In a world overrun with ‘low-carb,’ ‘sugar-free’ dare-I-say-nonsense, I believe there’s still a place for the most basic of human food staples. Since humans domesticated grain, nearly every culture has devised some way of turning it into that most basic food. Being unable to afford it has resulted in revolutions and riots in fact. So why all this hate for bread now? I could get into a long discussion about the role of GMOs, refined sugars, and processed foods in general in the demonizing of modern bread, but I think most of it is tied to a variety of fad diets out there. If you have Celiac’s Disease, you no doubt find the idea of going gluten-free as a diet slightly offensive (and you probably realize there are wonderful gluten-free options nowadays which still allow you to enjoy bread if you choose).
I love to bake my own bread. I bake bread at least once a week around here, usually the obligatory challah on Friday afternoons. Sometimes I bake bread for other occasions though, such as garlic knots for pasta, sandwich loaves, or the delicious cousin to bread, buttermilk biscuits on weekend mornings. To me, it’s about more than just getting my carb fix. It’s about tradition and that link between my kitchen and the millions of others throughout time which have provided this basic subsistence through baking. It’s also a great food to start getting young kids in the kitchen. You usually don’t need a knife for basic bread and kids like to get their hands in the dough and squish it up. Punching down the dough? That’s fun for everyone and I’ve found, a great stress-reliever for mom particularly.
Here’s my favorite recipe for challah adapted from A Day Apart: Shabbat at Home by Noam Sachs Zion and Shawn Fields-Meyer (Shalom Hartman Institute 2004, p.17). My changes from the original have been marked with an asterisk.
Combine 2/3 cup olive oil*, 1 cup sugar (raw or organic), 3 teaspoons kosher salt, and 2 cups warm water in a large bowl, stirring gently. Sprinkle in 3tbsp. active dry yeast and stir once or twice more. Let settle for 10-15 minutes or until foamy-looking*. Add approximately 5 cups organic unbleached flour and stir until dough comes together (dough will be sticky, but I work in another 1/2 cup or so while kneading)*. Generously flour a flat surface and knead the dough ball, working in additional flour until no longer sticky but smooth and pliable. Then, I rinse out my large bowl and add in 1/2tsp. olive oil to oil the entire bowl*. Return the dough ball to the bowl, cover, and place in an oven which had been preheated to 180 degrees and then turned off*. Let rise for 1-2 hours (longer is better). After dough has doubled, scoop back out onto flat floured surface. From here, you can cut and braid it any way you like. It can make 2 large traditional braided loaves or 4 smaller ones. I sometimes make small knotted rolls which are baked in a round cake pan and are delicious. You could even make a round-top loaf in a loaf pan. I would recommend brushing any of your creations with an egg wash or melted butter*. Preheat oven to 350 degrees and bake until golden on top (times will vary based on your braiding, etc.).