Bernie Friedman came to Olympia via Brooklyn in 1975. At home, Friedman could visit a Jewish bakery every three or four blocks. In Olympia, he couldn't get his hands on a good blintz, bagel or loaf of his favorite sweet bread, challah.
So to the kitchen he went. He’s learned a few tricks and tips over the last three decades of mixing, braiding and baking off the lightly sweet yeast bread that’s pronounced hall-ah.
Earlier this month, he hosted a challah baking class at the Temple Beth Hatfiloh, which will be home this Sunday to Blintzapalooza, an event that raises money for local charities (see box for more details).
Every year, the temple event focuses on Jewish baked goods. Blintzes, the event’s namesake, will be for sale as a fundraiser and so will bagels (with cream cheese or lox). Books also are for sale. But for entertainment, there’s always a baking competition at Blintzapalooza. In past years, the competition has featured bagels, blintzes and kugel. This year, the contest is challah. It’s open to anyone who wants to bring a loaf of their favorite homemade challah, 11 a.m. Sunday at the temple.
The competition will be judged in two categories – traditional and untraditional. Traditional is classified as plain egg bread with or without poppy seeds or an egg wash. Nontraditional is classified as challah with add-ins, such as raisins or chocolate chips. Call the temple or check the website for more details.
Challah can vary dramatically in texture and flavor. Friedman says his challah falls on the cakey side. “My challah tastes like cake. People tell me it’s pretty sweet,” said Friedman, a construction worker by day. Friedman makes much more than challah, he’s an ardent fan of baking hamantashen, the rolled and filled cookie served at the Festival of Purim. He’s been busily making hundreds of hamantashen the last few weeks, but he made time to give us tips, tricks and a recipe for challah. Here’s what he had to say:
On dough: Add just enough flour to make the dough satin in texture, don’t add too much.
Let it rise: The dough needs time for two rises. This is an all-day affair. Don’t cheat or you won’t get that wonderful texture for which challah is coveted.
When punching the dough: Don’t punch hard, be gentle.
Shaping the dough: Shape it into a cube so you can cut rectangles from the dough.
Dust the pan: Use cornmeal on the pan to prevent sticking. Coat the pan with cooking spray before you add the corn meal for extra insurance against sticking.
On braiding: If you can braid hair, you can braid challah. The trick is practice.
Recoat the bread: Twenty to 30 minutes into the baking time, open the oven and do a second coating of egg wash on the challah. “It helps the crust, little things like that help make it pretty,” said Friedman. Add another sprinkle of poppy seeds, too.
Go small: Never make a huge challah, or you’ll have a bread with a soggy center. Friedman learned the hard way when he made a giant challah for his sister. His solution if you’re feeding a crowd: Make two or three smaller challah. You’ll get better results.
Leftovers: Challah makes stellar French toast. If there’s any left, that is.
Sue Kidd: 253-597-8270 firstname.lastname@example.org
Challah for Shabbat
1 (1/4-oz) (7 grams) package of dry yeast
1-12 cups warm water
12 cup plus 1 tablespoons sugar
7-8 cups flour
1 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup oil
3 eggs well beaten
1 additional egg beaten
Poppy or sesame seeds optional
Dissolve yeast in 1/2 cup warm water. Add 1 tablespoon sugar. Set aside.
Place 6 cups flour, 1/2 cup sugar and salt in mixer bowl. Begin mixing on low speed to combine ingredients. Gradually add yeast mixture. Add oil, three eggs and remaining water, mixing until a very thick batter is formed.
Attach dough hook. Add remaining flour gradually, mixing until dough clings to dough hook and clears the sides of the bowl. Continue mixing on low speed to knead dough until satin smooth, about 4-6 minutes longer.
Place dough in a greased bowl and turn to grease top. Cover with plastic wrap and place in a warm, draft free spot. Allow to rise until double in bulk, about 2 hours.
Punch dough down. Divide dough in half, and then divide each half into thirds. Roll each piece of dough into a rope and braid the 3 strands together.
Place on greased baking sheets and let rise until double in bulk, at least 1 hour.
Brush the top of the challah with the remaining egg and, if desired, sprinkle with poppy or sesame seeds. Bake at 350 for 45 minutes or until a rich brown color. Yields 2 large loaves.
Source: Bernie Friedman, Olympia