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baking with henry

it is friday, a friday. it will soon be shabbat. it is time for baking with henry. henry and i bake challah together. henry is my teacher.

henry lives downtown. in a tall black building.

i live in a leafy little town 12 miles north. in a stone-and-shingle, two-story house.

we bake over the phone.

henry is jewish. i am catholic.

henry is a grandfather; he talks about growing up in germany, before the nazis erupted. every friday night, he tells me, stewed chicken or brisket main-staged the meal; the challah, his mother’s opening act.

challah, the braided egg bread that is the sustenance of shabbat, the sacred canyon of time stretching from sundown friday to sundown on saturday, marking, each week, the seventh-day rest at the end of God’s original creation.

i am a mother, a wife, married to a fine jewish man. we have two boys, growing up jewish and catholic. together, we lift up shabbat, wrap up our harried work week with the pause and the majesty of blessing bread, blessing time, at our table.

i have, over the years, made shabbat mine. i sink into the rhythms of friday, sink into the rhythms of unfolding shabbat. i slow cook on fridays. i pick and choose from the book shelf, finding a passage worth reading, a thought worth shabbat. i put out the candles. i bring out the wine. i reach for the yarmulkes, or little skull caps.

and, after years of wishing i could, i now bake for shabbat.

henry is sifting through my lumps, leavening my learning. henry is teaching me challah.

he came to me in an email, with story attached.

last year, typing away on a 10-year anniversary book for our synagogue, i culled recipes for a few trademark foods. the rabbi’s brisket. his wife’s gefilte fish. henry’s challah.

with recipe in hand, i decided i had no excuse not to roll up my sleeves and insert fist into flour. i did what henry had written. thoroughly blended all dry ingredients; added oil, eggs, water. kneaded for 5, then for 10, finally upward of 15 minutes, in search of the elusive dough state, “moist and elastic.”

it was then that i made my first call to henry.

add water, just one little drib at a time, he advised.

i followed orders.

place dough in warm spot to rise. about 1 hour, he had written.

two hours later, accidentally out longer than planned, i came home to dough that had let out its air.

i put in a second call to henry.

that night, we broke bread but it was more like we were breaking a flat-shelled turtle. this was challah without the rise. this was challah gone flat.

henry called the next morning. he was with me now, and wanted the word on what in the end had come out of the oven.
and so it went, week after week.

i progressed. sort of a reptilian progression. one week a turtle, the next week an alligator. it would be weeks before the soft twisted mounds looked anything like the challah in the bakery windows.

and then my kitchen was demolished. so all baking stopped. but it is a new year, and a new kitchen.

so henry and i begin baking again.

the flour is measured and dumped. the yeast, quick-rising, mixed in. i know how to knead. i know that one hour’s rise, not two, and not three, is essential.

best of all, i know henry’s number, even in florida.

stay tuned for the reptilian report.

all right, all you bakers. anyone willing to go on record with a tried-and-true challah tale? pictures to come, if you promise not to laugh…

Henry’s Berches Challah Recipe
_
_
Makes 1loaf
_
_ 1 Pkg Instant Yeast*
_ 3 cups Unbleached Flour
_ 1 TBS Sugar
_ 2 tspn Salt
_ 5 oz. +/- Warm water
_ 1 TBS Vegetable Oil
1 Egg white (save yolk for egg wash)
* simplifies and speeds baking

_
_ Toppings
_ To taste: Poppy seed, Sesame seed, Kosher salt, etc.
_
_ Thoroughly blend all dry ingredients in a large mixing
bowl. Add oil, egg whites, and water. Mix thoroughly using
an electric mixer with paddle attachment (or hands) until
dough forms. Get dough as smooth as possible in mixer.

Remove from bowl and knead a bit more by hand until silky smooth. If
dough sticks to hands, add a bit more flour; if dough is too dry,
add a little more oil for elasticity. Knead for 5 to 10 minutes.
Dough should be moist and elastic.
_
_ Place dough in oiled, covered bowl, in a warm spot, to rise.
_ About 1 hour. Gently deflate dough and divide into 3 lots.
Roll each lot into a rope, about 10 inches log, and braid to form the finished loaf.

Place on lightly oiled baking sheet for a
second rise, (or use a parchment paper lined sheet, which makes for less clean up) until doubled, about 45 minutes.

Pre-heat oven to 375 degrees
_
_ Brush loaf with beaten egg yolk (beat yolk with 1 tspn water),
paint top and sides of loaves, and sprinkle with
_ favorite topping: poppy seed, sesame seed, kosher salt etc.

_ Place in oven until browning begins. Lower temperature to
350 degrees and continue baking until golden brown and
loaves sound hollow when tapped on the bottom. It is best, though, to use an instant read thermometer and bake to 190 degrees internal.

If loaf brown too quickly during baking, tent with aluminum foil.

Baking time about 30 minutes. Cool on rack.

after i struggled with this version, henry sent a tutorial, titled, “challah, one step at a time.” i’ll send–or post later–if you, too, need henry over your shoulder.

cleaning, housekeeping, the recipe

sometimes i feel i need to apologize for being such a cleaner. not now, not at the new year. which for me begins today. this is my jan. 2, by the way. i’m on a two-day delay thanks to the accident of my birth.

but here we are. all of us on the relative same page here. all leaping in anew. perhaps you too are cleaning. it seems to be a widespread affliction. right up there with new date books, new diet plans. i, believe it or not, forgo both of those. get my date book in july, just to be a trend-bucker, i suppose. don’t diet; hard to do when popcorn and broccoli are your main food groups.

ahem, back to the subject at hand here, back to the cleaning. the older i get the more i give in to my quirks and my personal square pegs. and the quirk of the day is i love to clean. down on my hands and knees in the corner. vacuuming can send me to the moon. (which by the way, that wolf moon has me howling.)

there is something about wiping away dirt, sweeping off crumbs, returning to order that simply sings to my heart. i cannot go to bed with dishes in the sink. oh, okay, maybe the single occasional popcorn bowl waits ’til the morn. but i am a girl who likes to pretend my life is in order by banning the crumbs to the dustbin.

i am not naturally neat. naturally, i am a piler. piles are not mess, i tell myself. piles are order, vertically. but i married a guy who likes neat. and i am a once-nurse who likes clean. so, once children were born, and my life turned upside down, inside out, suddenly found myself cleaning for joy.

and, oh the joy. i breathe easier when i walk out of or into a room that is sparkling, especially when the sparkle comes from my own sweat and muscle. there must be little tiny specks of my germanic genes washing around in the great irish stew, for the hard work of cleaning is balm to my soul.

the tree is not yet down. i should say trees, for we indulged little T and planted a sweet baby balsam up in the hall on the landing, so he could fall asleep to the lights, wake up to the rumble of the train tumbling off the tracks down below.

so the big cleaning, the clearing of trees, still lies ahead. but for days now, i have been clearing my desk, sifting through files, wiping the slate for the start of a new year of piles.

and speaking of cleaning, how ’bout time for some…

housekeeping: with the holidays tucked behind us, it seems there’s a new percolation of chairs being pulled to the table. i couldn’t be more delighted. it is a gift in ways you will never know. my heart only keeps whispering, carry on, carry on. a most important critical point is that at a table we all take turns talking. please please add your thoughts. and if you’re new here, or took some time off, feel free to meander around. there are some magnificent thoughts being added to meanderings, some way back in the days.

please see a delightful, wonderful passage, tacked onto “extending the table” (12.27.06), by a marvelous thinker and writer, who tags herself jcv, and who trembled at her first-ever blog moment. she is a treasure i know you too will come to treasure.

delight yourself further, and not so far back, by reading along with jan and her moon story, on “bring on the birds” (01.02.07).

marvel, as i do, at anything posted by the mysterious, marvelous wm ulysses, who goes back nearly to the beginning and makes my jaw drop every time.

and finally, drum roll……

the recipe, the one we’ve been waiting for….here’s where i will get teary. if you haven’t, please please read, “eggs, cheese, an ungodly hour” (12.22.06). it was a magical, heart-filling tale of a miracle of a woman named nina who for years made a christmas gift for a soup kitchen. she made a strata, which is an egg-cheese-and-bread layered-y thing. (forgive me, i love making up the occasional word.) well, sweet blessed nina died nearly two years ago but her strata lives on. in a pure christmas twist, her beautiful husband, her father, and her sweet little girls carry on. they make strata by the carload, and we (the ones who get up at an ungodly hour) dish it up in the dark of christmas eve morn. i had thought that we could truly lift nina up if we all got the recipe, and beginning now, made nina’s strata into a most blessed christmas tradition. what if, i wrote, we all made nina’s strata, and, in true nina spirit, we gave it away, gave it away to someone whose eyes needed glistening.

well, michael, god bless him, came through with a marvelous rendition of the recipe. and it seems those who loved nina most have added their heart to the mix. please please, i beg you, go take a look. it’s right there in the archives. and i will re-post the recipe on the lazy susan page, for easy plucking. fear not, next christmastime i will haul it out of the recipe box, remind everyone. and we shall all of us, perhaps, take to our kitchens, tearing up bread by the bits, to lift nina to heights she only could have imagined, as we all brighten the world nina-style, through our great oozy pans of eggs and cheese served at an ungodly hour.

bless you each and everyone. ’til tomorrow…

nina’s strata, coming out of the oven christmas eve morn….