I learned to braid and to bake at the same time. At my mother’s side, we mixed packets of yeast with warm water to let it proof, melted butter and stirred it together with eggs, milk, and honey, and added flour to make it a soft, pliable dough. She got the recipe for this sweetened and enriched challah from a roommate’s great-grandmother, who brought it with her from Europe.
“Push it away with the heel of your hands, then fold it over and pull it towards you,” she instructed, teaching me how to knead the dough. After the dough was springy and resilient, we placed it in a greased bowl to rise in a warm place. In the fall and winter, which is when we most often made honey-egg bread, we placed it on the edge of the kitchen counter, closest to the woodstove in the next room. We swaddled the bowl in a dishtowel.
After an hour, we lifted back the towel to see the dough, puffed out to double its size. My mother told me to punch it down, and we pried it out of the bowl and kneaded some more. She then cut it into equal pieces, three or six, depending on how many loaves we were making, or if we were making one big braid with a baby braid on top. We shaped each piece into a long, skinny snake, rolling on a floured board or between our hands in the air. Our golden retriever lay at our feet, hopeful for a dropped piece of dough. Read the rest of this entry →