Braiding Challah with the Legendary Joan Nathan


Last week I had the unique opportunity to be a student in a cooking class. Usually, I am the teacher of such events, but when Joan Nathan is at the helm, I am ready to be schooled.

As an author of 10 cookbooks, a winner of a James Beard award, and columnist for the New York Times, it’s a no-brainer that a woman like me- self-taught chef and cooking teacher whose first cookbook is still to be published- would greatly esteem a woman such a Joan.

One recipe that left me wanting more was a sweet anise seed one-hour challah (ok, maybe 75 minutes from start to finish) that tasted like heaven and only rose for 10 minutes. That means you can walk into the house at 5pm on a Friday and have the scents of fresh warm challah wafting through the house minutes later.

The recipe is from Ms. Nathan’s latest book Quiches, Casseroles and CousCous: My Search for Jewish Cooking in France.

But what I loved more than anything, was watching Joan (yes, I’m back to calling her Joan- she’s a very earthy, genuine person without pomp or pretense) braid the challah with 6 different dough ropes. Six! I only use three in my challah recipe because any more than that seemed too fancy.

Joan’s challah braiding technique is pretty simple though. It’s outside over two, next to the last to the outside. In challah circles its called the six-braid, and if you’ve ever wanted to see it done by a pro, here you go, watch this video.

Here is the recipe for what I call “One Hour Challah,” published as “Pain Pétri.”

And a big thank you to Dana Shrager of www.foodiegoeshealthy.com for hosting a wonderful lesson and luncheon with one of my heroes.

Ingredients:

  • 2 tablespoons active dry yeast
  • 2 large eggs, plus 2 large egg yolks
  • 1/2 cup peanut or vegetable oil (although in class we used grape seed oil, an alternative that I highly recommend)
  • 8 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 2 heaping teaspoons anise seeds
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons roasted sesame seeds

 

Directions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees, and line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
  2. Put the yeast in the bowl of an electric mixer equipped with a dough hook, and pour in 2 cups lukewarm water. Stir, and when the yeast is dissolved, whisk in the two whole eggs, then add the oil.
  3. Add 7 cups of the flour, the salt, sugar, and anise seeds to the bowl, and knead with the electric mixer until smooth and elastic, adding more flour as necessary. Form into a round loaf, and poke a 1-inch hole all the way through the center. Let the dough rest, uncovered on a floured board, for about 10 minutes.
  4. Divide the dough into four pieces, using a knife or a dough cutter. Flour the board and your hands, and roll each piece of dough into a long cylinder, about 20 inches long. With the palms of your hands, flatten the cylinder, then roll it into a long rope, about 2 feet long, making sure that there are no seams in the dough. Then bring the two ends next to each other and twist to form a loose spiral. Place on one of two lined baking sheets. Do this with the other three pieces of dough, two to a baking sheet.
  5. Beat the two egg yolks in a bowl, and add about a tablespoon of water. Stir well, and brush all of the egg glaze over the loaves. Then sprinkle the sesame seeds on top.
  6. Bake in the oven for 10 minutes. Reduce the temperature to 350 degrees, and bake for another 30 minutes, or until the loaves sound hollow when tapped.

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