Monday, March 24, 2008


Hey Kathryn,

I hope that your spring break is going well - I heard about how you lost your camera in the Gulf of Mexico, and I'm really sorry for your loss. I recently looked through a children's book, which is illustrated by David Wiesner called Flotsam.  Wiesner, who also illustrated Tuesday, imagines the life of a camera after it was lost in the ocean, snapping pictures of undersea life and passing from beach-goer to beach-goer throughout the years.  I only hope that your camera can have such a future.

My spring break travels took a less exotic turn.  I spent the week visiting my relatives who live in the east coast.  We spent one day at my grandmother's house in Philadelphia, where I embarked on my first major cooking project since the Cowboy Cookies.  Seeing as it was Shabbat, I wanted to impress my relatives and make them my challah.  For those of you who have never had challah, it is a braided egg bread that opens the Shabbat meal, and one of the only things that my family of vegetable-averse, flavor-averse, and meat-averse people can eat together.  My cousin Sarah before I even set foot inside a kitchen expressed extreme doubt: "Why are you even going to make challah?  Homemade ones taste too much like yeast."  Oh Sarah, you really don't know what it's like to be a Jew roughing it in the Heartland.  She probably has never had to deal with not being able to buy challah on Friday.  Learning to make a good challah in Iowa is more than a traditional gesture - it's a necessity.  In Grinnell, I learned how to make it with the help of Deborah Kaiser, and since then I have adapted her recipe and made it even sweeter.  Like a good medium rare steak, I undercook the bread so that it is still doughy and gooey in the center.  I am very proud of my challah recipe, and  I thought it would be easy to prove Sarah wrong.  

It came out looking the same as my other challahs and had my trademark sweet, dessert like taste, but it definitely wasn't my best challah.  The dough took a long time to rise, which made me anxious to have it bake up as quickly as possible.  I set the oven for 350 degrees, and let it bake for around an hour.  However, I forgot to account for my grandmother's dark metal pans.  I had cooked it for too long; the bottom of the challah burned, and the inside was dry.  My family was really nice and still complimented my bread, but throughout the meal, I kept singing in my head: "If I could turn back time."  Anyways, here is the recipe, and I wish all of you the best of luck if you try to make it.  

Sweet-as-Babkah Challah


5 tsp yeast (or two packets worth) of active dry yeast
1 1/2 cups warm water
1 cup plus 1 tbsp sugar
1 cup oil
5 eggs plus 
1 tsp of salt
7-8 cups all purpose flour

Add 1 tbsp of sugar, the yeast, and the warm water in a large bowl, stir to dissolve the yeast and let stand until a tan layer of foam appears on the top.  Add the rest of the sugar, 4 of the eggs, the salt, the oil, to the bowl and mix until well combined.  Start adding the flour, one cup at a time, and once it becomes to hard to stir, lightly flour your countertop or cooking surface, and knead the dough while also adding in more flour until the dough is no longer sticks to the countertop or to your hands.  Wash and lightly oil the bowl, and place dough in the bowl covered with a damp dish cloth.  Set aside for a couple hours until the dough has risen to at least double its original volume.  If the dough is not rising properly, warm up the oven for a minute, and then place the bowl in the oven and continue to let it rise.  Once it has risen, punch the down so that all the air bubbles deflate, and divide the dough in half, and then each half into three strands. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Braid the two loaves, and set on a pan.  Beat the egg with a tablespoon of water in a small bowl.  Brush the challah with the egg wash, and place in the pans in the oven to bake for 40 minutes to an hour, or until the bread is golden brown.  

Serve after saying the Hamotzi, like the good Jew in all of you.  

Possible add-ins for adventurous eaters:
- raisins
- nuts
- chocolate chips
- shredded coconut
- M&Ms 

Anyways, Kathryn, good luck with all your spring break cooking endeavors.  I look forward to posting about successful cooking experiments in the next couple of days.


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