Even though I was just shy of being three years old I have some vague memories of the Northeast Blackout of 1965. I remember being in the house with my mother, the kitchen lit with candles. My mother was worried about my father, most probably trapped in the bowels of the New York subway system. She and I sat in the kitchen, and she fed me spoonfuls of something (sorry, my memory is not that great) by candlelight.
I can say that my meal with Ju-Boy the other night was a bit similar, except that there was no candlelight, but there were spoonfuls of something…
Back in 1979 I was in Israel for the first time, and I fell in love with the country. Back then, Ofra Haza came out with her Love Song, and it was the perfect soundtrack for my heart over heels falling in love with my home.
The lyrics aren’t lyrics at all. It comes from Solomon’s Song of Songs, chapter 8, verses 6 and 7:
Place me as a seal upon your heart, as a seal upon your arm; because love is as strong as death is, insistence on exclusive devotion is as unyielding as She′ol is. Its blazings are the blazings of a fire, the flame of Jah. Many waters themselves are not able to extinguish love, nor can rivers themselves wash it away. If a man would give all the valuable things of his house for love, persons would positively despise them.
I received a complaint or two that my last post didn’t have any food in it, not really, so to tie this all in to my love song subject…
This is dedicated to Sara and Chaim Azoulay, who got married on Tuesday night. We’re making Sheva Brachot for them tonight together with the Lovely Linder and her Miiiiiiiichael, and here’s a photo of the Sgulah Challah I’m bringing. The recipe can be found here. I used one whole recipe for this challah, braiding it with six strands, and used 4 kinds of seeds on top as sgulah for fertility.
!מזל טוב חיים ושרה
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.”
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!
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?
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Ju-boy claims that I make friends quickly. He doesn’t mean this as a compliment.
Let me clarify. The man claims that the Brits take years to cultivate a friendship. Anyone that he has known for less than twenty years is merely an acquaintance. Friendship is reserved for those loyal enough to have stuck with him for a score of years. My opinion? If you’ve managed to be friends with my at (most) times ascerbic husband, you deserve a medal and a rubber room. Actually, my experience with British friends are that they are a loyal bunch. Unfortunately, in my life I have had the chance to see fair-weather friends at play, and really can’t count a Brit among them.
But Ju-boy is correct, I do make friends quickly. What he considers a liability I consider a gift. When I first moved to Stepford Teaneck Ra’anana I was fortunate that Ju-boy came with his own set of friends (befriend one, get the whole set). But I also made my own friends in the community, and one of them is Vida. Vida had made aliya to Israel a few years before I moved to Ra’anana, and she is one of the most interesting (and vocal) people I have ever met. What started out as basically a stepmom support group for two became a valid friendship. Vida has a blog of her own, feel free to check it out.
The other day she asked me if I would blog about spelt bread. As she said, it’s now in fashion, and what do a I think about it? I didn’t think anything about it, I’ve never been fashionable, and had never even eaten spelt bread before. But I’m always up for a challenge, and this past week was in Eden Teva Market and bought a kilo of organic whole spelt flour. Wow, that’s some expensive flour! I tried to cut corners and looked for non-organic refined spelt flour, but there doesn’t appear to be such an animal. If there is, not one of the “in” health food stores in the area carried it.
I’ve been told never to experiment in the kitchen when guests are coming, but I usually do. In this case, however, I was a little hesitant. With just family here for Shabbat (including a visit from Scarlet and Sasquatch) I thought this would be a good venue to premiere my spelt challah. Being such a spelt newbie I first asked my buddies over at israel-food, and they were very helpful, helpful in confusing me! Reduce liquids, add more liquid, don’t overmix, add gluten, don’t let it rise too much. A lot of this also contradicted with the instructions for making spelt bread on the flour package itself. The recipe had lots of water and said to mix the dough for 10 minutes. My food guru Ruth said to use less water and don’t mix for over 4 minutes.
Good thing I listened to Ruth. This spelt dough was quite the little diva. It doesn’t like being handled too much, nor does it like being left alone. The instruction on the flour package said to let the dough rise for an hour and a half, shape into loaves and then let it rise again at another hour and a half. The first rise went well, but 30 minutes into the second rise that dough was knock knock knockin’ on my kitchen door. I heard that if you let the diva dough rise too much it thrown a hissy fit and deflates, so I quickly preheated the oven and threw it in there. 35 minutes later they were already cooling. One loaf I saved for dinner tonight, but Ju-boy and I just had to do a little quality control with loaf #2. The jury is still out on this one. It produces a really crumby (not crummy) loaf. I think the recipe would have benefited from an egg or two. Slathered in butter it’s delicious, but a bit heavy as a stand-alone slice.
Okay, Vida, you happy now?
Spelt Challah (recipe adapted from the Adama brand whole spelt organic flour package)
1 kilo (2.2. pounds, roughly 7 cups) whole spelt flour
2 tablespoons dried yeast
4 tablespoons brown sugar
2 teaspoons salt
2 1/2 cups warm water
2 tablespoons olive oil
- Mix all the dry ingredients in a bowl. Lastly, add the water and olive oil.
- Knead for 4 minutes (the package says 10 minutes, don’t listen to it).
- Let the dough rise for about an hour and a half in the bowl, until doubled. Keep the bowl covered with a damp towel.
- Punch the dough to release the air trapped inside and shape into loaves. The dough is sticky.
- Let it rise again. The package says another hour and a half, but after half an hour my dough was ready to pack its bags and run away from home. Again, cover the rising dough with a damp towel.
- Preheat your oven to 200 degrees C (400 degrees F). Bake at this temperature for 10 minutes, then lower your oven to 180 degrees C (350 F) and bake for another 35 minutes (my loaves were ready in 25).
Normally I’m a fearless challah baker, but actually was a bit trepidacious in the face of this challenge. I suppose if I actually had one recipe instead of several ones that all contradicted each other (the Internet isn’t always the most helpful tool) things would have gone a little more smoothly. I don’t know if I’ll make this again. I don’t suffer divas lightly. And in the end, this was quite a heavy diva.