15 April 2009


Egg-rich and light, this loaf billows and swells, pushes into the oven's heat and rises pillow-soft. Saffron stains the dough deeper than eggs alone, yellow stretching into hues of gold. I love this bread, kneading it long and firm in the kitchen, certain there's a holiday at hand. It's ironic, though, that I make challah at Easter, since it coincides with Passover, the one time of year in Jewish tradition that challah is not eaten – challah is traditionally eaten on Shabbat and holy days. But Easter is the beginning of the liturgical year, the new year for Christians, so it's similar to the special challah baked for Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish new year.
Room-temperature eggs are cracked one-by-one into the mixing bowl, and raw ingredients are transformed by the resistance of kneading from a primordial brew of goop to a near-living thing. Kneading bread silences time around me, creating a rhythmic space of push, fold, breathe, caress, and the counter I'm standing at is the solid surface of earth and home, the stability against which the dough is worked. In the push slap and thud of kneading, all that's needed is a pair of hands willing to work. My kids sit at the counter and when they want to knead they take the flexing ball of dough and work it awhile. They like the smell of fresh dough as it's beginning to soften under the force of strong hands, and they marvel at the dough's softness when we're ready to let it rise, quiet and undisturbed. Elastic in its slow-building warmth, a loaf of challah rises like it's the first loaf ever to rise. I braid my challah, hefting the snakes of dough over each other, entwining one strand within another. Glazed with egg yolk and topped with poppy or sesame seeds, a loaf of challah is a beautiful beginning to any meal.

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