smooth and elastic.
- Turn into a large bowl, greased with vegetable oil, cover with plastic wrap, and set aside, to rise for 1 hour.
- When almost doubled in size, deflated dough, cover and let it rise again for 30 min.
- Divide dough in quarters, form each quarter into 3 balls, roll each ball into a strand 12 inches long.
- Put strands side-by-side, onto greased baking sheet and pinch together at one end.
- Braid dough by lifting center strand over left strand, then lift the new center strand and place over strand on the right.
- Continue, alternating strands to form a braid. Pinch the 3 strands together.
- Use pastry brush to glaze braid with beaten egg.
- Repeat process with remaining dough and put each loaf on baking sheet/s at least 2 inches apart.
- Add another layer of beaten egg to each loaf, after it had risen for another hour.
- Put loaves into an pre-heated 375º oven.
- Baked until golden and an instant read thermometer, poked into the center read 190º.