Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Yeast of Eatin'

Top of the evening everyone.

When I was still in Seminary, I started to bake my own hallah. It took a long time to find the right recipe, and then to find the next right recipe. During that time, I switched from using sugar to using honey. We added in a white whole wheat flour that I cannot buy in Canada. Instead of sesame or poppy seeds, I will often use sunflower seeds or sprinkles on the top. Jennifer likes raisins. I prefer dates. Lately, we have not been using either.

Three family stories come to mind. The first took place when we were in Hawaii. I had baked hallah for Shabbat and Yom Tov (Sabbath and Holiday for you non-Hebrew speakers out there). I had put them out to cool a little bit on the counter. I then made the mistake of leaving the kitchen. I walked back in a few minutes later. Jesse was sitting on the floor with a half-eaten loaf of bread in his lap and another in his hands. This was one of many instances where I really wanted to give him away.

The second story involves Gavriel. When we lived in New York, I had a busy Friday and could not bake for Shabbat. I ran out to one of the kosher bakeries. It was late, so the stock was limited. I grabbed, amongst others, a round loaf made with balls of dough, designed to be pulled apart. When I brought it home, Gavi looked at it and said "it's a cupcake hallah." That created an instant family tradition. We bake one like that for every Shabbat.

The third story occurred when I was out of town. Jennifer did not really bake the hallah. She went to a bakery. The kids yelled at her. This was six years ago, and we have not gone without baking since.

There is some rabbinic debate as to when Shabbat begins. Is it sundown? Is it 18 minutes prior to sundown? Is it at certain points in the liturgy? The answer to all of those questions is a resounding 'no.' Shabbat begins about 10 minutes after putting the hallah in the oven. That is when the smell starts to waft through the house.

When we moved to Toronto, I got a new recipe from a congregant. I have doctored it a little. What has been a real delight here is how many of my colleagues, friends, and congregants bake. Off the top of my head, I can come up with eight or nine families who bake hallah for every Shabbat. We are all very proud of our bread. On those occasions when we have the pleasure of doing Shabbat together, we ask very carefully about whether or not we can bring a loaf of hallah into someone else's home.

To my chagrin, Jennifer does more of the hallah baking now. My schedule allows for it, but she gets to it faster.

My recipe:

1.5 cups of water
3 eggs
2.5 teaspoons salt
1/2 cup oil
1/2 cup of honey (different honeys will yield different flavours) Use the same measuring cup, but measure the oil first. It will help the honey come right out of the cup.
5 2/3 cups of flour
1 tbsp gluten (not crucial, but it adds protein and texture)
3.5 tsps of yeast

Put all ingredients into the bread machine on the dough cycle. Turn on the machine. Come back in 90 minutes.

Sprinkle some corn meal on whatever your chosen baking sheet is. Shape bread however you like it. If you wish to have raisins, now is the time to add them. I recommend soaking them for a couple of hours in rum. Drink the rum. Crack open an egg. Add a sprinkle of salt. Scramble. Paint the hallah.

Let rise until doubled in size (75 minutes or so). Preheat oven to 350. Bake bread for 28-30 minutes. When it sounds hollow on the bottom, it is finished. If you look in between the braids or balls of dough, it should look like light brown toast.

Mine bakes better on the bottom shelf of the oven. The recipe yields four loaves of bread.

Go to sleep.


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