Sometimes I wonder if I’m 25 or 80. At the moment, I’m knitting and waiting for my tea water to boil. I spent the day baking. There was a time when I may not have believed that my future self would be such a homebody, but when I look back, the signs were all there.
I was always considered the lamest member in my college group of friends, opting to read Ulysses in bed with a giant bowl of cereal rather than going out to Rabbits, the terrifying dive bar where pickled eggs of unknown maturity lurked in grayish liquid on the counter.
I was known to bring my copy of Norton Shakespeare to the Pub, a subterranean on-campus bar where my friends did trivia and drank beer while I went wild with a highlighter in the margins.
I drank coffee by the jug, regularly making trips to the student center at 11:30 PM to fill up my thermos with bitter, too-hot coffee that I’d drink black on my way to the library.
I even chose to stay in Grinnell, Iowa, one summer for an intensive poetry writing project.
Lately, I’ve been embracing my old soul. I get up early before anyone is awake, pull on layers of flannel and wool, and tiptoe down to the kitchen to turn on the kettle. The first question of the day is always what to bake, and this morning the answer was challah.
Maybe it’s a nascent desire to embrace my Jewish roots, or else the desire to bite into that sweet soft pale yellow bread, toasted and slathered in butter. Whatever the urge was, I sat bolt upright as if visited by a divine yeasted dough dream.
I haven’t had good luck with bread. In fact, every time I’ve ever attempted it, I end up flustered and covered in flour, convinced I have no right to call myself a baker. But this dough comes together so easily, and kneading it is like rolling a pale yellow cloud between your hands. (Anyone who bakes their own bread can attest that kneading dough is a form of therapy.)
The hardest part about this recipe is the waiting, which in my case involved pacing impatiently around the room, peeking intermittently at the dough, moving it from steaming oven to radiator top, and occasionally giving it an encouraging pat.
The first thing I did when it came out of the oven, all golden brown and shiny, was start on a second loaf. (Yes, I know, I may have a problem…)
You can find the recipe, complete with a slideshow of step-by-step photos, here. See below for a few tips I found helpful throughout the process! The possibilities for a loaf of Challah are beautiful end expansive (we even made grilled cheese–surprisingly delicious), but my favorite way to enjoy it is toasted and slathered in salted honey butter.
Challah Baking Tips
- Let your dough rise in a warm place. For some nerdy facts about yeast, look here and here.
- Brush each loaf with egg wash mid-way through baking to prevent tearing.
- Don’t be intimidated by the six-strand braid! It’s actually quite simple.
Honey Butter Instructions
- ½ stick butter, at room temperature
- ¼ cup honey
- 1 teaspoon salt
- Combine honey, butter, and salt in a medium sized mixing bowl. Using a hand mixer, beat until all ingredients are fully incorporated and the butter becomes a pale yellow. Store in a bowl covered in plastic wrap in the fridge.
Little Sister Links:
- If you’re feeling inspired and want to go beyond the braid, here’s how to make three different Round challah wreaths.
- Three words: scallion pancake challah!
- When it comes to challah French toast, Ina Garten has the final say.
- Unless you want to get fancy with this kabocha and maple caramel baked french toast.
- What to do when you’ve gone crazy and baked 5 loaves of challah in one day? Make grilled cheese. The slightly sweet bread is surprisingly perfect paired with sharp cheddar. Use Gabrielle Hamilton’s genius tips for the sandwich of your dreams.
P.S. In case you think I’m one of those fancy food bloggers with luxurious marble counter tops, here’s a peek behind the scenes. My brother polished this piece of marble for me. I now transport it with me wherever I go (not convenient, as it weighs approximately 60 lbs.) At home, I prop it on a tiny table by this window, which is next to the kitchen and gets the most gorgeous morning light.