Dear Miriam | Not Getting a Rise Out of Challah

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Dear Miriam,

During this holiday season, I’ve tried to bake challah regularly, but I find that no matter what I do, and no matter how convenient it is since I’m working from home, the process always takes me the whole day. Any suggestions for getting more efficient at this?

Signed,


Bad News Baker

Dear Baker,

Challah baking does, in fact, take a long time, so your experiences so far sound like you’re on the right track. The more you do it, though, the more comfortable and confident you’ll get. If you’re just starting now, it’s a great project to carry you through 5781. You can even make a note now to check in with yourself next September to see how much you’ve progressed.

Just like the old joke, “two Jews, three opinions,” you could say “two challah bakers, three recipes.” There truly are an unlimited number of variations, and people who take challah baking seriously all tend to swear by their preferred methods. Though I love freshly made challah, and I, too, have been trying to make it more regularly, I don’t take my process especially seriously though, so I’m here to tell you that there are lots of good options.

First, you should take stock of your tools. Do you have a stand mixer? I find this the easiest for kneading, but I know people who use a food processor, a bread maker or, of course, their hands. Do you have a large bowl? A warm place for the dough to rise?

You should also assess what you like best. Do you like sweeter or more savory, sesame seeds or raisins, eggy or not eggy, etc. I recommend some YouTube videos, some conversations with friends whose challah you’ve enjoyed and some cookbooks. I also suggest looking for a recipe with only one rise since that gives you fewer time obligations throughout the day.

Then, pick a recipe and commit to sticking with it for at least a month. If you hop around to lots of different recipes and methods, it’s hard to perfect your technique and to gauge your own improvements. If you have the capacity for this, I also suggest taking notes from one week to the next on what you do and how it turns out in case you can see patterns for your own success.

Finally, you need to map this activity onto your schedule so it doesn’t consume your whole day. For example, you can mix the dough at the same time you’re making breakfast, then come back to shape it before lunch and put it into the oven before you go back to work after lunch. Or, you can start the process at lunchtime and work in the rising, braiding and baking into your afternoon, although I always seem to feel calmer about the process when I know it’s getting done earlier in the day.

You can also look for variations that let you put the dough in the fridge and take it out to bake just before dinner time. Knowing when you’re going to do each part of the task helps compartmentalize the baking and keeps it from being something you feel the need to check on constantly throughout the day.

A little effort on the front end of the year should make things smoother for your challah baking as the year goes on. With some persistence and follow through, maybe you’ll be the one giving challah advice to your friends in time for next Sukkot!

Be well,

Miriam

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