Reading for the Recipes

It’s motzei Shabbos just minutes to havdallah. My husband and sons are in shul and I’m home alone clearing up after shalosh seudos. On the table sits quarter of a hallah, soft and fluffy on the inside, crusty, dark and sesame flecked on the outside, still fresh even now, as the Shabbos draws to a close. I pick it up, fondling it in my hand for a moment before I pack it away . Harei Zeh Hallah. This is the challah, The best challah I’ve ever baked, since starting out almost two decades ago with the the Enchanted Broccoli Forest Cookbook as my guide.

The hallah recipe came form a Boro Park woman named Devorah Heller who is known far and wide as the Hallah maven, a title she truly deserves. What makes this story truly remarkable is that I found the recipe in the the pages of a hareidi woman’s magazine and I hate hareidi womens magazines. Really hate, Emphatically Hate, Hate Hate. Yuck Yuck Yuck!!!!!

I just hate them. They make me feel so weird and out of place that after even a quick leaf through I’m (almost) tempted to toss off my sheitel and crawl back into my long discarded blue jeans.

The tragic part is that I so wanted to love them. When they first hit the stands I thought that my dream was coming true. My two great loves writing and yiddishkeit together at last in one glossy printed, neatly stapled package (with plenty of bylines by yours truly, retired journalist on the comeback trail, of course). What I was hoping for was a glatt kosher version of the New Yorker sans the kefira and the erotic ads but what I got instead was Martha Stewart with a wig.

After driving for close to an hour to buy the first edition of one of these mags I called a good friend and kindred spirit to vent my distress.

“It’s not for people like us, “ she said. “ Just don’t buy it. “. I tried following her advice but somehow, every time I passed the newsstand, the magazines beckoned.

“Just one more time” I told myself. “ Maybe this week, there would be a clever short story, a well drawn essay, something something I could share with my hypercritical New York Times reading mother. And every week I was disappointed.

What were they printing? Articles about silverware, backpacks, teenagers, in-laws, buying guides for items I didn’t want or need. and rhyming Hallmark card poetry

Somehow, I had, quite ridiculously come to equate these publications with Yiddishkeit. Did the fact that they weren’t my style, meant that Yiddishkeit wasn’t my style either? I was no longer sure.

Then I discovered the hallah recipe. After years of baking dry, dense loaves my great joy at experiencing baking success washed away a good deal of my anger and doubt. I started to rethink my dilemma until I reached a startling conclusion. The problem wasn’t with the magazines, it was with me.

I was playing a ridiculous, game, as they say, looking for the proverbial oranges among the dibbles and clamps at the hardware store. These magazines didn’t want to compete with the New Yorker. They were never going to be the New Yorker or even Harpers but that didn’t mean that they were entirely without value in G-d’s world and in my life.

I mean after years of baking hallahs that could have doubled as free weights, it was no small thing to stumble upon this recipe. So I’m putting out the white flag, calling off my war. That is what Hashem wants anyway, Shalom between his children. From now on, I’m going to use these magazines for what they are good at – the recipes.

And as to that leftover piece of hallah sitting the platic bag. It ought to be yummy tomorrow morning toasted and, smeared with magarine. What could be wrong with that?

Originally Published on Jan, 14 2008

20 comments on “Reading for the Recipes

  1. I use olive oil in my challah. It works fine. Do you mean you don’t use it, or that you don’t recommend it? And I was up to 2 cups sugar, but I’ve been trending it down and if anything, it’s better.

  2. I left out the oil 1/2 from the pach shemen (metaphoric only. don’t use olive oil in baking, sunflower, canola, corn all work fine.)

    I can get anywhere between 4 and 7 challas from this depending on how big you want to bake them.

    I used the bubbies oval trays (available in Shoppers Haven supermarket in Monsey) for large loaves that look like aircraft carriers (a joke in our house) but you can make smaller, rolls, pull apart or dip the dough in cocoa, oil sugar combo for yeast dough ruggelach or kokosh.

    Betayavon.

  3. Why have a lot of sugar, or even a little, in Challah?

    I will not turn this into a halachic discussion (the challah sounds delicious, but Sephardic authorities would consider a very sweet challah a cake rather than a challah.

    BTW, Juggling frogs has a nice primer on challah making. It helped turn my brick like water challot into fluffy, not too sweet, water challot. Anyone interested should do a search of Carolyn’s website.

  4. Was wondering about the non-appearance of women in charedi media myself—what if Hillary Clinton was the next pres?

  5. …what about Horizons? I find that to be a mix of many different perspectives and some really good writing too…

    I agree. After all, they’ve published two of my articles! :)

  6. belle,
    There are eggs (it’s on the sugar line)
    It was also supposed to say 1/2 cup of oil, but that I don’t see.

    I make the 6 lb version of this recipe (it was in the Mishpacha many months before the Binah) – my hubby kept wanting it sweeter than the 3/4 cup of sugar I initially used – I’m up to 2 cups now!

    Oh, and on the topic of mags for ladies, what about Horizons? I find that to be a mix of many different perspectives and some really good writing too… It’s only a quarterly, so you have to make it last…

  7. We get Mishpacha, It is a great Charedi magazine, but I think that some readers such as the poster view Charedi media as viewing women as collectively brain dead and incapable of reading anything unless it relates to child rearing , shiduchim , Tznius, and similar subjects. I can’t recall when a Charedi magzaine featured a study of the Parsha that was intellectual, as opposed to be inspiring. Also, why is it that Charedi media never feature a picture of a married woman in her Tzniusdik attire? Can anyone explain that to me?

  8. Fern,I think Bob was referring to the extra sugar that’s put in challah recipes and not the sugar used in the yeast mixture. Not too long ago, I went to a challah making class and the hostess/teacher said we could leave out extra sugar once we’d taken care of the yeast. I figured why not and left it out. The challah came out delicious and fluffy. This recipe is in the Chabad cookbook: “Spice and Spirit” (I can’t figure out how to underline on the computer.) My favorite water challah recipe is in the Aish HaTorah Cookbook:”A Taste of Shabbos”. The first Kosher Palate cookbook has a challah recipe which calls for 2 cups of sugar. My daughter cut it down to one and it still tasted delicious. Bob just doesn’t like sweet challah. He thinks it tastes more like cake than challah.

  9. As to the point of this posting: I too am not a huge fan of the “women’s” mags, even the women’s Mishpacha (altho now they have added new columns/features which bring up its quality). I feel that Binah is directed at ladies from Williamsberg. But that’s OK, because there are many more of them than there are of me or my type.

    But to be honest, I am not a big fan of “women’s mags” in general, be it Cosmo, House and Garden, Ladies Home Journal, etc. They all have articles geared toward children, family, and losing weight. That is fine for as far as it goes, but they hardly qualify as highbrow reading.

    I find much more stimulation reading general interest magazines. Mishapcha is great, has some really unusual features, is intelligent and creative. I also read Hamodia. There just are not many frum mags out there. What made you think, Anxious Ima, that any *women’s* magazine would approximate The New Yorker?

  10. Bob–Whenever you bake with yeast you have to use at least a little sugar. The more sugar you use, the more active the yeast will be and the fluffier whatever it is you are baking will be. But there is a point where too much sugar starts to inhibit yeast growth.

    yeast + sugar + oxygen = energy (rising dough)

  11. Bob:
    That’s simple.

    This custom is attributed to the Antoinetter Rebbetzin who said: “Let them eat cake.”

  12. Someone wanted the recipe so here goes
    3 Tablespoons of dry yeast.
    5 cups of tepid water,
    3/4 cup sugar (could add more) 2-3 eggs,
    2-21/2 kilo of flour (appox 5 lbs–add slowly more or less until the dough stops feeling stick and takes on a soft even consistency. This could vary with weather and altitude)
    2 tablespoons salt (add the salt with the flour because its no good for the yeast) .
    knead for about 10 minutes by hand (I dont use a machine),
    Oil (pour about a tablespoon of oil on the dough,cover with a towel and let rise in a warm place until doubled in size and then punch down, make blessing and braid.

    After that leave in a warm oven (appox 70 C sorry don’t know farenheit anymore but very low) for a half hour and then take out and glaze with two egg yolks plus one white.

    Can sprinkle with sesame and or poppy seeds too.
    After that bake at 150 C, (350 F, I think) for until feels hollow (appox 50 minutes to one hour)

    Good luck. BTW, the time you take challah and make the brocha is regarded as an eis ratzon, propitious moment for prayer so take advantage.

    This comes from Devorah Heller of Boro Park, N Y

  13. I get two magazines, Mishpacha and Bina. I enjoy them for more than the recipes, they have some excellent articles that I have shared with friends and my mother.

  14. That sounds delicious. Could you post the recipe :) ?

    If anyone’s interested I’d be happy to post my family’s anise seed & date hallah recipe too.

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