I wasn’t new to bread making. About eight years ago, I was very much on a homemaking kick and wanted to do as much as I could from scratch. I made bread every week and even made homemade dog biscuits for the dogs every Saturday. Over time I got away from it because, let’s face it, making bread can be a real pain in the tuchus. And I’m not a neat cook. Making bread usually meant flour everywhere – even places where it made no sense as to why flour ended up there at all.
So when it came time to start making challah, I cheated. I’d buy frozen yeast rolls, let them thaw and raise, and then I’d roll them out and make challah rolls. From there, I used those pre-made yeast rolls and started braiding a small challah loaf.
A few months ago, I started getting requests from my co-workers to bring in challah. I didn’t want to bring them anything made from those frozen balls of dough. They were too airy, too light, not made of much substance. I went in search of the best possible challah recipe and I tried a few, resulting in the typical flour explosion all over my kitchen. And the kneading. Ughhhhh how I hated all the kneading.
Then I found this recipe: The Lazy Cook’s Challah In a Bag. The first week I made it, my husband raved at Shabbat dinner about how much he loved the bread. It was dense, had some serious substance, and a great, yeasty taste. It’s now my go-to challah recipe and it requires no kneading!! I change the recipe slightly in that I mix the ingredients fully in a bowl before adding them to the bag, but then I just let it go and end up with a large amount of dough, which I divide into four to make a round challah loaf that lasts us all weekend.
To say that I anticipate Shabbat would be an understatement. I crave Shabbat and the peace I feel once observance begins. I always work from home unless I have a meeting in Seattle that doesn’t have a dial-in option. Usually around 1p or so, I’ll start the challah so that it’s braided and ready to pop into the oven around 5p. While it’s baking, the special china comes out for the table setting, the Shabbat candles are lit, the blessings are chanted.
As Shabbat is ushered in, the beautiful candles flicker and the challah comes out of the oven. At that moment, I feel connected to Jewish women everywhere who are performing this same mitzvah, both past and present. I also feel a connection to every non-Jewish woman for generations who has made bread from scratch, either as a necessity or as a labor of love. For me, challah far surpasses a “commandment” or a requirement or just a part of Friday night dinners – it’s one of the most visible parts of my new religion.
Tonight, I celebrated the first night of Hanukkah here at home. Candlelight is an integral part of Judaism and of my life, and night one of this Festival of Lights did not disappoint. In the next few days, I’ll be blogging about Hanukkah and what this holiday of rededication means to me.