27 October 2011

Babies and Bread Dough ...

Look at these pretty little Challah loaves ... they remind me of babies I've known and loved ... little bundles of round puffy softness. Smooth round ankles and chubby round bottoms ... soft plump chins and cheeks to snuggle against.  In my family, we liken newborn babies to bread dough. They require a warm soft space, a bit of kneading and patting, covering up and rest and everytime you see them, they seem to be plumping up and growing bigger and bigger!

I made Challah for the first time yesterday. While I made it, I was thinking about my new little grand-niece, Vivienne. I was able to hold and coddle her a couple weekends ago ... what a special treat! Talking with Marsha, Vivienne's mother and my niece, I was taken back to the days of my young motherhood. It is such a fulfilling and yet overwhelming time. There is no sleep for the weary when one is dealing with active toddlers and a newborn. Add a career to the mix and things really get hectic. As I was flopping a soft sticky dough around the cold countertop, trying to keep it rounded up in one big round ball, I thought just how complicated parenting and career making can be ... a true juggling act ... and I was agog that I ever got through it ...

Back to making bread, though! This was a new process for me ... making a well in the bread flour and adding the warm water, yeast and sugar ... it was amazing to see the result fifteen minutes later. That yeast just took the sugar and smalll amount of flour mixed into the warm water and ... poof!

I was intimidated by adding the eggs to the dough, but it wouldn't be Challah without the eggs! One thing stressed in my recipe was to make sure the eggs were room temperature, so I sat at the computer before starting the bread with the eggs warming on my lap ... a warm lap does hasten things along ... at least I wasn't sitting on them!

I was also intimidated by the soft stickiness of this dough! So pliant and constantly needing to be jostled around the surface and powdered with small amounts of flour. Believe me, the similarity to baby Vivienne ( and all the other babies I've jostled!) was NOT lost on me at that point! But finally, the dough felt right and went into the bowl to rest in a warm spot ... in front of the kitchen woodstove. See that bowl of dough? Two hours later that bowl was full to the top of bubbly soft fluffy dough! Amazing! This Challah requires two risings so it was an all day affair - me guarding the dough from drafts and critters.

Then, things got more complicated. This recipe makes four loaves of bread ... four loaves! My kitchen is cluttered and there's no space for four loaves of dough to safely rise. To boot, I have two dogs and two cats that think it's okay to 'investigate' things. It was like juggling four little babies and four more toddlers for a while there! I just don't have the stamina I once had for rafts of kids!

After another half hour or so, loaves were on the rise and I was getting ready to brush them with egg wash and get them into the oven. I opted to make braids for conventional loaf pans, a free-standing braid, and a cinnamon and sugar pinwheel loaf for another loaf pan. Poppy seeds for the free-form braid. Loaf pan braids remain plain toasting bread. I will say this recipe gives you bang for your buck, so to speak.

The next little glitch came with oven space. I have a small-ish wall oven and a convection microwave unit built into the kitchen hearth wall. Both had to be pressed into duty... loaf pans below in the oven and the braided loaf on the circular rack in the convection oven. I worried abit about the level of browning in the convection oven, but all was well.

Yup ... bread and babies ... so much alike ... and they both smell heavenly!

Challah Bread


About 8 c. all-purpose flour
2½ c. warm water (115°F)
2 tbsp. active dry yeast
⅓ c. plus 1 tbsp. sugar
3 large eggs, room temperature
½ c. canola oil
1¾ tsp. salt
Egg glaze (one egg eaten with a few drops of water)
Poppy seeds, or sesame seeds (optional)

Making the Challah:

1. Measure 6 cups of the flour into a deep bread bowl and make a well in the center of the mound.

2. Pour ½ cup of the warm water, the yeast and 1 tbsp. of sugar into the well. Stir gently to mix and dissolve the yeast. A small amount of the flour will get mixed in also. That’s okay.

3. Leave the bowl for 15 minutes while you grease the pans ( 9 x 5 loaves or rimmed circulars) you want to use. This recipe makes four loaves of bread.

4. When the yeast mixture has puffed up and become bubbly, add the rest of the warm water, eggs, oil, salt, and sugar and mix to make a really soft stringy mass. Add the rest of the flour in small amounts, stirring until the dough forms a stringy shaggy mass, reserving the last half cup or so of flour for the kneading process.

5. Flour a cool kneading surface and turn the soft ‘amoeba-like’ mass of dough out onto the surface. Flour your hands well and begin to knead the dough in quick scooping and pushing movements. Keep the dough moving and add a tablespoon of flour at a time to the top of the dough and around its edges on the kneading surface, as this dough is very sticky. Use a scraper to keep the sticky bits in the overall dough ball and flour the area directly under the dough ball frequently.

6. Knead the rest of the flour in to make a soft pliant and springy dough … about 5 to 8 minutes.

7. Clean and grease the deep bread bowl and place the dough ball in the bowl. Spritz the top of the dough ball with cooking spray. Cover with a towel and set the bowl in a warm place for about 2 hours. Don’t let this dough over rise, as it is so soft that it will have a tendency to tear and not be workable when you want to braid it.

8. Gently deflate the dough and let it rise again … for 1 more hour.

9. When the dough has just doubled, gently press it back down, scrape it onto a floured surface and divide it evenly into four rounds.

10. Working with one round at a time, divide the round into thirds, keeping your hands floured roll the thirds into foot-long ‘logs’. Braid the logs from the center out to the ends and tuck and pinch the ends under. Gently swing the braided loaf up off the floured surface and into the loaf pan. Repeat with the other rounds to make the four loaves.

11. Cover them and place them in a warm spot to rise for 40 minutes. While the loaves are rising pre-heat the oven to 350° F.

12. Brush the risen loaves with an egg wash. Make sure the oven is completely pre-heated before popping the loaves in for baking.

13. Bake loaves for 45 minutes, covering the tops loosely with foil when the desired golden shine is reached.

14. Remove from the pans upon removal from the oven. Cool the bread completely on racks before wrapping for freezing or slicing for knoshing.


  1. Love you little babies Susan! I have never made challah but you have inspired me.

  2. I love the look of these Susan. I have the pans and would to try in my bread machine.

  3. Oooh Susan. They look too good. I haven't made challa yet this year but I love your recipe so I think I'll give it a go next week. Thanks for the inspiration!

  4. I enjoyed reading this post, you reminded me of when mine were small.

  5. What a wonderful job you do on all your homemade breads. These look fabulous.

  6. Oh my gosh! These are beautiful! I have bread envy!

  7. Those are gorgeous loaves of bread. No one would ever know that you had never made it before!

  8. Oh, my. Weak in the knees from these gorgeous loaves. They're bewitching.

  9. I love the analogy between bread and babies - luckily with bread though you can let it rise in the fridge overnight when you're too tired to look after it any more (I don't recommend doing the same with a baby!)


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