How Not to Make a Challah
Warning! Do not follow my example on baking challah!
I have inherited my mother's ability, or should I say my own inability to bake.
My baking tips which you should never follow.
Never purchase a scale and never measure exactly. In fact, don't invest in measuring devices at all! Tea cups, coffee mugs, various scoops all serve to give similar results in great sticky dough. One teaspoon is as good as another. Eyeballing is just as good as real measuring. Need two teaspoons? It's just as effective to take a tablespoon and artistically guess at what is 2/3 of a random sized tablespoon!
Make sure your ingredients are never quite what your recipe has suggested. I personally am most fond of not following the correct number of eggs in an egg based bread. If the recipe calls for 5 egg yolks, I am sure to put in 3 eggs, because in my expert baking mind they are, of course, equivalents and they will, (of course) produce the same results.
Always walk away from your bread making machine while the dough is rising. Take the dog for a leisurely walk, surf on your computer and then make sure to return only when the dough is oozing out of the edges of your bread machine. As one of your ingredients you'll need to hunt for your windshield ice scraper as this might be helpful in clean up. This amazing cleaning up project that can last for hours and, as a bonus, you will find pieces of dried dough months later when you next try your hand at bread baking. And don't forget how beautiful and fresh your sponges look after tackling a little dough on your bread machine! Ooh, so fresh and fun!
Have the best time kneading your challah so they come out looking just like the ones in magazines or just like that ones that your friends bake for you occasionally. If your challah dough is per chance a little loose (Remember that paste we used to use back in the first grade? I wish mine looked like that.) Actually, it is more the consistency of sticky liquid pancake batter. Anyway, make sure your flour is nearby, because you will need another few cups just to get the dough to the consistency that you can knead it without most of it sticking to your fingers. Now comes my favorite part, the pinnacle of the challah baking experience. The existential question is "How do I open the bag of flour to get more flour on my hands that are now coated in an inch of sticky dough?" For this I took high school gymnastics and my extensive training allows me to deftly reach into the bag with my goopy hands and gracefully scoop out even more flour.
Now for the artistic part, which doesn't quite go right. I know that there are instructions for braiding six pieces , four, three, but who needs to be conventional? The truth is that my amazing dough is just a little too soft to braid. Anyway, Rosh Hashannah calls for round challahs, so let's forget the braids altogether and just try to get the dough on the cookie sheet in something that resembles round.
Now comes the challenging part, the rising. Pictures show me that dough should be rising upward, rising proudly toward the sky, but my dough always spreads outward sort of like a growing puddle. The longer it sits, the flatter and larger it gets (from side to side). It's ok, I am in the process of inventing something new, that will one day be a trend; it's called the challah flatbread. It's my next career. I promise!
When my challah can spread no more, it's time for baking. I gingerly paint my masterpieces, like an artist paints a miniature, with exquisite care. I don't want my creations, which have achieved a towering height of about 2 inches, to lose their deflate! I put them in the oven and this time I don't take the dog for a walk or get lost on the internet. I set an alarm and my little beauties are doing what challahs do best. The kitchen smells pretty good, which is a good sign.
Thirty or so minutes later (I was trying to go for the best golden color possible) the challahs are ready to go. They are made with brown sugar so I know that they will be sweet, but as I write this post, I realize that I might have forgotten the salt....hmmm, even sweeter!
May you and your families know a sweet year, a brown sugar year, even a honey year. May your dough always rise upward proudly and if it doesn't, be resilient; there is always next time.
Shannah Tovah and Shabbat Shalom.