Earlier this week my daughter and I were invited to a mother-daughter bread-baking event led by a Challah (egg bread) “expert” that we now affectionately now call Auntie Lee.
Years ago, I won a bread maker in a silent auction and for a little while, made my own bread. But pouring the ingredients into it wasn’t very much fun, the bread had a weird, unnatural shape, and whatever variety I attempted to make, it mysteriously always ended up with the same texture, smell and taste. I was not impressed and my bread maker got banished to the basement.
I just didn’t get the allure of baking my own bread. From what I, or though I, had figured out, it was not that good, messy, time-consuming (3+ hours for one measly loaf?), expensive, and hard! Why make it when someone else can make it better, faster, and cheaper?
I’m not sure if it was the way Auntie Lee made it look so easy or the company of the other women, but the two hours we spent making bread went by in a flash. I was part of a group at my synagogue, but after doing a bit of research, I learned that almost every major religious and cultural group has a matriarchal bread-baking tradition, similar to quilt-making and sewing circles. And while today’s “modern” mom may think she’s progressed beyond all that, we still do it-except now we call it scrap-booking, supperclub, or Zumba.
I’ve tried scrapbooking and Zumba and, for me, baking bread was much easier, more fun, more satisfying, and made my house smell way better that sweatin’ to salsa music. And while my daughter does love her scrapbooks, I cannot tell you how proud she was to tell our guests last night that she baked the bread all by herself.
The evening was supposed to be an introduction to baking Challah but most of the women (including me) were repeat visitors, leading me to believe that women really do enjoy baking bread together. So gather your friends around a really long table and get to it.
Auntie Lee’s Foolproof Challah
Note #1: This bread does take a lot of time and a lot of flour, but it also makes 4-5 loaves. Freeze the formed, unbaked dough and then take it out 3 hours before baking on the day you want to use it.
Note #2: Even though Auntie Lee claims this recipe is foolproof, baking bread is an art form. It takes time to master and no two loaves will ever taste the same. But they will all taste delicious!
3 pkgs yeast
1 cup + 1tbsp white sugar
just about 4 cups warm water
1 cup vegetable oil
10+ cups flour (pretty much one small bag)
heaping 1/8 cup kosher salt
1 egg yolk
1 tbsp water
optional: sesame seeds, kosher salt, poppy seeds
1. Put the yeast, 1 tbsp sugar, and 1 cup water into a bowl. Let sit for about 5-10 minutes for the yeast to proof (get foamy). If it doesn’t foam up, the yeast is no good & you’ll need to start over.
2. In a very large separate bowl, add in the eggs, oil, and sugar.
3. In a 1 cup measuring cup, put in the salt and fill the rest of that cup with warm water. Mix to dissolve the salt and add to the eggs.
4. Add in the last two cups of warm water and yeast mixture and mix just enough to break up and incorporate the yolks.
5. Add in the first 8 cups of flour and mix, first with a spoon and then by hand. At this point, you can add in the remaining two cups of flour, a bit at a time as needed. You may not need it all. What you are looking for is dough that is a tiny bit sticky but that can be formed into a ball-like shape without sticking to your hands.
6. Cover with a dry towel and let rise for 1-2 hours. We let ours rise for about an hour and used the time to talk and snack.
7. Punch down the dough and separate into 4-5 portions. My daughter and I further separated our dough into three sections that we formed into strips and then braided. But you could also just form into a ball or loaf shape. Experiment!
8. If you are planning on baking right away, let rise for an additional hour and then brush with egg wash and sprinkle with any optional toppings
9. Bake at 350 for 45-55 minutes or until it is golden brown and sounds sort of hollow when you tap on the bottom.
10. If you are not baking right away, wrap the formed dough in plastic wrap and freeze.