I remember one new years eve I got up at about five in the morning. I was maybe 12 years old. I quietly took out all the ingredients to make Challah. I gingerly kneaded the dough, and then as if it were a new born baby I wrapped the dough in a towel and let it rest. By that point my parents had woken up and we all went for a walk. The thick morning mist lingered around us as we took in the last day of the year, before everyone woke up.
When we entered our house the warmth of the heater quickly welcomed us in. I braided the bread as if it were my only job, and then gently put it in the oven for it to bake. It was the first yeasted bread I had done on my own. I put so much time into it, only focusing on the task at hand. I think that's something we forget how to do. In such a fast paced world it's hard sometimes to focus; but what I find and experience when I focus on one thing at a time is delightful; and when I'm baking something a whole lot more delicious. Putting Challah it the circular shape is done for the New Year, and the long braided look is done all year long.
I would like to wish everyone a Happy New Year and that it would bring a fresh start for you! Some things to think about this New Years: 3 things you accomplished this year! 3 things you would like to accomplish next year!
Time: about 1 hour, plus 2 1/2 hours’ rising
Yield: 2 loaves(I ended up with two large loaves and one mini loaf)
1 1/2 packages active dry yeast (1 1/2 tablespoons)
1 tablespoon plus 1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup olive or vegetable oil, plus more for greasing the bowl
5 large eggs
1 tablespoon salt
8 to 8 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
Poppy or sesame seeds for sprinkling.
1. In a large bowl, dissolve yeast and 1 tablespoon sugar in 1 3/4 cups lukewarm water.
2. Whisk oil into yeast, then beat in 4 eggs, one at a time, with remaining sugar and salt. Gradually add flour. When dough holds together, it is ready for kneading. (You can also use a mixer with a dough hook for both mixing and kneading, but be careful if using a standard size KitchenAid–it’s a bit much for it, though it can be done.)
3. Turn dough onto a floured surface and knead until smooth. Clean out bowl and grease it, then return dough to bowl. Cover with plastic wrap, and let rise in a warm place for 1 hour, until almost doubled in size. Dough may also rise in an oven that has been warmed to 150 degrees then turned off. Punch down dough, cover and let rise again in a warm place for another half-hour.
4. At this point, you can knead the raisins into the challah, if you’re using them, before forming the loaves. To make a 6-braid challah, either straight or circular, take half the dough and form it into 6 balls. With your hands, roll each ball into a strand about 12 inches long and 1 1/2 inches wide. Place the 6 in a row, parallel to one another. Pinch the tops of the strands together. Move the outside right strand over 2 strands. Then take the second strand from the left and move it to the far right. Take the outside left strand and move it over 2. Move second strand from the right over to the far left. Start over with the outside right strand. Continue this until all strands are braided. For a straight loaf, tuck ends underneath. For a circular loaf, twist into a circle, pinching ends together. Make a second loaf the same way. Place braided loaves on a greased cookie sheet with at least 2 inches in between.
5. Beat remaining egg and brush it on loaves. Either freeze breads or let rise another hour.
6. If baking immediately, preheat oven to 375 degrees and brush loaves again. Sprinkle bread with seeds, if using. If freezing, remove from freezer 5 hours before baking.
7. Bake in middle of oven for 30 to 40 minutes, or until golden. Cool loaves on a rack.