May 19, 2013
Time in a train station is unrelenting. Trains arrive and depart on schedule. Just as in life time goes forward at a never changing pace - second by second. It is in each moment that life is lived - it is how we love, learn, reflect, wonder, listen, observe or not. This does not come easily and I must meditate upon and recognize these precious moments before time rushes me forward like the incoming tide of the future or pulls me back into the past. This awareness and appreciation of the moment is central in my life.
Challah bread is a wonderful sweet and soft bread that I first discovered at Grand Central Station in New York City. I bought my first loaf from a bread baker in Grand Central as I was running to catch the last train out of the city that night. I made a quick decision between the traditional black and white cookie or challah bread, and it turned out to be very delicious decision. The man behind the counter was a Hasidic Jew who spoke softly and most graciously spent extra time helping me pronounce challah properly, despite the last minute rush of the late night bread buyers lined up behind me and the pressure of train schedules that one must not miss or it meant spending the night in the train station. He spent those moments, stopping time, to pronounce the Hebrew challah word properly. I must catch the ch sound that almost sounds like an h. I said holla and he corrected me several times with the c sound that catches down in the throat and almost sounds like a throat clearing. It is not a natural sound for me just like the cr in French or the rolling the r's in Spanish. There is such a passion in these words that rise up from the throat.
That encounter was many years ago before the internet and before everybody knew everything; when things such as this bread were still foreign sounding and found mostly in big cities. That brief moment though insignificant as it may seem in the scope of a life, stays with me. Now that bakery in Grand Central still carries challah bread and black and white cookies but the counter is no longer manned by that person who took the moment to share a bit of his history through the pronunciation of a word.
3 1/4 cups all purpose flour
1/4 cup sugar
2 1/4 teaspoons instant active yeast (1 envelope)
1 teaspoon salt
1 egg yolk (save the white for egg wash)
4 tablespoons melted butter
1/2 cup warm water (110F)
1 teaspoon sesame seeds
Mix together in a medium bowl flour, sugar, yeast and salt and set aside.
In bowl of stand mixer, mix together 1/2 cup water, 2 eggs, 1 egg yolk, and melted butter with paddle.
On low speed, add flour mixture and mix until the dough comes together and then switch to the dough hook. You may use the dough hook from the start but I prefer the paddle and then switching.
Knead on low until the dough forms a ball and is moving freely around the bowl. Add more flour if the dough is sticking or climbing the hook or more water if the dough is shaggy. The dough should be soft and tacky.
Mix egg white with 1 tablespoon of water in a small bowl and refrigerate.
1st Rise Transfer dough to a large oiled bowl turning dough to coat with oil. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place until doubled in size about 2 hours.
2nd Rise Deflate dough gently by pressing, cover with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place until doubled in size again about 60 minutes.
Shaping and 3rd Rise The bread shape is created by a smaller braid placed on top of a larger braid versus one large braid.
Line a sheet pan with parchment or silpat or grease it.
On a lightly floured surface, divide dough into two pieces one large piece and one piece half the size of the large piece (ex. 20 ounces and 10 ounces).
Divide the large piece into 3 equal pieces and roll each into a 15 inch rope with a 1 inch diameter.
Line the ropes side by side and pinch the pieces together on one end.
Braid the pieces together and pinch ends together at bottom.
Carefully move to pan or braid right on the pan and tuck under the ends.
Repeat the process with the small piece of dough making 3 15 inch ropes with a 1 inch diameter. Pinch and braid the pieces.
Brush egg wash over the large loaf.
Place the small loaf on top.
Loosely cover with plastic (oil the plastic wrap lightly if does not have any oil on it from the earlier rises.
Place in draft free warm place and let rise until puffy and increased in size by 1/3 about 30 minutes.
Baking Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
Remove plastic wrap carefully so as not to deflate and gently brush the remain egg was over the entire loaf.
Sprinkle with sesame seeds.
Bake for 35 minutes until and instant thermometer inserted into the center reads 190F.
Cool on wire rack.
Cool completely before slicing.