Yid Dish: Homemade challah for the working woman

I recently headed back to the office after being at home for nearly 18 months. During that year and a half, I renewed my relationships with my children, husband, self, and…my kitchen. I have always been one to cook and entertain, but being at home upped the ante. I turned play dates into dinner dates. Every Friday was a complete Shabbat dinner. There was usually a homemade something or other for dessert. And we had so many leftovers, we had to literally give them away to the neighbors. During this time, I shopped at my leisure, stopping into boutique markets and buying direct from the farms. I founded a CSA. In short, I found a great deal of happiness and comfort in cooking, especially for those I love. It became more than a hobby; it became a passion.

It did not take long after returning to the workplace for things to slip to the wayside. Even with flexible hours, it is impossible to do all that I did before, much less to have the luxury of time to enjoy it. Pizza night is now one a week. Dessert is often fruit and ice cream. And the neighbors have to fend for themselves. But one thing I refuse to give up on is Shabbat, especially homemade challah.

For me, challah making challah represents everything I want to be. I love the feel of the dough in my hands when I braid it, almost as much as the sense of accomplishment I feel when it comes out of the oven. When I make challah, I feel nurturing and generous and full of possibility. And I was not going to give it up. So I pulled out my slow rise method from my bag of tricks, and wanted to share it with anyone interested in homemade challah for the working woman.

Slow rise is a method that allows you to literally let the bread rise for as long as you need. Well, not forever – you can’t leave it in an Egyptian tomb an expect to come back a century later. But, much as the Pillsbury folks do, you can leave yeast to rise in cool spaces for extended periods. This time old method works well with challah.

For years, I have used Claudia Roden’s challah recipe with great success; it is a wonderful, simple, and parve recipe that always delivers great bread for Shabbat. Like all challah recipes, it has four key phases:

  1. Combine/knead ingredients: Combine ingredients and knead, preferably on a Kitchen Aid with dough hook (speed 2 or less)
  2. 1st rise: Allow the dough to rise until doubled in size.
  3. Braid and 2nd rise: Braid the challah like you would a pigtail, using three plaits. Let rise again until doubled.
  4. Brush and bake: Brush with an egg wash and bake away.

Here’s how it works with a slow rise:

  1. Thursday night – Combine/knead ingredients: Combine ingredients and knead, preferably on a Kitchen Aid with dough hook (speed 2 or less) – 15 minutes total (2 -3 minutes for the Kitchen Aid)
  2. Thursday night – 1st rise: Allow the dough to rise until doubled in size. Let it rise in the fridge for at least 2 hours.
  3. Friday morning – Braid and 2nd rise: Braid the challah like you would a pigtail, using three plaits. Let rise in the fridge again until doubled. – 5 minutes to braid, 1 hour plus to rise
  4. Friday afternoon – Brush and bake: Take out of fridge and let sit at room temperature 30 minutes before baking. Brush with an egg wash and bake away. – 30 minutes

In some ways, the slow rise is the ultimate metaphor for the multi-tasking mom. The work gets done quietly, in the dead of night, while the dish washer is running and the laundry is cycling, and of course the kids are sleeping. I like the idea that while all that is happening things are rising in my fridge, full of the next day’s promise. It’s a hopeful effort. And homemade challah dresses up any meal, from brisket, to roast chicken, to takeout. It is a nice gesture that makes my family happy, and for me, makes working seem feasible. Give it a try, and enjoy every bite.

Note: Claudia Roden’s recipe is for 4 loaves; I find that 1 tbsp of yeast yields 2 loaves of bread. If you are new to using yeast, please take a look at this piece on how to work with it.

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10 Responses to “Yid Dish: Homemade challah for the working woman”

  1. Bobbie Says:

    I’ve been using a slow rise method for both challah and everyday bread for several years now. When I learned this method, I lost my “fear” of making bread. Despite what I had thought, baking really wasn’t a such a complex science, demanding exacting measurements and split-second timing! I could bake great bread and have a life, too! Occasionally I teach a challah class at shul, and this is the method I teach there, too.

  2. Leah Says:

    Thanks for sharing this! Our youngest is 8 months old, and while making challah in one day is possible, it is not easy. If a child decides to tantrum and needs to nap 5 minutes before the start of a second rise, what’s a mama to do? Being able to stretch the project out sounds perfect.

  3. Rhea Says:

    I love it! I never thought I could make challah from scratch without taking Friday off, but this makes it look do-able. I’m wondering about step #3, though… is it really 5 minutes? Or could it be 5 hours — or maybe 7 or 8 — while I’m at work?

  4. Julie Steinberg Says:

    Thanks everyone for the comments – @Rhea I made a correction based on your comments. 5 minutes to braid, 1 hour plus to rise.

  5. Julie Steinberg Says:

    @Rhea – when I say i hour plus, I mean PLUS. Yes, you can leave it in the fridge for several hours while you are at work.

  6. Jonathan B-K Says:

    I feel the same way about making challah, part of my weekly ritual that I hate sacrificing, and so make every effort to coordinate with my Friday work schedule (somewhat flexible, since I’m a professor). In doing so, I’ve discovered what you have, that challah allowed to rise longer than I planned because work and grocery shopping delayed me, or putting in the fridge over night or earlier Friday morning when I knew I’d be late wasn’t going to kill it. And while I’ve grown to depend on my Kitchen Aid dough hook, I’ve learned to adapt, especially while in a less amply supplied kitchen for the last two months in Prague where I’ve been teaching a summer course. Finding the right grind of flour (there are more options here, and with my meager knowledge of Czech, the squeeze test is most effective), kneading by hand again (as I originally learned to make challah, though fortified with Harold McGee’s proof that bread dough really doesn’t need as much kneading as we think), letting it rise in soup pot (the biggest “bowl” we have) and bringing it still rising on the tram to friends’ homes with more oven space than mine, teaching my cousin’s Azerbaijani fiancee how to make it – have only enhanced the reinforced my conviction that my more or less weekly ritual of challah making is totally worth it!

  7. Marcy Says:

    I have made challah before but friends always supplied the dough. I just never thought I could working full time. Thanks!

  8. dena Says:

    I have a tiny (and hopefully not stupid) question re: 1st rise (slow rise method) “15 minutes total (2 -3 minutes for the Kitchen Aid)” — does this mean an extra 2-3 minutes tacked onto the 15 minutes, or only 2-3 minutes if using a Kitchen Aid?

  9. Julie Steinberg Says:

    @Dena – nope, 2-3 minutes total time on the KitchenAid. Good luck. Julie

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