Tag Archives: Hanukkah

Five-fold challah

Fact: challah is one of the greatest breads in the world. Okay, as an American Jew, I may be slightly biased. But even if you didn’t grow up eating challah on Friday nights and holidays, it’s easy to fall in love with this showoff of a loaf. Made from a wet dough enriched with oil, eggs, and honey, it’s golden and shiny on the outside, fluffy and slightly sweet on the inside. It’s made for pulling apart, the seams of the braid acting as a guide. And if it lasts long enough to go stale, it makes the world’s greatest French toast.

Where I live, you can buy decent challah from bakeries and some grocery stores. But homemade challah blows them all away, and this recipe is my current favorite. Rather than kneading by hand and letting the dough rise at room temperature, this version slows things waaaaay dooooown. There’s no kneading at all. Instead, you let the dough sit quietly at room temperature, folding it over on itself every so often. The recipe recommends five folds, spread out over about 2 1/2 hours; I do mine about every 30 minutes, working or puttering or watching TV in between. But this is not the kind of recipe that demands precision and hovering. You could do one fold after 15 minutes, then another after 45. Basically, just keep folding until the dough is smooth, elastic, and no longer sticking to your fingers.

When you’ve folded the dough five times, transfer it to the fridge and let it rise overnight. The next day, braid the chilled dough–I’ve never mastered the spectacular six-strand, so I just do a simple three-strand plait–and let it rest again for 2-3 hours at room temperature.┬áThe result of this slow, lazy process is a bread with rich yeasty flavor and a gorgeously pillowy texture. When you pull it apart, the edges fray into delicate filaments. It’s the best challah I’ve ever made, and light years away from what you’ll find in a store.

Challah gets its gorgeous brown lacquer from an egg wash–preferably one with some yolk in it. You could beat a whole egg with a pinch of salt, but I find that makes way more egg wash than I need. Instead, I use my friend Andrea’s trick: stealing a bit of the egg I’m already using for the dough. Just pour off about 1 tbsp of beaten egg into a separate container and refrigerate it alongside the dough. The tiny difference in liquid doesn’t matter in a dough this forgiving, and there’s no need to waste most of an extra egg. Smart, huh?

five fold challah

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Sweet potato latkes with sage

Over the past few months, I’ve been doing some occasional writing for CASE Magazine. My latest piece went up today, and it’s about a topic that’s on all of my loved ones’ minds this week month year: Thanksgivukkah.

That’s right, folks. For the first time in well over 100 years, Thanksgiving and Hanukkah are coinciding. Over at CASE, I discuss the ways that Thanksgiving and Hanukkah make sense as a mash-up, and then again don’t: how the traditions, history, and cultural significance push and pull at each other in slightly unsettling ways. But this here is a food blog. And everyone knows that the real buzz around Thanksgivukkah is the food. So let’s talk turkey (heh heh).

If there’s any foodstuff that perfectly represents the marriage of Thanksgiving and Hanukkah, it’s the sweet potato latke. This is Hanukkah form meets Thanksgiving substance: shredded sweet potato and diced onion, squeezed as dry as possible, bound together with starch and egg, and fried until crackly-golden on the outside. Because sweet potatoes are less starchy than ordinary potatoes, they make for a softer, slightly chewier latke. The flavor is wonderful, with shades of sweetness from the potatoes and onions. I add a healthy dose of fresh sage, deep and musky and slightly bitter, which really takes these from good to soooooo good.

Because of the less-starchy sweet potatoes, these latkes will likely need a bit more binder than the ordinary potato kind, and you have choices for what to use. If you want the familiar crackery flavor of a traditional latke, use matzo meal; if you want plain old binding power, use all-purpose flour; and if you want to keep things gluten-free, use cornstarch. Whatever you use, though, keep in mind that the best latkes are made by feel, not by strict measurement. My mother never uses a recipe to make latkes–she just mixes and adjusts until the mixture holds together enough to fry. The proportions below are a start, but feel free to use more or less egg, and more or less binder, if needed. It’s always a good idea to fry a teeny test latke first–that way you can make sure the mixture hangs together, and taste for salt and pepper and sage. After that, get to frying. There’s a crazy mash-up holiday to celebrate.

sweet potato latke

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