There is a magic to fresh bread. There is something eternally warm and welcoming about its taste, the mouth feel and oh the smell. It is the smell of pure bliss and utter hospitality. I used to work on a ranch in the summers cooking three square meals a day for hungry cowboys and ranch hands as well as teaching manners to the little cowboys that ran around in the fields all summer, free as woodland elves. It was there in the starkly beautiful wild country of Nevada, among the sage and the pine… and the cows, where I really learned to cook. Yes, my culinary birth was one by flame and long hot summers of trial and error; errors that the hungry crew were either kind enough not to mention or too hungry to care. My mom of course had taught me all the basics and she was set on my mental speed dial, on the old tethered rotary phone by the ranch kitchen, where I would sometimes need to make very expensive long distance phone calls mid-meal, sending out an SOS to her landline where she always picked up and trouble-shot the lumpy gravy or the burnt tomato sauce (note; start fresh with the gravy if you can, always adding in hot liquid to the cornstarch or flour and mixing until smooth before pouring in. Unless you have an emulsifier then use that and poof creamy gravy, also don’t scrape the burnt sauce in the pan just carefully ladle the top ¾ of the sauce into a new pan that has a heavier bottom for long hours of simmering on the stove). Of course those calls were only made when the head chef had left little me in charge, otherwise Susan (the ranch wife) in all of her glory and wisdom was there by my side. Helping me knead, teaching me about sourdough starters, showing me the ways and enchantment of a well stocked pantry. We made bread daily and it was the best part of each day for me. Waking up with the sun, pulling on the apron, cotton strings wrapped around twice to tie in front, the flour catching wind as cup by glorious cup full is scooped into thick potted bowls. Breathing new life into the yeast with warm water and a watchful eye, drops of thick olive oil and the slap of dough on wooden tables, then a silhouette in the warm window, a flour cloth covered bowl back lit by the morning sun and a moment of pause until we knead once again then wait once more. Then it’s thrown and shaped, long brush strokes of whisked egg, a knife dragged across the top and into the vintage Wedgewood where it warms and darkens, the wonder of bread is complete.
I don’t make bread every day anymore but the rhythm of the process is always there, waiting quietly to be put to work. So I want to share one of the easiest bread recipes with you my readers: Challah. This bread is eggy and full of loft, it’s wonderful to sop up soup or sauces with and with a slight sweetness even better with honey and butter slathered on top. It really shines, dipped in eggs, milk, and cinnamon then grilled into the most perfectly perfect French toast.
You will need
- 11 ozs or 320 grams* water
- ¾ cup or 85 grams Turbinado** Sugar
- 1.5 Tablespoons dry yeast
- 3 ½ cups or 800 grams flour
- 3 eggs
- 1 Tablespoon good flakey salt
- ½ cup or 60 grams oil
*When baking it is best to measure with a scale if you own one, if not I have included the conversion for you
** Simple recipes like this with only a few items demand quality, so use fresh pastured eggs, fine olive oil, raw sugar and the best salt you can find.
- Warm the water to 95-115 degrees and stir in the sugar
- Pour yeast in, let sit for a few moments for the yeast to bloom
- Pour mixture into a kitchen-aid with a hook attachment and add flour, salt and oil
- Lightly beat eggs and add into mixture
- Mix low incorporating for about 4 minutes then increase speed for 4 more minutes
- (If you do not own a KitchenAid, get one! But until then, stir in bowl until too hard to handle then kneed for at least 8 minutes)
- Take dough (it will be moist) and kneed on a lightly floured surface for a minute forming a ball
- Then place dough ball into a lightly oiled bowl
- Cover with a warm moist towel
- Let rise until doubled in volume; about 45 minutes
- Then divide dough in half and each half into thirds
- With your hands gently roll and stretch each third into a long log
- Gather the tops of three of your logs and pinch together then braid until you reached the ends and pinch together
- Repeat with the other three logs of dough
- Place both loaves on a parchment lined backing sheet cover with warm moist towel and let rise once again – about 45 minutes
- Preheat oven to 400
- You know dough is ready with you pinch it with your finger and it instantly bounces back!
- Brush with egg mixture and sprinkle with your choice of topping and bake for 10 minutes, lower the oven to 350 and bake until golden and beautiful about 8 more minutes.
- Slice, eat, enjoy!
To all the Challah back girls and goys,