Monday, April 14, 2008

Tried, Tested and True: Challah

The foodie blogger community should be the subject of an anthropological study. I mean, have you noticed the ratio of women bloggers to men bloggers? Or the near uniform format of 1) Photo, 2) short blurb (1-4 paragraphs), and 3) Recipe? I thought the internet was supposed to liberate us from convention. At times, I've threatened to quit my blog all together because it feels like I've returned to high school, with a million little peons struggling to catch the attention of a few glamor queens and get social recognition. Other times, I'm really touched by the gestures of friendship extended by complete strangers, such as when Johanna of Green Gourmet Giraffe offered to help us through our self-imposed stint with Vegetarianism during Lent, or when Lisa of Lisa's Kitchen and I had exchanges over Madhur Jaffrey cookbooks.

Giz and Psychgrad of Equal Opportunity Kitchen are a mother-daughter team of foodie bloggers. It's been lovely to follow their blog since we "met" a couple weeks ago, in part to see how other duo blogs balance the two voices, in part because what woman doesn't see echoes of herself in others' mother-daughter interactions? I almost feel as though I know them, even though blogging can bring out intimate personality quirks while concealing basic identity characteristics. Giz and Psychgrad are hosting their first event, Tried, Tested, and True, and I'm bringing fresh-out-of the oven bread (so fresh that it's still in the oven as I write this) because it's the universal housewarming gift. Giz and Psychgrad, here's to warm hospitality in the virtual universe.

My hostess gift is our favorite Challah, which I've already blogged about here (after a successful baking spree) and here (after an unsuccessful one). I'm blogging about it again because it is:

Tried: Challah, though not in this particular permutation, was my first attempt at bread baking. Ever. The episode was a blatant attempt to display my domestic prowess (ahem. stop laughing) to win over my favorite Jew, Do. Who, at the time, didn't like Challah and already knew that I couldn't do basic domestic tasks if my life depended on it. :) Not one of my most rational moments. Homemade Challah is also near and dear to my heart because it made its first public appearance at the housewarming party for our first apartment, during which my priest officiated over the Episcopal "Blessing Of a New Home" rite and D led everyone in Shabbat prayers. Nothing like breaking fresh bread to mark life's big steps.

Tested: I don't even want to think about how many different Challah recipes I tried before I found this one. Joy of Cooking was unimpressive and went stale quickly, my colleague's Mom's recipe used so much flour that the end result bore distinct resemblance to a brick. Then I tried this recipe from that colleague's roommate's private school's cookbook (Not even kidding: "New Kosher Cuisines for all Seasons," a compendium of recipes from the Solomon Schechter Day School of Greater Boston). Although I'm too lazy and too disorganized to bake Challah every Shabbat, this recipe does get used at least twice a month. That's a lot of repetitive testing, with both the good and the bad documented on this site.

True: This Challah recipe, to me, is the Platonic ideal of Challah -- light, buttery flavored crumb, not cake-y, doesn't dry out overnight, and doesn't involve 4 eggs. D literally asks me to bake it a couple times a week. As long as I follow the recipe (unlike last week, sigh), it's foolproof.

The smell is wafting from the oven. 4 minutes to go. Please excuse me while I go wait impatiently in the kitchen.

For 1 challah:

1 package dry yeast
warm water
1/4 c vegetable oil
3 1/4 c all purpose flour
1 egg, beaten
1/8 c sugar (on the plus side)
1 tsp salt (on the plus side)

Proof yeast in a small bowl by mixing yeast, 1/4 c warm water, and oil.
In a large bowl, mix flour, eggs, sugar, salt, and 1/3 c warm water. Add dissolved yeast mixture, mix together and knead well. Cover and let rise anywhere from 1.5 hours to 4.5 hours.
Divide into three strands, and braid. Let rise another hour. Bake for 25 min.

The loaves supposedly freeze well, and don't go stale if left out overnight (yay for Challah for breakfast!)


Ginny said...

I understand the HS reference...I often feel the same but it is worth it for the people you "met" and the things you learn. I love the challah! Delicious!

giz said...

What can I possibly say after the beautiful writeup on your blog. For me to be speechless is highly uncommon - just ask Psychgrad - I'm sure she'd be happy to tell you all about how much her mother talks too much.

I love your challah and thank you for your submission to Tried Tested and True. I love challah and I especially love challah french toast... incredible

Psychgrad said...

I relate to the HS part some times...When I feel like that, I take a break.

Thanks for the submission. I've been thinking about making challah, so I'm glad to find that you've tested a bunch out and like this one. Saves me a lot of work :).

Psychgrad said...

Oh...and yes. Giz does talk too much. So, her being speechless is a big deal.

Kate said...

Challah was my very first bread recipe I ever attempted. Growing up, my dad used to make it every week, so I was more than a little intimidated, but I figured if I could conquer that, I could conquer anything!

Johanna said...

The nice thing about blogging compared to high school is the variety of people you meet (thanks for the kind reference). I went to a Catholic high school and so no one even thought about challah - I would love to make it some day and am really inspired by your recipe and your write up!

Ann said...

I know what you mean about the blog world and high school reference, though I have found the food blog world to be quite a bit kinder and gentler. :-)

Your bread looks lovely!

Lisa said...

I admire the creativity that appears here and always welcome the opportunity to discuss cookbooks, or whatever else might be of relevance on a given day. The format is rather secondary, assuming the quality is choice.