Zahav Challah

This time last year, I was traveling around Israel with a ragtag group of twenty somethings cashing in on our “trip of a lifetime” intended to recruit the next generation of Zionist young adults. Instead, I left Israel and Birthright not particularly proud to be Jewish. This community and culture I’d passively associated with my whole life seemed to be the culprit for a whole lot of violence and hate. Visiting the Holocaust museum reminded me of the generations of persecution “my people” have suffered, and yet outside in Jerusalem lived a segregated, hateful world.

It was only through the food that I saw a pluralistic perspective at peace, where histories and borders mingled together in a way that actually made sense to me. Unlike people and land, flavors and ingredients can’t be silenced, sequestered or claimed by one side or the other – eating in Israel is a reprieve from the otherwise palpable unrest.

(side note, if this kind of thing interests you, check out In Search of Israeli Cuisine on Netflix. It’s a fascinating and mouthwatering documentary by the guy who wrote this challah recipe!)

I landed back in San Francisco with more questions than answers about my identity. 2018 ran its course only to create more uncertainty. As a woman, the Kavanaugh trials and #MeToo movement left me speechless as the world debated whether or not we should believe women. The hoards of children separated from their families at the border shocked me at what our government has become, the wildfires in California literally took my breath away, and the shooting at a synagogue in Pittsburgh that left eleven dead was yet another reminder that we need gun control—only this time, it was personal.

Of course, these weren’t all the major news stories that ravaged our country this year, but they’re the ones that reminded me that as a woman, an American and a Jew, those stories are my stories.

While Israel awakened a stronger political and moral awareness in me, it also seriously tickled the travel bug. Looking back, I feel remarkably privileged to have spent time in so many unique parts of the world. I found time to drink natural wine in Paris, eat waffles and frites in Brussels, surf and hike all over Oahu, dance in the streets in New Orleans, surf and taco tour in San Pancho and sip coffee while dodging rain in Vancouver.

Back home, Andrew and I signed a lease and built a home together. It feels so sweet to come back to our little space filled with flea market finds, plants, and an occasionally-tangled up Roomba. We’ve made a point of cooking with the goodies that arrive outside our front door at the Clement Street Farmers Market, a constant reminder of how lucky I am to live in such a beautiful state.

I baked this challah on New Year’s Day of this year out of Michael Solomonov’s cookbook Zahav, which is named for his eponymous Philadelphia restaurant. It felt like the perfect way to end 2018 and begin anew, braiding together the past year (travels, soul searching, home making) with the new year (resolutions include deeper Jewish learning, bread baking and definitely not eating fewer carbs).

All this aside, this challah is just really freaking good. The dough is made rich and moist with lots of egg yolks and the braided loaf lends itself well for pulling apart and smearing with butter. It’s also the perfect base for sandwiches, sops up sugary egg like a dream for French Toast and is the perfect companion to a bowl of warm soup.

Best of all, this bread comes together without overnight rising or well-fed starters or any of that complicated stuff. Start to finish – you’re only looking at a few hours. And with a stand mixer, it’s crazy easy to get the dough just right. Plus, unlike crusty bread which goes stale right quick, this challah stays fresh all week!

So, here’s to 2019, a year I hope to be filled with learning and carbs. Let’s tear it up.

Recipe is from Zahav, with some added instructions from me.

Ingredients (makes one large loaf)

  • 1 tablespoon active dry yeast
  • 4 cups bread flour
  • 7 large egg yolks
  • ¼ cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 6 tablespoons canola oil
  • 1 large egg, beaten
  • 2 tablespoons sesame seeds
  1. Mix the yeast with 1 cup warm water in a small bowl and let stand for 5 minutes, until foamy.
  2. Combine the bread flour, egg yolks, sugar, salt and oil in the bowl of a stand mixer. Add the yeast mixture and kneed on medium-high speed with the hook attachment until the dough comes together and pulls away from the sides of the bowl, about 2 minutes. Cover with a towel and let rise until doubled in volume, 1 to 2 hours, depending on the warmth of the kitchen. (warmer = faster)
  3. Punch the dough down (literally, just punch it) and then divide it into 3 equal pieces. On a lightly floured surface, roll each piece into a rope about 18 inches long. Braid the ropes to form a loaf, place on a parchment or silicone mat lined baking sheet and cover with a towel. Let rise again until doubled in volume, about 30 minutes.
  4. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 350°F. Brush the loaf with the beaten egg and sprinkle with the sesame seeds. Bake until golden brown, 20 to 25 minutes. Let cool for a few minutes before tearing into it (or let cool completely if you have it in you). Keep at room temperature in a ziploc bag or wrapped in cellophane.

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