The holidays have come and gone, and a half-loaf of my challah bread remains, frozen solid for consumption as French toast some weekend morning.
Anyway, I must be a bit vain here and boldly state that this challah was one of the best I've ever made -- perhaps even the very best! And here is the proof:
I've made this version before, but for awhile I got caught up in making a very sweet, cake-y challah loaf from williams-sonoma.com; it was delicious, but the kind of bread you'd have for a late-morning snack, with a bit of butter, rather than as a foil for cheese or even hummus. It was slightly too sweet for me, and I'm pleased with myself for actually pulling down a much-loved cookbook for the first time in ages to revisit this old recipe. Because it is good.
The Thursday night before our belated Rosh Hashanah dinner, I came back late from my run and tried to multi-task with laundry and phone calls and making dinner and putting the yeast on to rise. While I'm mostly very good at the doing many things at once, I couldn't pull it off this time 'round, and my challah dough woefully ended up in the trash. I contemplated buying a loaf at the local organic market instead -- must have challah for the new year, you see -- but since I got out of work a little early the next day, and as I must make everything, always, forever from scratch, I took a deep breathe and tried again.
So glad I did, too.
This challah is simple and light, yet never plain. It's good for cheese sandwiches, as toast, or soaked in milk and beaten egg and cinnamon to make French toast (on the agenda soon). I'm sure it would even do well in a bread pudding if one were so inclined (I'm not, but that shouldn't stop you, of course).
It's the perfect way to quietly usher in a new year -- or season. For now it's fall, and despite toasting my toes in Santa Monica this weekend, there's a decided chill in the air. I'm still getting used to it, but hopefully my first batch of roasted vegetable soup should dispel summer's lingering allure, and put me back to rights.
Challah, from Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone, by Deborah Madison
2 1/4 cup warm water
2 1/4 tsp. active dry yeast
3 Tb. sugar
3 eggs, beaten, 2 Tb. removed
1/4 cup olive oil
1 Tb. salt
6-7 cups flour
Mix yeast with 1/4 cup of warm water and a teaspoon of sugar in a small bowl. Set aside until foamy, about 10 minutes, then stir it into two cups of warm water in a mixing bowl along with the rest of the sugar, eggs, oil, and salt. Add the flour a cup at a time to make a smooth batter. When the batter becomes heavy, turn out onto counter and knead in the rest of the flour until dough is satiny smooth, about eight minutes. Set aside in an oiled bowl, turn once, then cover. Set aside until doubled, about an hour. Push down, divide in half, then divide each half into three equal pieces.
To shape, roll each piece into a rope about 10-12 inches long. Cross the strads over each other in middle, then begin to braid. Tuck the ends under and place on an oiled baking sheet. Set aside 45 minutes; during the last 15, preheat oven to 375 F. Beat reserved egg with one Tb. of water andd then then brush over the bread.
Bake for about 45 minutes, until golden.
Note: for the new year, challah should be baked in a round, not braided.