Bread is a lovely thing. The smell of yeast frothing, the spattering of flour on the counter…and on the floor and all over yourself…and the satisfaction of watching your dough rise as it fills with air pockets.
I wish I could tell you a heart-warming story from my childhood about early mornings spent with my mother and grandmother making bread; but the truth is, my family, although extremely gifted in the kitchen, was not very adept in bread making. My mother did occasionally make bagels or English muffins (which were both amazing!), but not bread. While some kids went off to camp in the summer, I went to Viking cooking camp. During one class we learned how to make a very basic French baguette, but that was the extent of my bread-making lessons. I may not have come from generations of bakers, but I have come from generations of bread EATers! I could eat bread all day long. When I studied in Spain for a semester, we would each eat a loaf of bread with every meal. You think I’m kidding! It was baguette-like bread–it was cylindrical, skinny, and very light. You would hold your fork in one hand and hold a piece of bread in the other at all times. The bread was another tool or vessel to aid in the eating process.
Bread is a scary thing–especially when I look at a recipe and the first line reads “Day 1.” This takes multiple days?? That requires too much planning for me. This recipe is a great step into the world of bread. It is only a one day commitment (with many days of eating satisfaction), and it is fairly difficult to mess up.
BASIC CHALLAH from Molly on the Range by Molly Yeh
makes 2 loaves
4 1/2 tsps. (2 packets) active dry yeast
1 1/2 cups warm water
1 tsp. plus 1/4 cup sugar
6 1/2 cups flour (plus more for dusting)
2 tsps. salt
4 large eggs
2/3 cup flavorless oil, such as canola oil
1/4 additional sweetener: sugar, honey, or molasses (I prefer honey)
1 large egg yolk beaten with 1 tbsp. water
Flaky salt for topping
In a medium bowl, combine the yeast, warm water, and 1 tsp. of the sugar and give it a little stir. Let it sit for about 5 minutes, until it becomes foamy on top.
Meanwhile, in a large bowl or in a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook, mix together the flour, salt, and remaining 1/4 cup sugar. In a medium bowl, whisk together the eggs, oil, and additional sweetener.
When the yeast is foamy, add it to the dry mixture immediately followed by the egg mixture and stir to combine. Knead, either by hand on a floured surface or with the dough hook until you have a smooth and slightly sticky dough, 7 to 10 minutes, adding more flour as necessary (but resist any urge to add too much!).
Transfer the dough to an oiled bowl, cover it with plastic wrap or a damp kitchen towel, and let it sit at room temperature until it has doubled in size, about 2 hours. Alternatively, you can stick it in the refrigerator overnight and then let it sit at room temperature for about 1 hour before shaping.
Line two large baking sheets with parchment paper. divide the dough in half and, working with one half at a time (keeping the other half covered), pat the dough out into a long rectangle, roughly 3 inches by 12 inches (this doesn’t need to be exact). From this, cut 3 long and skinny rectangles and roll them out a bit to get 3 long snakes. Pinch them together at one end and then braid the snakes and pinch them at the other end. Transfer the loaf to a baking sheet and repeat with the remaining half of the dough. Let them rise, covered, at room temperature for 30 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.
Brush the loaves with a thin even layer of egg wash and sprinkle with sea salt. Bake until the loaves are golden brown and have an internal temperature of 190 degrees F. Begin checking for doneness at 20 minutes.
Let the loaves cool until they’re jusssst cool enough that they won’t burn your mouth, and then enjoy with lots of butter.