Challah, the traditional Jewish egg bread, is a special thing: not too sweet or rich, it makes the perfect toast and, when it gets stale, even better bread pudding. It’s made by braiding bread dough and then sometimes sprinkling the loaves with poppy seeds. Delicious! I’ve heard, too, that the traditional way to make it at Rosh Hashanah is by braiding the dough into a crown, sometimes adding more sugar, sometimes adding raisins, and sometimes both. Or you can try this version for an ultra-rich take on a classic.
Challah (adapted from James Beard’s Beard on Bread, the 1973 classic. Use this book, and your bread shall not disappoint)
- 21g (3 packages) active dried yeast
- 300mL (1 1/3 cups) warm water (warm to the touch, not boiling)
- 13g (1 tbsp) sugar
- 17g (1 tbsp) coarse salt
- 45g (3 tbsp) softened butter
- 3 eggs, at room temperature
- 625g (5 cups) all-purpose flour
- 1 egg yolk mixed with 1 tsp water
- poppy seeds, if using
Put the yeast into a large bowl with the warm water and leave for five minutes to proof. Add the sugar, salt, butter, eggs and the flour (slowly!). Beat the dough with a wooden spoon, adding more flour until you have quite a stiff dough.
Wash your bowl and then put the dough back in it to rise until it has doubled in size, around 1.5-2 hours. Punch the dough down gently, then divide it in half. Divide each half into three equal pieces and braid into a loaf like the picture above. If it’s been a while since you’ve braided your hair or, um, a loaf of bread–it’s left over middle, right over middle, left over middle and so on. Cover your loaves with clean tea towels and leave to double in bulk again. Sometime in there preheat your oven to 400°F. Brush the tops with the egg wash and sprinkle with poppy seeds, if using. Bake for 40-45 minutes until golden, and the bread sounds hollow when tapped. Place on racks and slice when coolish.
Makes two loaves
For a blog called Bread is Best, there is surprisingly little bread on this site. When I was a student, I had but a few hours a day of class time, and the rest of the day could be devoted to letting bread dough rise and fiddling around with weird cooking ideas. Now, with my all-over-the-place teaching schedule, big kitchen projects require a lot more planning. Sometimes, when I get home at 11 after spending all day with crazy children, all I want to do is catch up with Girls. But when I saw another chance to make khachapuri, I was all in.
I had seen Taste of Russia advertised somewhere, and after doing some cooking classes abroad (here and here), I wanted to try one in Moscow. I was rather keen for Caucasian cooking, seeing as how it tends not to be so meat-heavy, and is so much harder to find outside of Russia and the CIS. Oh, and did I mention the khachapuri? Adjarian-style, with the egg on top. One of the world’s most delicious dishes.
What was also funny was that I came ready to speak Russian, only to be met by a girl from California and Victoria, our lovely instructor with the perfect English. Victoria was extremely welcoming and helpful; indeed, I might finally have gotten my vegetable-cutting technique down! And the food we made with her was great: lobio, a cold walnut-kidney bean appetizer, and chicken chahohbili (chicken in spiced tomato sauce), plus lovely dolma and some wine. I had but a few sips of wine (off to teach children, remember), and had to snatch up my still-hot khachapuri to take on the metro, but let me tell you, later on that day, it was the ultimate break-time snack.
If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast.
Nearly everyone has a story about Paris. My ex-boyfriend, for instance, said that Paris is where he first fell in love with food. When he went there for the first time in his early 20s, it was his first time out of Canada. In Paris, he said, he experienced the best he’d ever had—the best cheese, the best wine, and the best pastries. By the time I got to France, some two years ago, I was decidedly more jaded, but the city was still a lovely surprise. You see, I never used to want to go to France. It seemed typical, obvious, as if everything had been discovered and all the beauty sucked out of it by swarms of tourists and unfriendly Parisiens. But, despite myself, I was excited to go. Even on my first trip to Paris for New Year’s 2010, I was excited to finally see the shingled roofs, cobbled streets, and grey skies. And this year, at the beginning of May, there was even more anticipation. I had five days in Paris, and I was going to prepare; I had my train tickets from Nice, and I booked myself a sweet studio with Air BnB. I knew my area, Les Gobelins in the 13th arrondissement, and I had a few expectations (but not too many—a trip killer, in my opinion). I watched films set in Paris to get me into the mood—Caché, Les 400 Coups, and Midnight in Paris.
In Midnight in Paris, Owen Wilson’s Gil is obsessed with the City of Lights. Paris in the rain. I’m no fan of rainy days, really, but he’s right—no grey skies are more beautiful than Paris’s. It’s especially nice if you can just stay inside your little studio while it’s blustering outside. Then you can eat a bit of baguette and Roquefort from Biocoop as I did my very first night. Or you can go old school, as I did my second day, with a chilly mint julep at Bar du Central. Extremely nice to put one’s feet up after a day of sightseeing at the Centre Pompidou. At Bar du Central I met up with an old friend (and current Sorbonne scholar), as well as a Russian niece-of-a-friend to discuss life, London, and her translations of Teffi.
Nadezhda Teffi, a Russian émigré writer, lived much of her life in Paris. In fact, when we met, my friend above was trying to arrange a meeting with some of Teffi’s old literary contacts. There’s so much nostalgia in Paris, and a lot of literary history. In that same Midnight in Paris, Gil is tired of being a Hollywood screenwriter; instead, he’s eager to imitate the Paris-based writers he so admires: Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Faulkner, Stein. Paris seems the natural place to be a writer, with plenty bookstores to keep your reading current, and cafes to keep your writing sharp and caffeinated. Indeed, I was mad keen to check out fabled Shakespeare and Co., which was lovely, homey, and full of good stuff for the reader of English.
Another landmark, though not one related to book browsing, is Angelina, famous for their ultra-dense hot chocolate. I skipped the inside and got a hot chocolate pour emporter, taking it out to les Tuileries across the street. And it’s Paris after all, so you can also also buy box after box of chocolates on every corner. It is my souvenir of choice (to give and receive). My personal favourite is La Maison du Chocolat. Lucky for me, you can get their chocolates far beyond France these days.
Aside from chocolate, what dessert could be more sweetly French than the macaron? On my second-to-last day I went to L’Atelier des Chefs, where me and several other ladies (along with master chef Cédric) whipped up four batches of macarons—lemon, raspberry, strawberry and pistachio. Even though I like macarons only so-so, I was determined to take a cooking class in the most important food city in the world. I’m only sorry I couldn’t bring these sweets back with me (too squishy). I had to opt for a taste of Pierre Hermé instead. Equally delicious, I tell you.
French food goes beyond the sweets, and beyond the classic coq au vin and beef bourguignon; France’s food takes its influence from the Caribbean, Africa, and the long-standing Jewish population. The food is diverse, as are the people. And all food is celebrated, it seems, from the spiciest tagine to the creamiest Béchamel sauce. That’s all well and good, but what really warms my heart is Paris’s pastry. I love a city where pastry is king. It had been a while since I’d eaten a kosher pastry, but this one hit the spot; I highly recommend the fig strudel at Florence Kahn in Le Marais.
Spicy food, spicy politics–don’t forget what else was happening while I was in Paris: the election. I’m only sorry to admit that I didn’t realize what was happening until it was over. I went out to dinner with friends and they, kindly, explained to me that the socialists had won. To give you a taste of what a big deal this was, this is what every newsagent looked like the day after:
After elections drama, I was pleased with my quiet last day, which involved a morning stroll through Père-Lachaise, cemetery to the famously deceased: Jim Morrison, Colette, Isadora Duncan and, apparently, the mythical Heloise and Abelard. The grave below, perhaps not a famous man, is the most interesting one I saw. A little bit creepy, but definitely distinctive. That’s good, of course. If it were boring, it wouldn’t be Paris. Bien sûr.