Friday, May 15, 2020

Challah for a Congregation of Three

Last week I received in the mail a special package, containing a rare item not seen in these parts since late February.  My dealer, who is my sister-in-law, sent me a small pouch of yeast, enough for baking several loaves of bread.  She came upon this yeast because a co-op in her neighborhood bought a gigantic package of yeast (the only volume that can be bought these days) and then divvied it up into reasonable family-sized amounts.  I am grateful to benefit from their resourcefulness.

The challah recipe I have made in the past is for a "congregation-sized" loaf, or 24 minyan-sized loaves.  But our congregation of three people can't and shouldn't eat that much challah in a short period of time. The freezer is still chock full of stuff, so there's no room for freezing extra bread.

The recipe for congregation-sized challah calls for 6 cups of flour.  The recipe below calls for 4 cups.  So this is what I made today.

I do not have bread flour.  I used all-purpose flour.  I used honey instead of sugar.  I kneaded the dough by hand, a very satisfying activity.

Challah Bread
(medium-sized loaf)

MAKES 1 loaf (about 20 slices)

1 cup lukewarm water
2 teaspoons active dry or instant yeast
4 to 4 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup granulated sugar
2 teaspoons salt
2 large eggs
1 large egg yolk (reserve the white for the egg wash)
1/4 cup neutral-flavored vegetable oil, such as canola (or ¼ cup melted butter)

1.    Dissolve the yeast. Place the water in a small bowl, sprinkle with the yeast and a healthy pinch of sugar, and stir to combine. Let stand until you see a thin frothy layer across the top, 5 to 10 minutes. This means that the yeast is active and ready to use. (If you do not see this or if your yeast won't dissolve, it has likely expired and you'll need to purchase new yeast.)

(The original recipe had steps 2 and 3 reversed.  It seems better and easier to me to add the flour last.)

2. Add the eggs, yolk, and oil. Stir the yeast-water mixture.  Add the sugar, salt, eggs, egg yolk, and oil. 

3. Add the flour. Add 4 cups of the flour.

4. Mix to form a shaggy dough.  Mix everything with a wooden spoon or rubber spatula until a shaggy dough that is difficult to mix forms.

5. Knead the dough for 6 to 8 minutes. Fit the mixer with the hook attachment and knead on low speed for 6 to 8 minutes. (Alternatively, turn out the dough onto a floured work surface and knead by hand for about 10 minutes.) If the dough seems very sticky, add flour a teaspoon at a time until it feels tacky, but no longer like bubblegum. The dough has finished kneading when it is soft, smooth, and holds a ball-shape.

6. Let the dough rise until doubled. Place the dough in an oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and place somewhere warm. Let the dough rise until doubled in bulk, 1 1/2 to 2 hours.

7. Divide the dough and roll into ropes. Divide the dough into equal pieces (3 or 4 or 6), depending on the type of braid you'd like to do. Roll each piece of dough into a long rope about 16 inches long. If the ropes shrink as you try to roll them, let them rest for 5 minutes to relax the gluten and then try again.

I did a 4-strand braid.  The main thing to remember is 4 over 2, then 1 over 3, then 2 over 3.  Watch this video for details on a 4-strand braid. 

8. Braid the dough. Gather the ropes and squeeze them together at the very top. If making a 3-stranded challah, braid the ropes together like braiding hair or yarn and squeeze the other ends together when complete. 

9. Let the challah rise. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Place the braided loaf on top and sprinkle with a little flour. Cover with a clean kitchen towel. Let rise in a warm place away from drafts until puffed and pillowy, about 1 hour.

10. Brush the challah with egg white. About 20 minutes before baking, arrange a rack in the middle of the oven and heat to 350°F. When ready to bake, whisk the reserved egg white with 1 tablespoon of water and brush it all over the challah. Be sure to get in the cracks and down the sides of the loaf.

11. Bake the challah 30 to 35 minutes. Bake, rotating the baking sheet halfway through, until the challah is deeply browned and registers 190°F in the very middle with an instant-read thermometer, 30 to 35 minutes total.

12. Cool the challah. Let the challah cool on a cooling rack until just barely warm. Slice and eat.

The original recipe is from here:

Thursday, May 14, 2020

First lines: Feb-Mar-Apr 2020 edition

This photo was taken at a place that I am very fond of.
Alas, it is closed right now, until further notice.

Let’s face it.  For some of us, it’s been hard to concentrate during the past three months.  In January I finished reading six books.  In Feb-Mar-Apr I finished reading six books, and that was a struggle.

Here are the first lines of those six books.

Book 1
1: Trigger Warning
I’m not mad.
            Look, everybody is called a traitor once or twice in their lives, right?  Everybody gets falsely accused and wrongly investigated by the FBI and has to testify in front of Congress for over thirty hours, answering the same stupid politically motivated questions over and over again, don’t they?

Book 2
This is a love story. In 1916, during the First World War, two young
Americans met by chance on a mysterious and now-forgotten estate near Chicago.

Book 3
Willa Drake and Sonya Bailey were selling candy bars door-to-door. This was for the Herbert Malone Elementary School Orchestra.

Book 4
Valentine’s Day
As always, Martha Storm was primed for action. Chin jutted, teeth gritted, and a firm grip on the handle of her trusty shopping trolley.

Book 5
Joshua Poldark died in March 1783. In February of that year, feeling that his tenure was becoming short, he sent for his brother from Trenwith.

Book 6
June 1988
“Hi, Caller, You’re on the air with Garden Talk.”
Mona Butterfield leaned forward in her seat and took a deep breath to calm her nerves.

And the titles revealed:

Book 1
Triggered:  How the left thrives on hate and wants to silence us , by Donald Trump Jr. , © 2019. 
How horrible that this was the only book I finished reading in February.  I was reading lots of news articles and knocking on doors to get primary election petition signatures, and following primary elections.  All the while, the coronavirus outbreak was growing. 

Looking back at the "first lines" quote above, it seems highly ironic.  Which political figure testified for hours and hours, answering politically motivated questions?  Hmm?  Benghazi hearings, anyone?

I read this in the hardback version.  Because the library is now closed, this book is still sitting in our house.  

* * * * * * *

In March I was able to finish two books.

Book 2
The Woman Who Smashed Codes: A True Story of Love, Spies, and the Unlikely Heroine Who Outwitted America's Enemies, by Jason Fagone. © 2017
A fascinating look at the lives of code breakers.  And also a love story.  Read for book club, with a virtual discussion via video meeting, while in coronavirus soft lockdown.  This library book is also still in our house. 

Book 3
Clock Dance by Anne Tyler © 2018
The library system had a list (back in March) for those who want to read about pandemics, and another list for those who don’t. These were on the latter list.   It was great to read an Anne Tyler novel.  She always takes me back to my hometown.  Read on kindle, borrowed from the library.

* * * * * * *

In April I found enough concentration to finish three books.

Book 4
The Library of Lost and Found, by Phaedra Patrick © 2019
Borrowed from the library on kindle.  Also on library's list for calming down.   It fit the bill nicely.

Book 5
Ross Poldark: A Novel of Cornwall, 1783-1787 (The Poldark Saga Book 1)
by Winston Graham © 1945
Having seen the first three seasons of the TV series on disk from the library, and having been prevented by coronavirus from borrowing the next seasons from the library, I decided to read the series.   

Reading a book which you already know the plot line of may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but I enjoyed this reading, and not only because it does include the occasional cup of tea.  The diatribes of Jud Paynter, the servant, while drunk, I found highly amusing.  His inebriated speeches appear in the TV series only in an abbreviated fashion.  Reading this book was somewhat like re-reading the Harry Potter books (I have re-read books 1-5).  It is comforting to re-enter the lives of the characters I know, and I am less anxious about the lot.   (kindle version borrowed from library)

Book 6
Through the Channel, by Melissa Westemeier (third in the Bassville Stories series).  © 2020
What a pleasure to read this book.  I loved meeting these characters again and spending some time in this town – nothing like my town or our current times, which makes it a perfect book for right now.   Mona is endearing, and Maw is hilarious.  And in Chapter 25 I found a special surprise.  Manure features prominently in some scenes, but so do raspberries (the fruit).   This book is still in our house because I bought it and it is a copy with a personal inscription to me, signed by the author. 

The Bassville Stories series consists of these three volumes:

I also finished most of this book, but can’t claim to have read all of it.
Howard Thurman: Essential Writings, Selected with an Introduction by Luther E. Smith, Jr.  © 2006.

These photos were taken outside our public library.
Our dear public library! 
I look forward to returning there sometime, maybe next year!