As summer nears its end (if the weather ever gets on board) and the new term approaches, I’ve found myself more and more homesick. I miss the summer storms of the Northeast coast. I miss freshly caught Maine lobster. I miss the rocky beaches. I miss the White Mountains. I miss my local ice cream shop. I miss the trees changing color in New England. I miss the Ren Faire I’ve been going to since I was five. I miss celebrating holidays with my family. Portland is great, and I’m increasingly grateful for the opportunity to study in this city, but I’ve been missing decades-familiar places and people.
As in all times of stress, I found myself leafing through Jeffrey Hamelman’s book Bread trying to figure out what to bake. Looking through the pages, I paused on the recipe for challah bread, suddenly remembering special Friday night dinners over summers and one memorable Hanukkah dinner. And I started missing my best friend, my Wyf, my salt-mate, the first person I co-signed a lease with: Sonia. So, this recipe is for her.
It is also entirely her fault that, when I told her I was making this loaf, she serenaded me with early 2000s Gwen Stefani and consequently that song was stuck in my head for days.
Making Challah bread is particularly therapeutic because it requires excessive amounts of kneading. The resulting dough is smooth, light, and soft, and when braided is suitable for a centerpiece at your milk-crate table.
—1 lb. AP flour
—1.3 oz. sugar
—1 whole egg (plus another for egg wash later)
—1.2 oz. vegetable oil
—5.1 oz. water
—.3 oz. salt
—1 ⅓ teaspoons instant yeast
Combine yeast, warm water and sugar in bowl, set aside for 5 minutes.
Add and incorporate the remaining ingredients.
Knead for 5 minutes on medium speed with a stand mixer or 7–10 minutes by hand. Internal dough temperature should be approximately 78 degrees. The dough will be very stiff.
Place in bowl, cover with plastic and let rise for 2 hours. After the first hour, gently press down on the dough. This (and yes, this is a technical term) degases the dough. Alternatively, you can let rise for 1 hour, then degas and place covered in refrigerator overnight. If you chose this option you should degas the dough twice over the first 4–6 hours of refrigeration.
After the 2-hour rise or after refrigeration (you do not have to let the dough come back to room temp.), divide the dough into equal pieces by weight depending on what type of braid you want to make (two-strand, three-strand, six-strand, etc.).
Shape into rounds or shortened cylinders. Let sit for 10–15 minutes until the strands are relaxed enough to stretch without tearing.
Braid the strands together.
Transfer to a parchment-covered sheet pan and cover with plastic. Let sit for 1½–2 hours.
Brush the dough with an egg wash (using that second egg).
Bake at 350 F for approximately 30 minutes.
Results in one large braid, approximately 1 lb. 6 oz.