Several weeks ago a dear friend gave birth to a "miracle baby" - a wee human who emerged perfect and healthy in spite of several odds being against her. In celebration, I turned to my kitchen...of course.
This time of year, nothing quite says fertility and life like the fresh chicken eggs in our markets with their bright orange yolks and firm, glossy whites. It’s a joy to have these local eggs in my refrigerator! Eggs are not only nutritious, but they are an excellent, versatile AND local food value. And yes, for those of you diligently reading, I did just insert a plug for our local farms and markets in this article.
It is Harvest Watch, after all.
Turning to my cookbooks and the internet, there were stacks and stacks of recipes for quiche, souffles, custards, and more, but they didn't quite encompass both nourishing AND comforting that I was hoping to convey. So, I turned to baking and my tried and true recipe for challah.
Made with eggs and baked to celebrate Sabbath as well as other Jewish holidays, I was taught how to make and braid this bread by a tiny, ill tempered chef in charge of a summer camp kitchen where I worked as an assistant cook for three months when I was nineteen. Oh how he yelled and cursed at us during those hot, sticky days in a Pennsylvania kitchen! His desire for perfection as we turned out hundreds of meals every day refused to be bowed by the humidity nor the apathy of the campers, but it did create an atmosphere of absolute fear of setting him off on a tirade of rants about inferior ingredients, ancient equipment and the utter incompetence of us, his kitchen staff. I learned a lot in that kitchen, in spite of myself, including, how to turn out dozens of loaves of very good challah. Hats off to that tiny, grumpy man.
Translated, challah simply means “loaf of bread”. With the mornings and evenings still cool and a refrigerator with, literally, dozens of fresh eggs in it, I set about retooling the recipe to take out the refined sugar. The whole session took a few hours from start to finish, turning out half a dozen loaves. And don't be afraid of the braiding! It is very forgiving and braiding the 6 strands of dough for each loaf was quite meditative. Finishing with a wash of egg before sprinkling with sesame seeds, the result was beautiful and delicious.
Yield: 2 loaves
- 3 ¾ tsp active dry yeast
- 1 T granulated sugar
- 1 ¼ cup of warm water
- ½ cup heart-friendly oil
- 5 large eggs
- ½ cup maple syrup
- 1 T kosher salt
- 4 cups of all purpose flour
- 4 to 5 cups of white whole wheat or whole wheat flour*
- Sesame seeds for sprinkling
- 1 egg, beaten, for washing the loaves before baking
1. In a large bowl, mix yeast and sugar with warm water; set aside until foamy, about 2 to 5 minutes
2. Whisk oil into the yeast, then one at a time, beat in 5 eggs; whisk in maple syrup and salt. With a large wooden spoon to stir the dough, slowly add the all-purpose flour, then the white whole wheat or whole wheat flour until the dough holds together and is ready for kneading..
3. Turning onto a floured surface, knead the dough until smooth. Clean out the bowl and grease, then return the kneaded dough to the bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise approximately 1 hour or until about double in size. Punch the dough, cover and let rise again for another 30 minutes or so.
4. Divide the dough in half, then divide one half into 6 equal size/weight balls of dough. Roll these balls out into strands about 10 to 12 inches long. Place 6 strands in a row, parallel to each other, and pinch the tops together. Take the outside right strand and move over 2 strands. Take the second strand from the left and move to the far right. Take outside left strand and move it over 2. Move second strand from the right all the way over the to the far left. Start over the outside right strand and repeat. For a straight loaf, tuck the end of your braid under. For a round loaf, twist the braid into a circle and pinch the ends together. Place on a parchment covered cookie sheet and leave at least two inches between each loaf. Wash dough generously with beaten egg. Sprinkle with sesame seeds and allow to rise for a third time, about 30 to 45 minutes.
5. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Bake on a center rack for 30 to 40 minutes. Do not over bake it! Cool loaves on a rack.
Elena Gustavson likes food. She is the Director of Communications and Community Programs at Rutland Area Farm and Food Link and manages RAFFL’s Everyday Chef, a food and cooking program. Find out more at www.raffl.org or contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Original, edited version published in the Rutland Herald on May 24th, 2016.