I know a round challah is traditional for the Jewish holidays but I will still make braided ones because after years and years of making an easy 3-braid bread, I have finally learned how to make the more professional-looking 6-braider and I want to practice until I can do it in my sleep, like butter cookies or apple pie.
Thanks to the internet, I learned the secrets of the 6-braider from a YouTube video. My grandson Zev and I watched, stopped the video from time to time to write down what the woman was saying. The first one took us at least 10 minutes to braid because we had to go back a few times to figure out what she was saying and also to undo some of our missteps. Also to dust off my computer, which unfortunately was a bit too close to the floured work surface.
My mom, who was a good baker, nevertheless never baked a homemade challah. She baked butter cookies and apple pie and taught me how do do those which is why I could make them without even thinking about what I’m doing. But she did reminisce often about my grandmother’s challah. That would be my father’s mother, who my mother always said was a terrible cook but did make one terrific challah.
She gave me my grandmother’s recipe. In those days women didn’t really write down recipes. If someone wanted to learn they had to watch and learn by example. My mother wrote down the basic ingredients on a card. The one she gave me. No instructions, just amounts.
The recipe card called for 8 hands of flour. 1/2 hand sugar. Like that.
I have big hands. I don’t know about my grandmother’s hands though.
And I had no idea what to do with the dough after it was done.
So I experimented and tried and tried to get it right, which I finally did and I have to say it’s fabulous challah. There’s never enough of it and everyone loves it.
Recently I had lunch with a cousin who I had not seen in 40 years. He was brought up by my grandmother and one of the things he reminisced about over lunch was how delicious her challah was. I told him about my adventures with her recipe and he seemed really happy about the family challah recipe put to good use. He even told me that once, years before I was born, there was a charity auction for my grandmother’s synagogue. She baked a challah and it sold for $100!!! A huge amount of money today, for a bread, but can you imagine what that meant in the 1930s??
When challah is good, it’s really really good. Look for my recipe posted yesterday.
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