Saturday, December 24, 2011

I have a confession to make

I haven't made this in six years...
About 15 years ago, a Jewish family introduced me to this bread and told me how to braid it. My first attempt met with their approval and so this beautiful bread has graced my table every Easter, Thanksgiving, and Christmas since before I was even married. Except the last six.

What happened was that six years ago I gave this bread as a Christmas gift to a person whose family refused to eat it because it was a Jewish bread, and she called to be sure I knew all about it. Understand that if my family was so odd as to reject Jewish bread on the day we were celebrating the birth of the most famous Jew of all, the person all Christians consider the Jewish Messiah, Christ Himself, I would have been silenced by the irony. Understand further that simple good manners would also have kept me mum. Also know that due to my weaknesses of character, I was equally outraged by both outrages. I don't know why bigotry did not trump rudeness in this instance, but apparently it didn't.

For six years it didn't. I did not even want to think about that phone call, so I didn't. Even to the point of not thinking about the bread. It was a forgiveness problem. If I had done the simplest examination of conscience shortly after hanging up the phone, my girls (six and under) would have memories of attempting to knead and braid this bread. They would have mastered the egg yolk painting of dough. My oldest girl, now six herself, would be ready to braid her own little loaf. They watched me, today, and they painted. This Easter, they will braid and mangle their own little loaves.

I must say that I am ready to forgive, now that I am aware that I hadn't. Challah once again graced our Christmas table. It was fun teaching my kids to get a nice spitty gutteral "chka" going. I don't feel very forgiving, but I have decided to forgive. I well know that forgiveness is more an act of the will than an emotion. My emotions may never quite catch up to me on this one, but if you ever read this and recognize yourself, you have been forgiven. We're good here.

I was almost Jewish before I was Catholic. I was also almost Mormon. If it hadn't been for God intervening, I don't know which I would have picked. Either way, traditions in all three have a soft spot in my heart and a place at my table.

This recipe and my humble awareness of my brand of silly is my gift to all of you...

Braided Bread

1 1/2 tsp yeast
1/2 cup warm water
2 cups scalding milk (almost boiling)
1/2 cup sugar
1 stick butter (1/2 cup)
2 tsp salt
1/2 cup water
5 eggs
11 cups flour
1 egg

Step 1: Combine yeast and warm water in large mixing bowl and set aside to proof.

Step 2: Scald milk, then add sugar, butter, salt, and 1/2 cup water in a medium bowl. Cool to 110 degrees (Warm to touch).

Step 3: In a small bowl, beat 5 eggs. Add to cooled milk mixture. If the yeast mixture has bubbles forming, add the milk mixture to the yeast mixture. (If the yeast has not bubbled, reproof another mixture of yeast and warm water). Add 2 cups of flour and beat until smooth. Add remaining flour until a stiff dough (not sticky) forms. Knead for 10 minutes. Lightly grease a large bowl and place the dough in it, turning to coat the bread evenly with the grease. Cover and let rise until doubled (about 1 hour).

Step 4: Punch dough, turn, cover and let rise again until doubled (about 30 minutes).

Step 5: Punch down again and divide in half. You will make two loaves. Take each half and divide into thirds (for a total of 6 pieces). Take three parts and roll them until they are about 15 inches long. Pinch the tops and braid the rolls on a large, greased cookie sheet. Tuck then ends under the loaf when finished braiding. Repeat for the other roll. Cover and let rise until doubled.

Step 6: Lightly beat the remaining egg and brush evenly over the loaves. Bake in a preheated oven at 350 degrees for 30 to 40 minutes. Bread is done with a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

If the bread is browning too fast, lightly tent with foil while cooking.

Merry Christmas!


  1. Nom. I am SO making this when I get home.

  2. Hope you see this - I too have a soft spot for Challah and for the Jewish faith. At a time in my life where God seemed very far away and Christianity a bad joke, some wonderful and faithful Orthodox Jews befriended a young woman pretty much alone in the world, invited me into their homes and showed me that faith could be something lived, not something used for show. My conversion to Catholicism started on Yom Kippur - the Jewish day of Atonement - when one of my friends leaned over in synagogue and whispered - "Your Jesus - he would have listened to these very same words in the Temple." I sat awestruck - JESUS heard these words?! I can't explain how profoundly that impacted my life. I too make challah - it is the bread of Shabbat - the Sabbath and when the week needs extra Shabbat Shalom (Sabbath peace) it appears on my table. May it bring the same to your home.

  3. You brought tears to my eye, Lucretia. Words like that can be like an atomic bomb that detonates silently and so slowly that it takes a lifetime to finish. Unlike a bomb, you are made by the explosion, not destroyed, and everything is changed. "Let there be light!" Only personal.

    I love the idea of making this bread as a way to bring extra Shabbat Shalom to my household. I will do that, and I will always remember you while doing it.