I brought a little elephant sculpture that belonged to my mother. It was the only object I took from her bedroom after she passed, exactly three years ago. She collected elephants with their trunks pointing upwards, for "good luck," she said. I needed to bring it home with me. During class, when explaining the meaningfulness of the elephant, it hit me how things are never important, unless they have a value added by another human being. The value, ultimately being feelings, which are intangible and amorphous, takes a physical form in the object, and that's why we cherish objects.
For the last three years, I've been saying kaddish the day before Chanukah, and the immense sadness of her passing, and the duration of her long disease invade me again. Not that there's ever a day in which I don't think about her and lament her absence, but when her Yor Tzeit comes, it becomes more intense, sharper and darker than usual. I'm relieved her pain is over, though. But I'll never recover from not having been able to say goodbye to her in person.
She always pushed forward and never surrendered, not even for a minute. So I know she would have preferred me to celebrate her than to cry for her (although I just feel like crying). So, last Friday, I made challah in her honor.
I chose the braided bread for many reasons.
1. The spiritual link that keeps Jewish women from every generation together and turns them into sacred beings.
2. Because the first time I ever realized challah could actually be baked at home and not bought at a store, was when my mother decided to bake one (and only) at home. I was about 7 years-old and when the shiny, golden, perfectly braided loaf came out of the oven, I thought my mother's capabilities were out of this world. Unfortunately, when we tried it, it tasted like beer. Something must have gone wrong with the yeast. She never attempted it again, but here's where I come, giving continuity to her initiative.
3. Because it felt good to think of her while kneading the dough and turning powder and liquid into edible glory worth a special blessing during the most important day of the week, seems like a miracle by itself.
4. Because I thought a bit out-of-the box for this recipe and imprinted it with my own personality; and she always encouraged me to be original, even if that wasn't always the safest way to go, nor greatly appreciated by me at the time.
5. Because going back to objects and people: challah is full of value, meaning and feelings. It represents Jews of every age, nationality, social status and for all generations. It's physically a gorgeous, delicious, sweet, rich bread, but most importantly, it's sacred to bake it, eat it and share it at your table with people you love.
- Vegetarian (contains honey)
- Free of: eggs, dairy, nuts, soy
- Contains wheat and gluten
- Fresh yeast is sold refrigerated, compacted into 2 oz "cakes." Make sure it's not passed its expiration date. You can keep fresh yeast frozen for a long time. Just thaw it in the fridge the night before using.
- Use pure honey, but don't bother splurging in "raw" honey, as the challah will be baked anyways and all the raw benefits are lost with the heat.
- Yes!!! you can use warm water instead of the green tea. But green tea adds antioxidants and a bit of UMAMI taste. I use 2 tea bags for the 4 cups of water to brew the tea.
- When baking bread, ALWAYS use warm liquids, NOT hot, as you may kill the yeast (yes, it's alive) and your dough won't rise. The best way of testing the temperature (besides a thermometer, of course) is by feeling the liquid with your inner wrist, and if it feels warm and comfortable, the yeast will like it too.
- Don't add more salt than stated in the recipe, as it could also kill the yeast. But don't omit salt completely either, as besides imparting flavor, it conditions the dough.
- This recipe is EGG FREE, so you may taste the dough.
- Add and extra 1/4 to 1/2 cup honey if you love sweet challah