What started out as a Sunday morning ritual for part-time Southold resident Ellen Love has turned into so much more: It’s the passing of tradition, it’s a labor of love and it’s a way to give back to the community. The Manhattan-based therapist sets aside Sunday mornings to bake challah, the egg-based bread that’s broken at the start of every Sabbath dinner and on certain holidays. The loaves go right in the freezer and are distributed to friends, family and members of the North Fork Reform Synagogue, of which she is a member.
She learned the recipe years ago from the mother of one of her daughter’s friends. And one December Sunday I learned it from here. For a small donation, which goes directly to her synagogue, any aspiring baker can arrive at Love’s home where her kitchen has been turned into a classroom. Each baker gets her own ingredients, bowl and tools. While the bread rises, Love breaks out homemade scones, jelly and coffee, so we all can sit and chat. Sometimes a walk is in the works.
After the first rise comes the lesson in braiding the loves. Love prefers a four-strand method that ends up with shorter and fatter challah. The braiding step before the final rise is the time to add raisins. The final egg wash (and then optional seeds) tops the loaves and they go into the oven.
Makes two loaves
2 packages instant yeast
1 tsp sugar
1/2 cup very warm water
2 eggs, room temp.
1/2 cup milk, room temp.
1/2 cup honey
2 tsp salt
4 1/2 to 5 1/2 flour, bread flour preferred
1 stick softened butter
2 egg yolks mixed with one tsp water
Poppy or sesame seeds
In a large bowl dissolve yeast and sugar in water. Cover lightly with a dish towel for five minutes or until the yeast looks foamy.
Add the next four ingredients and then add three cups flour and butter. Gradually add fourth cup of flour and mix briefly until dough is able to be handled. Turn out onto floured board and begin kneading the dough, gradually adding up to one cup of flour as needed until dough is smooth and satiny. This should take 10 to 15 minutes.
Place dough in greased bowl and turn once to lightly grease surface of dough. Cover tightly with plastic wrap. Let rise until double in size, one and a half to two and a half hours.
Punch down, knead five or six times in bowl and let rest for 10 minutes. Then turn dough out onto lightly floured board and flatten into a circle. Cut in half. Divide first piece into three strips, squeezing and elongating strips for braiding. Braid and place on lightly greased baking sheet. Repeat with second piece of dough. Lightly cover loaves and let rise for approximately 30 to 40 minutes.
Mix egg yolks with teaspoon or so of water and when loaves are ready brush them all over with egg wash and sprinkle with seeds (optional).
Bake in 375 degree oven for 25 minutes or until loaves are brown to your liking and sound hollow when tapped. Cool on rack.