I have often wished I could make bread well enough to make Challah. Challah is the bread we break on Shabbat before Kiddish, the meal we celebrate ever Shabbat after services. A full service is 3 hours long and Jews like to socialize; so it is we like to have refreshments afterwards. As a matter of fact, I have to confess that many Jews observe Jewish Standard Time (i.e. come late), but I like to go on time because I love the feelings of the service and see no need to short change myself by only being there for when the Torah is being taken out of the Arc. Of course, I have my own way of being lazy: I rarely read the scriptures when they are being read. I simply listen to the Hebrew, which I speak very little of. Nonetheless, I do my best. I always feel there is something added to the service by having it in Hebrew. Hebrew–from what little I understand of it–is such a beautiful and poetic language. Yet I have only learned a few words and grammatical structures of it.
Anyway, the bread. Though it is not really for Shabbat, I made a loaf today. It is for Mom and me to share, and possibly anyone else who comes visiting. I would love it if I could get my friend Vlad to come over. The ingredients were:
4 cups All-Purpose Flour
3/4 cups Whole Wheat Flour
2 teaspoons Salt
1 1/4 teaspoons Yeast
1 3/4 cups Water + More Water
The process is deceptively simple:
- You mix all the dry ingredients.
- You add 1 3/4 Water and mix, if necessary with your hands.
- If need be (and I always do), add more Water to make the bread dough moist. Mix, if necessary with your hands.
- Then you put the bread aside. In 15-minutes, you knead the dough again. You do this after 4 15-minute periods. Then wait 1 hour and knead again. Then wait 1 more hour, and knead one last time.
- Then turn the oven to 450 degrees.
- Grease a pan. I am not sufficiently talented as a cook to put the bread on the wrack without it coming out misshapen (real cooks can). So I simply use a loaf pan.
- Smooth the top of the bread with water so it will feel and look nice when you bring it out of the oven.
- Once the oven is heated, put the break in the oven for 35 minutes.
- Then take out of the oven and let sit for a while.
It is hard work. In fact, it compares being of equal difficulty as Smoked Salmon Soufflés, Eggplant Parmesan Soup, and Matzo Ball Soup. I really believe producing bread is an art form, and I think the guy who wrote the cookbook I use would agree. People only don’t appreciate freshly baked bread because once they are eaten so is the evidence of the chef’s real talent and industry.
With that in mind I will tell you one of my “bread” stories. At my synagogue Dee (a woman who has attended for years) mentioned a woman who used to go before she died who went the through the Holocaust. “She used to make these Challah breads that were like works of Art. I asked her to teach me how to make them, but she didn’t have a system. She would just mix ingredients that ‘felt’ right.” Indeed, that woman must have been a treasure. I am only sorry I never got to meet her. I did however write a story using her as one of the models, “Loaves of Love.” I admit that one of the Jews I sent the story was offended, but I did have a friend at Chabad who asked if it was a real person, and I believe someday I will find somebody who appreciates it… The generation who lived through the Holocaust is dying off, and perhaps though I have only met a few examples of it, my story will in a small way be my effort of lighting a candle on Yom HaShoah. Perhaps some day I will also be able to bake real Challah bread!