Barge Pole


I’ve mentioned before that I can be a bit spontaneous.  Sometimes that’s not such a good trait.  Spontaneity can combust, and it will, and God will sit back and laugh.  For example…  

Cara, one of my favorite friends, tried to fix me up with a friend of hers a mere 16 hours after I had just gotten divorced.  “Are you crazy?” I asked.  “I just got divorced yesterday!  YESTERDAY!  And I know this guy, he’s not my type, and besides, he lives all the way across the country, it would never work.”  I was determined to keep my impetuous nature in check, at least where Cara’s matchmaking was concerned.   

It seems that Bachelor #1 was also not interested. I heard he told Cara that considering I really had just gotten divorced 18 hours before she called him, he wouldn’t, and I quote, “touch me with a barge pole.”  

Matchmaker, Matchmaker, make me a match

Ah, Cara, bless her cotton socks, as she likes to say (Brits really do say strange things).  She’s a sneaky little thing, my friend Cara.  A few weeks later she phones up single and fancy-free me to invite me over for a meal on Shabbat.  And guess who was there, without his barge pole?  

We celebrated our fifth wedding anniversary last month.  At our wedding, under the chuppah, I could hear God chuckling away, and Cara sat there, looking so smug!   

Yes, I stuck my tongue out at the photographer while under the chuppah...

One of the things Ju-boy had to get used to in Chapter Two is that he was now married to someone addicted to baking.  When I moved into his house he had no baking supplies whatsoever.  There was half a kilo of self-raising flour in his fridge, but I think that was a remnant of Chapter One.  I suppose he got custody of the flour.  I moved in and immediately stocked the kitchen with flour, yeast, baking powder, all things unfamiliar to this dedicated meat roaster.  A few weeks after the wedding we went to the supermarket together.  I noticed him in the ready-made cake section, holding up one of those marble loaves, and I rushed over, intending to slap the offending cake out of his hand.  What does he need that for?  He’s got me!  As I approached I saw him shaking his head, and heard him muttering to himself, “I never have to buy one of these things again!”  Doesn’t he say the sweetest things?  

Painted and seeded and ready for the oven

Galit, over at Minnesota Mamaleh, talks about traditions in families.  One of the traditions I brought to my new household is home-baked challot, every Shabbat.  It’s one of the traditions that we’ve Brady-bunched, mixing some from my family, adding new ones from his, making this tradition now ours.  My challah recipe is an easy one to make, and easy to eat.  It has no eggs, but tastes rich and yummy, and I have a secret ingredient to making it taste special, which I share with you below.  Also, I use bread flour (Stybel #2 here in Israel).  I find it gives the challot a wonderful texture.  I have also made this recipe with plain white flour,100% whole wheat, half white/half whole wheat, and also using the 70 ww/30 flour available here in Israel at Nitzat HaDuvdevan.  Use what you prefer, but I get my best results, both in texture and taste with first the bread flour, then the 70 ww/30 mix. 
Rich and Yummy Challah  

  • 1 kilo (2.2 pounds, ~7 cups) flour
  • 2 tablespoons instant dry yeast
  • 7 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons vanilla (my secret ingredient)
  • 1/2 cup oil
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 3/4 cups warm water
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • sesame seeds, nigella seeds, poppy seeds, caraway seeds, you decide

  1. Place the flour, yeast, sugar, vanilla and oil in a large mixing bowl.  Mix together at low speed using the dough hook (or knead manually).  This will still be very floury, this is just to get the ingredients mixed together.
  2. Now add the salt.  The reason I do it this way is that some say the yeast is “allergic” to salt and shouldn’t come in contact with it directly.  Some say this is nonsense.  I figure, it’s no problem to keep them apart, so I do.
  3. While the mixer is running at low speed, add the water.  It shouldn’t be too hot that you end up killing all the yeasty beasties.  You just want to warm them up a little.
  4. Now get the mixer running at medium speed, kneading for at least ten minutes.  I let it go sometimes for 20 minutes, depending on how hypnotized I get by watching the dough go around and around, and whether I’ve had my morning coffee yet.  The dough is ready when it has the texture of your earlobe. 
  5. Cover the dough with either a plastic bag or a damp cloth, and let rise in a warm part of your kitchen until doubled.  Depending on the day, season, moon phase or alien activity, this can take anywhere from 45 minutes to 2 hours.  On a sluggish day (usually cold winter mornings) I like to give it a kick start by placing the bowl in the microwave and zapping on high for 15 seconds.  Feel free to punch down the dough and let it rise a second time, if you have/need the time or the inclination.
  6. Once the dough has risen to your satisfaction, give it a good sucker punch to release the air and knead the dough manually for a few minutes.  Now it’s time to braid the dough.  There are many different ways you can braid, or weave the dough.  I like to do a four-strand knotted weave (see the round challot in the picture above).  Ju-boy’s middle son, Chip, taught me the one-strand S twist, which is the free form most often seen in Israeli supermarkets.  This is one area where you can really let your creativity flow.  And just in case you need a little help, try this easy method for a six strand challah.
  7. Once you have your challah braided, place it on a sheet pan covered with parchment paper.  Let it rise again for another 20 minutes or so.  Paint the risen challah with the beaten egg (a silicone brush is best for this) and then sprinkle with whatever seeds you have chosen.
  8. Preheat the oven to 150 degrees C (300 degrees F).  I know this seems low, but trust me, this works.  The slow heat helps the dough rise even more before it starts to brown.  If you don’t believe me, ask Cara.  She can vouch this works.  Look her up in the Yellow Pages under matchmakers.
  9. The challah should bake for about 1/2 an hour to 45 minutes.  This is all dependent  on your oven and whether you bake free-form or use a mold.  I find that free-form takes a shorter amount of time.  I once saw one of Israel’s premier bread bakers, Erez Komrovsky of Lechem Erez, on a Food Channel show, and he said that when the house smells wonderfully of baked challah, it’s done.
  10. Remove the challot from the oven and let cool.  These babies are amazing when fresh, but if you are going to freeze them wrap them well.

While challah is delicious on Shabbat and on holidays, it’s also majorly yummy when allowed to go stale a bit, and then used in French toast. 

Shabbat shalom!

While challah is the cornerstone of Shabbat, I like how it’s managed to bind the family together as well.   Ju-boy and I actually started our Chapter Two over a loaf of challah at Cara’s house, may we continute to share many loaves together over the years to come.

About Miriyummy

All I want to do is live happily ever after.

Posted on 14 July 2010, in Bread, Challah, Family Life, Holiday cooking, Jewish cooking, Shabbat and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 33 Comments.

  1. Great story and the recipe look y ummy too.


  2. Looks good and it’s a great story too.


  3. Next time you’re in NY, come to house and bake me one!!


  4. aww– mirj! that’s such a fab story, excellent post and seriously *priceless* photo op! thanks much for the link-love, too! i’m honored (really) to be linked to you. 🙂


  5. Irmgard Upmanis

    What a lovely story, Mirj! And what lovely looking challahs!


  6. Actually, I have been misquoted – I said I wouldn’t even touch the barge pole that had touched her.


    • Do me a favor, Sweet Boy, stop by the mall tonight and buy a doghouse. It’s where you’ll be sleeping from now on. Even wouldn’t touch the barge poll, indeed!

      Love you muchly! 😉


  7. hi2shoshana

    Thank you so much for your tutorial on braiding. I could never braid decently and you made it so easy to understand. My daughter and I tried it tonight for fun and they looked beautiful. Thank you so much!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I love your recipes!


    • Thanks so much for your lovely comment. I wish I could take credit for the braiding, but that’s not me in the Youtube video. The woven round challah is a fun one to make, and comes out beautifully. At the request of another reader, next time I bake I’m going to have my daughter video it so I can actually star in my own posts! 😉


  8. Finally a video I can understand! I never really understood the other chala-lady video when it came to multiple braiding, this video is great and easy – thank you!


    • Now that you have grasped the basics, I will be testing you. I will pay you a surprise visit and watch you braid. Be prepared (and make sure you have good coffee in the house)! 😉


  9. That has got to be the best wedding picture ever!!
    I love this post. It really is so romantic at heart….and finding someone 18 hrs after a divorce? Amazing.
    I love the aroma of fresh baked challah. I actually stopped baking it a year back or so for some unknown reason…but I’m going to get right back into it with the recipe above.
    What do you mean by bread flour? Do they sell it right next to the regular white flour and cake flour?


    • Stybel makes several different kinds of flours, including bread flour. They were kind enough to number them, and bread flour is #2. It has a higher gluten content, and I find a noticeable difference between that and the regular all-purpose flour.

      Actually finding him 18 hours after the divorce is really pushing it. We were actually introduced at Cara’s daughter’s Bat Mitzvah, he and his Chapter One, mine and my X, both at the same table. We got along so well we were always put at the same table after that. In the next few years we must have met up a handful of times, always at Cara’s smachot. It actually took a few months between Cara’s insane phone call and us actually becoming a couple. And then we were too scared to tell her about it….


  10. Please don’t start discussing your dog fetish in public.

    Like you muchly.


  11. I love the barge pole story and I love all that baking – I do believe there is a baking gene !!!


  12. I made your recipe this week instead of my regular one. I had to adapt the amounts to a US 5 lb. bag of flour. Everyone (especially me!) preferred this over my other water challah recipe! Thank you! I have to continue to tweak my conversions a bit, to get it just right. Once I think I have, I will send you my notes on the changes. : )

    Thank you miriyummmy!


  13. Miriyummy, not only do I love this story, I love Brits. They are so howling cute. Also, your wedding photo is epic. Great blog!


  14. …and btw my mom was born and raised in the Bronx… Pelham Parkway.


  15. Can’t decide whether to make this recipe or your “nadav” recipe – help! how do I choose? which is easier?


    • This is the same recipe as Nadav. Let me know what happens. Shana tova!


      • Going for this one – it has much less salt that your recipe on, and the secret vanilla ingredient sounds interesting. I’ll let you know how it goes (I’m also going to do the Tamar Anshe round braid) 🙂 thanks!


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