That Time I Tried Baking Challah for the First Time

On a recent Friday before leaving work, I decided I was going to attempt to bake a challah for the first time. My reasoning was four-fold: 1) I had just been given a cookbook by my colleague and friend Shannon Sarna called Modern Jewish Baker, complete with every challah recipe my heart could desire; 2) As a single lady living on my own, I’ve been trying to do more cooking and baking in general so that I can pretend to feel more like an adult; 3) It was a Friday night and challah seemed appropriate even though I’ve never really observed Shabbat; and 4) I had no plans.

First things first: I had to stop at Anthropologie to buy a cute apron because this felt like something I needed a cute apron for. After all, they say to dress for the job you want, not the one you have, and in this instance I wanted to be the kind of person who bakes challah wearing a very cute, expensive apron.

So many choices.

Then I was off to the grocery store for flour and eggs and yeast (and cookies). I made it home to my apartment by 6 p.m., where I unloaded all the groceries and opened up the book to the recipe for classic challah, which said to start by activating the yeast.

Then it was back to the grocery store because after searching through every bag, I realized the tiny yeast packet must have clung to the bottom of the shopping basket and didn’t actually make it home with me. (Actually, first I frantically texted my neighbor asking if she had any yeast because the thought of going back to the grocery store felt really painful but she didn’t answer because I guess some people are cool and have plans on Friday nights. Whatever.)

OK, so now it’s 6:30 p.m. and I’m ready to get my dough on.

Good choice, right?

This was easy enough and I was happy to see that it actually resembled dough. But then I learned from the directions that I needed to let it rise for three hours. What. The. Fuck.

After texting Shannon to inquire if I really needed to wait three hours (“Yes if you want it to be good! You think I wrote a cookbook and lied?!”) I resigned to the fact that I had three hours to kill. I watched a few episodes of Insecure (so goooooood), made some Lean Cuisine mac and cheese (you expect me to make bread and dinner in the same day???), and went back to the store for beer (TGIF!!!).

So now it’s 10:30 p.m. and it’s time to braid the dough! This was the part I was most excited about because I love to braid hair and it seemed like those skills should transfer over just fine. And you know what? They did. I gawked in awe of my braided wonder and took many, many pictures. Then I read the next step, and guess what? I needed to let it rise for *another* 45 minutes to an hour.

challah braid unbaked

One more beer, two more episodes of Insecure, and into the oven it went at 11:30 p.m. My apartment started to fill with the most amazing smell. The smoke alarm went off at 11:50. This seemed like a good time to check on the challah and OH MY GOD, this is what I discovered.

challah out of the oven

The most beautiful, fluffy, golden brown masterpiece. I seriously couldn’t believe I had baked this thing, me, the person who has fucked up making grilled cheese on more than one occasion, the person whose smoke alarm goes off literally every time I cook. I ate a slice, and then another slice, and then another slice. And it was good. And I felt proud. I went to bed with a tummy full of challah, and invited friends over for dinner the next day where we feasted on challah french toast (and tacos).

Moral of the story? You too can bake a challah, even if you’ve never done so before, even if it means not eating it until past midnight, even if it takes a few beers along the way. Just don’t forget the apron!!!


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