Saturday, February 6, 2010

Debi: Shabbos

Friday nights are lovely, when I can get my act together to make them so!

Our family is Jewish, and while we're not very observant or religious, having a traditional sabbath meal on Friday nights is something that reminds the grownups of our own childhoods, our grandparents and parents, and the warm feeling of family at home for an evening together. We could eat anything for dinner, but it seems wrong somehow to make our Sabbath meal something exotic or experimental. What feels right is comfort food.

Last night, I decided to be a little ambitious, given the fact that the kids were underfoot and David wouldn't be home until dinner was ready. I made seitan cutlets (a faux-meat-like thing made from vital wheat gluten, broth, oil, tehini, and seasonings), which require several elaborate steps to develop the right consistency; homemade mushroom gravy (which, unlike Stori and her perfected pan-gravy methodology, I always struggle to keep lump-free); a nice big bowl of bright peas; homemade rice pudding; and challah.

Challah, a braided egg bread, is absolutely essential for a Shabbos table. After years of using my mother's recipe, several years ago I tried a recipe from my friend Hilary. Hers was far better, and so that is the one I use, with my own addition of eggs (how did she have a challah recipe with no eggs?!?). Here it is -- this recipe makes two loaves, so plan to give one to a friend:


2 cups warm (not hot) water
½-3/4 cup sugar
1 tsp salt
1 envelop or 1 tbsp yeast
1/3 cup vegetable oil
3 eggs, beaten
6 cups flour + 1-2 cups for flouring surface & hands during kneading.

Put water in a large bowl. Dump in sugar, but don’t mix. Add salt. Add yeast, then mix, using only a quick once or twice around with a large spoon.

Dump in oil and add the 6 cups of flour to the same bowl. Add the eggs. Mix with spoon.

Remove from bowl and place on floured surface. Knead 15 minutes, or to the right texture plus 10 minutes more.

Place in lightly oiled bowl (using the 1/3 cup vegetable oil). Roll it around so it’s coated. Cover the bowl with a dishtowel and let rise until doubled (about 75 minutes).

Punch down and knead 3 minutes.

Let rise again 45-60 minutes.

Divide into two lumps, and divide each lump into three strands. Braid the strands to make two braided loaves, and brush each loaf with beaten egg. Sprinkle with coarse salt and bake 40-45 minutes at 350.

The photo above is of a round challah that we made this fall for the Jewish high-holy days. Last night, our challah was still braided, but we left it long. It's easier to slice that way, anyway. Of all the delicious foods on our table last night, the kids (and secretly, the grownups) like the challah best. It's a soft, slightly sweet bread, chewy and moist and, since it takes so long to make, last night's challah was still warm when we gathered around our lit sabbath candles, put our arms around our children, and blessed it.

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