Quick photo of one of the eight (!) challahs that I’ve baked and frozen for Rosh Hashanah. When the two days of Rosh Hashanah come right up against Shabbat …., well, all I can say is that’s a lot of cooking! I’m always paranoid about guests showing up at the wrong meal, so I called one of our guests to confirm the date and time, despite my husband’s protests that he’d written the times correctly. Our guest hadn’t, so it was a good thing I called him. The other guests already confirmed our invitation for another meal.
This paranoia began years ago when I had a really bad bout of stomach flu just before Rosh Hashanah. The two closest doctors, both women, were in the midst of their holiday cooking, so one of them sent her husband, also a doctor. He checked me out and said there wasn’t much I could do except drink fluids and try to rest as much as possible (yeah, right, try doing that when you’ve got lots of guests coming!). I consoled myself with the fact that the first visitors, a family of six, would be coming for lunch on the second day of Rosh Hashanah, so I could get some rest over the first day. My son ran up to tell me that they were coming up the stairs. They thought they were invited for lunch on the first day. I rose from my sickbed, threw food on the warming platter and asked our guests, who lived nearby, to come back in half an hour. So now I always double-check the times when guests are coming if there’s an opportunity for a mix-up.
I don’t often use recipes for bread because I’ve been baking since I was 10 years old, but this is my go-to recipe when I want to bake challah without thinking, so I can focus on other things. It makes a wonderful bread. I add honey for Rosh Hashanah.
Yield: 2 medium loaves (= 2 pounds of dough). Or 4 small loaves or a dozen rolls
2 1/2 cups warm water
2 tbs yeast
2 tbs sugar
(opt: 3 tbs honey)
5-6 cups flour
1/4 cup oil
2 large eggs
2 tsp salt
1 egg yolk + 2 tsp water (for glazing)
In a large bowl, mix water yeast, sugar, and honey, if using. Add half the flour, oil, eggs, and salt.
Gradually add the rest of the flour until the dough is too stiff to stir, and comes away cleanly from the bowl. You want a non-sticky dough but soft enough so that it is not hard and dry. Knead for 15 minutes. Place in an oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and let rise for 1 1/2 hours in a draft-free place.
Punch down, knead briefly, and divide into two balls for two loaves. Shape and braid. Place in greased pans or on cookie sheets. Cover with a tea towel and let rise 45 minutes. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F (around 200 degrees C). Carefully brush the egg yolk and water mixture over the loaves. Bake for 35 minutes or until the loaves are golden and sound hollow when tapped. Cool on a wire rack.
If you want to freeze the loaves, wrap tightly in foil and seal in plastic bags.
I have a confession to make. I never knead bread dough. Check out this video of Richard Bertinet slapping sweet dough. I find this technique very fast and much easier than using both hands to knead. I clean the counter, turn the dough onto the counter, pick it up with one hand, and slam it down on the counter. I fold it in half with the same hand, pick it up, and slam it back on the counter. It conditions the dough much faster than regular kneading and I find it less tiring. One of these days I might ask my downstairs neighbour whether she can hear it because it is a noisy process.
Keep a small pile of flour nearby on the counter for coating your fingers if the dough gets sticky. Don’t slam a ball of dough onto a floured surface unless you want every inch of your kitchen and your clothing covered with flour. The dough will seem unusually sticky after the first few slaps because you’ve worked in quite a lot of flour on the outside, while the core is still wet and sticky. Keep a plastic scraper handy to clean your hands if the dough sticks to your fingers and to scrape the dough off the counter if it sticks there. You want to reach a state where the dough is still soft but would rather stick to itself than to you and the counter. Don’t try to force in as much flour as the dough will hold! You want the dough to be pliable and easy to handle, so that it doesn’t turn into a brick in the oven.
Wishing everyone a happy and prosperous new year! May we merit to be inscribed in the Book of Life.