Besides a Bat Mitzvah for my cousin, I have been to Temple once. It was with my Grandma, and I went because I had to attend a religious service for a world religions class in college. I sat there for two hours as the words went in one ear and out the other. I felt ashamed that I really did not know anything substantial about the religion that has been such an identifying factor of my dad’s family, and a catalyst for many things, including leaving Nazi Germany and somehow ending up in America.
I don’t know the prayers or the majority of traditions. but I know the food. And I love the food. Growing up I spent a good portion of my childhood in New York City. We had an apartment a few blocks from the mecca known as Carnagie deli. We would arrive in the city late at night after the long flight from LA and immediately order matzoh ball soup, latkes and Reubens. There is nothing I miss more about New York than Carnagie’s soup… and being able to order it and have it delivered at all hours of the night.
While I may not practice the religion, matzoh ball soup and rye bread are in my DNA. I look forward to the high holidays as an excuse to have any and all of the above. And most of all… I look forward to the baking. This past week was Rosh Hashanah, Every website was overflowing with recipes for honey and apples and brisket. All very tempting, but all I wanted was some Challah. I wanted a sweet eggy bread to cover with jam for breakfast. I wanted something to munch on at dinner, and I wanted to make french toast with the left overs.
I’ve tried my fair share of challah recipes. It was the first yeasted bread I ever made on my own. I was probably 12 or 13 and I remember how proud I was that I could braid it. It seemed like it took all day and I remember thinking how proud my dad and his mother would be. Needless to say, this bread is near and dear to my heart. This past week I didn’t turn to the legendary new york times recipe, or a hand-written recipe my mom received from a friend. I went with a recipe from Saveur that was conveniently in my email inbox.
It was challah. Nothing more, nothing less. My brother used it for a sandwich that he said was pretty good. But for some reason I found it resistible. Maybe I would have liked it more if it had raisins in it, or poppy seeds on top. Or maybe it’s like what happens when you over play one of your favorite songs and decide you don’t want to listen to it anymore. Everyone else seemed to enjoy it… and for a few hours I felt connected to my heritage. And it was very pretty. Off to yeastspotting it goes.
3/4 cup plus 2 tbsp. milk, heated to 115°
1/4 cup plus 1 tsp. sugar
2 tsp. active dry yeast
4 tbsp. unsalted butter, melted, plus more for greasing
2 eggs, lightly beaten
4 cups flour
1 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
1 egg yolk
- Stir together milk, 1 tsp. sugar, and yeast in a large bowl; let sit until foamy, 10 minutes.
- Meanwhile, in a small bowl, whisk together butter and eggs. Add to yeast mixture and stir to combine. Add flour, remaining sugar, and salt and stir with a wooden spoon until a dough forms.
- Transfer dough to a lightly floured work surface and knead until smooth, 6–8 minutes.
- Transfer to a lightly greased large bowl and cover with plastic wrap; let sit until doubled in size, about 1 hour. Uncover, punch dough down, and re-cover; let sit until slightly puffed, 30 minutes.
- Uncover dough, divide into 3 equal portions, and roll each into a 16″-long rope.
- Align dough ropes side by side, perpendicular to you, and pinch together ends farthest from you to form one end of loaf.
- Braid ropes and pinch ends together to seal. Transfer braided loaf to a parchment paper—lined baking sheet and cover loosely with plastic wrap; let proof for 1 hour.
- Heat oven to 375°. Stir together egg yolk and 1 tbsp. water in a small bowl and brush all over surface of loaf.
- Bake until loaf is dark golden brown, 30–35 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack and let cool for 30 minutes before serving.