Baking has always been a family activity. Now that we’re grown and live all over the country, recipes are shared across e-mail, dinner ideas through text message. I have my mother’s chocolate chip cookie recipe saved on my laptop for when my sister e-mails late at night, unable to find it. At the top of her fridge, my oldest sister has kept a print-out of an e-mail I sent in 2001 (from my AOL account “Dragonflye”) transcribing my grandmother’s sugar cookie recipe.
Tonight, I called my mom to tell her that I was baking a loaf of challah bread for Rosh Hashanah. “I have to make that too,” she says, “for this weekend.” Then we discuss the pros and cons of a bread machine verse the trusty KitchenAid when it comes to homemade bread.
“Send me the recipe?” Mom texts after we hang up. “I’m posting it on the blog in the a.m.” I write back. “You can grab it from there.”
The recipe for this challah comes from Cooking Jewish, an incredible collection of 532 recipes compiled by Judy Bart Kancigor, collected from five generations of her family. This is Mama Hinda’s Challah, a recipe adapted from one that Mama Hinda dictated to the author’s mother during Mama’s final stay in intensive care.
And now the recipe is passed through my family, across state lines, posted to the internet, preserved and shared in a new format. From index cards to cookbooks, to e-mails and now blog posts, the tradition continues.
Although usually braided, for Rosh Hashanah the challah is shaped into a spiral, signifying the circle of life.
Mama Hinda’s Challah
From Cooking Jewish by Judy Bart Kancigor
Makes One 1 ½-pound challah
3 ½ cups bread flour
½ cup warm water (100 to 110F)
2 ¾ teaspoons (1 package plus ¾ teaspoon) active dry yeast
1 teaspoon plus ¼ cup sugar
2 large eggs, at room temperature
¼ cup vegetable oil, plus extra for oiling the bowl
1 ½ teaspoons kosher salt
1/3 cup raisins (optional)
Vegetable oil or vegetable cooking spray, for greasing the baking sheet (or parchment paper)
Egg wash: 1 egg yolk mixed with 1 tablespoon water
Poppy seeds (optional)
1. Set aside 2 tablespoons of the flour. Place the remaining flour in the large bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a flat paddle or a dough hook. Make a well in the center of the flour and pour in ¼ cup of the warm water. Sprinkle the yeast over the water and add 1 teaspoon of the sugar. Using a fork, stir the water, yeast, and sugar together gently, keeping the mixture in the well (don’t worry if a little flour becomes incorporated). Let stand until bubbly, about 10 minutes.
2. In a separate bowl, beat the eggs, the ¼ cup oil, the remaining ¼ cup sugar, and the salt together with a fork. Add the egg mixture and the remaining ¼ cup warm water to the flour mixture, and beat on low speed until incorporated. Then beat on medium speed until smooth and silky, 5 to 10 minutes. The dough should feel slightly sticky and, to quote Jeffrey Nathan in Adventures in Jewish Cooking, “like a baby’s tush.” If it is too sticky, add the reserved 2 tablespoons flour (or more if necessary), 1 tablespoon at a time, and continue to mix for a few minutes.
3. Oil a large bowl and place the ball of dough in it, turning the dough so it is oiled all over. Cover with a kitchen towel and set aside in a warm place until the dough has almost doubled in bulk, at least 1 hour.
4. When the dough has almost doubled, punch it down and knead it by hand for 1 to 2 minutes, incorporating the raisins if using.
5. For a spiral Rosh Hashanah challah, roll the dough into a single rope about 34 inches long. Beginning at one end, wind the rope from the center of the spiral outward, keeping the center slightly elevated, like a turban. Tuck the end under.
6. Lightly grease a baking sheet or, better yet, line it with parchment paper. Place the shaped dough on the prepared baking sheet, cover it with a slightly dampened cloth, and allow it to rise in a warm place for 1 hour.
7. Preheat the oven to 375 F.
8. Brush the top of the loaf with the egg wash, and sprinkle it with poppy seeds, if using. Bake until the top is brown and the bottom sounds hollow when tapped with your fingers, 25 to 30 minutes.
9. Transfer the loaf to a wire rack and allow it to cool completely. Success!