I guess if you didn't grow up with me, you'd have absolutely no idea what I'm talking about. If you're Jewish too, you might have an inkling. But the power of the internet does not allow me to read your mind or know what you are thinking, unfortunately. I was recently accepted in to this super cool group of healthy food bloggers, The Recipe ReDux, where member bloggers participate in monthly themed posts that go live on the 21st or 22nd of each month; the theme for November is a food memory you're thankful for. So, instead of reading your mind, let me just tell you what I'm talking about. I'm going to tell you about about a food memory I'm thankful for! (HINT: it involves homemade challah and Friday).
Per family tradition, as a child, Friday's were always reserved for Shabbat. Pretty much all things that happened on Friday night had to happen after dinner. Kind of frustrating for your average teenager. Shabbat, if you're unfamiliar, is considered to be a "day of rest," observed from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday. Now, my family wasn't strict in our rituals of all things Shabbat, however, Friday night dinners seemed to be a repeating occasion (Side-note: ever since Gilmore Girls was added to Netflix, all I can think about when I hear "Friday night dinner" are Friday dinners with Richard and Emily Gilmore. I promise mine were way less formal and way more exciting). I remember more Fridays with these dinners than without. Like I said, tradition. As we all know traditions dictate many things, and in my case, challah bread! Now if you've heard of Challah before, you are probably are thinking about the best French toast you've ever eaten. I know that thinking of French toast is a close second for me (like this stuffed French toast). For a period of time I remember being significant (although I'm sure my father may argue the period of time wasn't significant at all, but hey, it's my memory, right?), my father would make challah bread from scratch every Thursday night so we could have freshly baked bread for Friday dinner. I remember sometimes I'd even be lucky enough to have the immense honor of braiding the dough myself! My braiding skills probably go back to my year as a Girl Scout; it feels like I probably learned then... or at a sleepover?
Our Shabbat dinners had more than Challah, we ate other traditional foods too. I'm going to be honest though, I don't get excited about that many Jewish foods. Do you get excited about kuggel? No? I didn't think so. Actually, I bet you don't even know what it is. Thankfully Buzfeed will tell you, and then you can decide for yourself. See, not every family and/or culture is as lucky as you people from the south. I mean c'mon, who doesn't love a good biscuit or crisp piece of fried chicken? That beats kuggel in my book any day. Anyways...in my eyes, Challah is one of the few Jewish foods worth getting excited about. Now, I know what you're thinking. Your favorite food memory is about a loaf of bread? And yes, you'd be right. But I'm thankful for this memory because of more than the bread. This was the first time that I can remember spending time in the kitchen as a kid. While I may not have known it then, food has kind of become a focal point in my life, so in a weird way, I probably owe a lot of thanks to these bread baking memories.
When I asked my dad a few months back for his Challah recipe, it's safe to say he was excited. He sent me emails saying things like, "I can't wait to see your braids." So weird. My family likes our bread on the sweet side. You don't have to like what I like (but I definitely encourage it). Feel free to omit the honey for a slightly less sweet version. And be patient. When I say the dough needs to rise overnight, I'm being serious. I'm not always serious, but I'm serious about this (why do you think we made the bread Thursday to eat for dinner Friday!?) I took my dad's recipe and changed it ever so slightly. You'll notice the addition of whole wheat flour for some fiber action there. I promise, it's still just as delicious.
Homemade Challah BRead
2 packages dry yeast
1 1/4 cup very warm water
3/4 cup sugar
1/3 cup canola oil
2 tsp salt
4 1/2 cups all purpose flour, unsifted
1 1/2 cups wheat flour, unsifted
1 egg, mixed with honey (1-2 tbsp should work)
In a large mixing bowl, dissolve yeast in warm water, mixing with a fork. Add sugar, oil, salt and 3 eggs, mixing well with fork.
In a separate bowl, combine flours. Add flour to wet mixture 1 cup at a time, beating with fork after each addition just until flour is moistened. Batter will be lumpy. Add enough flour to make dough too thick to beat with a fork. Dough should be stiff but very sticky.
Turn dough onto floured board and with floured hands, knead for 5-10 minutes, or until dough is stretchy. During the kneading, continue to add flour if dough remains too sticky.
Place dough in a well oiled bowl, cover with cloth, and let rise to double in size in a warm place. Let dough rise overnight for best results.
In the morning, punch dough down and knead again on a floured board. Divide dough in half. Take 1 half and divide into 3 equal parts. Roll parts into strips and pinch all three together at one end and braid. Repeat with other dough half. Place on a well oiled baking sheet and cover. Let rise for an hour.
Preheat oven to 375 F. Brush loaves with the egg-honey mixture and bake for about 35 minutes on middle rack. Check bread after 15 minutes. If dough is getting too dark, cover with foil for remainder of the time. Dough should be golden brown when done baking. Cool bread for at least 20 minutes before removing from baking sheet and slicing.