Monday, August 15, 2011


Maybe it's the Jewish men I've dated these past few years. Maybe it's the fact that roughly half of my friends are Jewish. But there's just something about challah.

Today, with the help of a recipe from Wild Fermentation, I made my first loaf. (I splurged on a used copy a few weeks ago in order to brush up on my fermentation knowledge before teaching another workshop on making kim chi. To be honest I'm kind of enamored with Sandor Katz's loving tribute to all things fermented.) I'll bet you didn't even know you could make a sourdough challah. I sure didn't.

Note: I am a night owl by nature, but it is admittedly a little late to be baking. Working with wild-caught (rather than packaged) yeast does seem to add an hour or more onto most recipes, but I did start it at 9 this morning. There were a few additional challenges along the way. My real near-meltdown came during the heating of oil, sugar, salt, and eggs until they formed "a creamy, custard-like texture." The process was less clear or speedy than one might think. I mean, seriously, does this look like it's going to turn "custard-like" any time soon? It's been half an hour in a makeshift double boiler on my stove!

But finally, through the grace of Yahweh, it thickened. Then hubris set in -- directions, shmirections, I've been baking sourdoughs for nearly a year now -- I decided to go against the advice of the cookbook and combine ingredients directly on the counter (instead of in a bowl), old school Italian style, so this:

quickly became this:

(Doh!) But not irresolvable. See? Nothing ten solid minutes of intense kneading can't fix:

Three hours of rising, a break for yoga class, a little braiding, a second rising, and here it is going into the oven:

Just moments before midnight, I'm done.

Here it is -- beautiful and golden and perfuming my apartment with the most divine scent. I'll sleep well tonight. Tomorrow morning: egg sandwiches!


  1. Well, this was quite an experience - I was a (the?) Designated Taster on this project - I can't say I was apprehensive, but I recently learned that the tasters for the King (way) Back In The Day invented the concept of life insurance... Anyway, I thought, hey it's just bread, what can go wrong? Also, I'm only half-Jewish (Russia, Flatbush, Brooklyn), so I may not be qualified, but my Other Half (British) immediately start asking questions.
    'So, healthy bread isn't hard enough to slice, ya hafta twist it into a rope? And what's with the name - if ya say it right, it sounds like you're coughing up a piece of Challah!'
    Well, I ignored my skeptical half, plunged right in, and I was pleasantly surprised. Pretty chewy - it's not for those who like to swallow food whole or for making spitballs - but (with the help of some really good organic butter) it had nice mouth feel and tasted both sour and sweet -
    I guess that's the idea!
    My Nana made some dang good Matzoh Ball Soup, but nothing like this -
    I'd like some more!
    I'm still trying to get a straight answer on why it's braided...

  2. LOL!!! I'm glad I wasn't the only one frustrated by the "stir to the consistency of custard" step. I said screw it after (kid you not) an hour of trying. Turned out fine.


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