When my family moved to Oregon from Southern California, my brother dated a woman who lived on a farm. She gave us two ducks: Isabelle and Sir Francis Drake, which I kept in the backyard.
For years, Isabelle would lay several eggs a week, which were inevitably turned into challahs. I made challah so often that I rarely used a recipe and could make a perfect challah week-after-week. After Isabelle died, and my supply of duck eggs ceased, my bread-making skills declined until they’ve reach the point that every bread I’ve made in the last few years has either been too dense or a splotched out mess.
On Friday, with the approach of Rosh Hashanah, I decided to give the bread making endeavor another try, using a recipe from “In the Jewish Tradition, A Year of Food and Festivities” by Judith B. Fellner.
The bread was a huge success, perfect in consistency, shape, and taste. I think two key factors contributed to its success. First, I used my oven’s warming drawing, and allowed the bread sufficient time to proof. Even though the recipe said the first rising should be for an hour, the bread didn’t double for nearly two hours.
Second, I read the recipe (not just the ingredients) and followed the instructions, which called for the dough to be kneaded for at least 10 minutes. For the last decade or so, I’ve typically thrown the ingredients together, kneaded the dough until everything was combined, probably less than 3 minutes, and then tossed it into the oven to proof.
Kneading is pivotal for making bread because flour contains two proteins. When kneaded, the flour forms gluten, which is responsible for creating the elastic texture in the dough. Plus, the more you knead the dough, the silkier and more elastic it becomes.
A third reason for the success might be the recipe, which was unusual in the way the ingredients were added, along with the use of a mixer. Here’s the recipe.
Round Holiday Hallah
Author’s note: This rich and delicious hallah recipe was given to me by Faye Wasser of Clifton, New Jersey. I have made very minor changes.
5 to 6 cups of flour
¼ cup honey or 6 tablespoons sugar
1 ½ teaspoon salt
1 package dry yeast
½ cup margarine, softened
1 cup hot water
4 eggs, one separated
½ raisins (optional)
1 teaspoon cold water
In a large bowl, mix 1 ¼ cups of flour, the honey or sugar, salt, and undissolved yeast. Add margarine and hot tap water and beat 2 minutes at medium speed in mixer (or with hand mixer). Scape bowl occasionally. Add 3 eggs, egg white, and ½ cup flour to make a thick batter. Beat 2 minutes at high speed. Fold in raisins. Scape bowl and stir in enough flour to make a soft dough.
Turn out onto a lightly floured board. Knead until smooth and elastic, about 10 minutes. Place in a greased bowl and turn to grease top. Cover and let rise in a warm place until double in bulk, approximately 1 hour.
Punch dough down and turn onto a lightly floured board. Divide dough in half. Shape each half into a long coil, then wind upward to form a circle. Do the same with the other half [I divided the dough into fourth, and braided, then mushed folded the end under to create a domed loaf]. Place on greased cookie sheet. Beat remaining egg yolk with water, and brush on loaves.
If omitting raisins, sprinkle on 2 tablespoons poppy or sesame seeds. Leave uncovered to rise until double, approximately 1 hour. Bake at 375 degrees F for 30 to 35 minutes or until golden brown on top.