challah bread

So I’m not Jewish, but this bread is kind of amazing.

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I MADE BREAD! From scratch! (cue confetti and applause)

According to Wikipedia, challah bread (egg bread) is a special braided bread eaten on Sabbath and holidays.  Specifically, the tradition states that the three Sabbath meals and two holiday meals each begin with two complete loaves of bread.  Traditionally, each single loaf is woven with six strands  — together, both loaves have twelve which represent each tribe of Israel.  Before the loaves are baked, each loaf is brushed with egg wash to give off a golden sheen.

Since I can barely braid my own hair with three strands (let alone six), I took a shortcut here.  Tasty nonetheless!

Challah Bread

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Ingredients

2 1/2 cups warm water (110 F)
1 tablespoon active dry yeast
1/2 cup honey
4 tablespoons vegetable oil
3 eggs
1 tablespoon salt
8 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon poppy seeds (optional)

Original recipe:

In a large bowl, sprinkle yeast over barely warm water. Beat in honey, oil, 2 eggs, and salt. Add the flour one cup at a time, beating after each addition, graduating to kneading with hands as dough thickens. Knead until smooth and elastic and no longer sticky, adding flour as needed. Cover with a damp clean cloth and let rise for 1 1/2 hours or until dough has doubled in bulk.

Punch down the risen dough and turn out onto floured board. Divide in half and knead each half for five minutes or so, adding flour as needed to keep from getting sticky. Divide each half into thirds and roll into long snake about 1 1/2 inches in diameter. Pinch the ends of the three snakes together firmly and braid from middle. Either leave as braid or form into a round braided loaf by bringing ends together, curving braid into a circle, pinch ends together. Grease two baking trays and place finished braid or round on each. Cover with towel and let rise about one hour.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C). Beat the remaining egg and brush a generous amount over each braid. Sprinkle with poppy seeds if desired. Bake at 375 degrees F (190 degrees C) for about 40 minutes. Bread should have a nice hollow sound when thumped on the bottom. Cool on a rack for at least one hour before slicing.

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homemade pizza margherita

So I came to the realization that winter is probably not coming to Virginia this year.

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Or Massachusetts, for that matter.  Although there are still two weeks before I’m back on Harvard’s campus, it seems pretty safe to say that it can only get warmer from here on.

On the other hand, that gave me the perfect excuse to wake up early (i.e. 10:30 AM) this sunny, spring-like Saturday morning to prepare lunch for my family.

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When I was younger, we would often play Mahjong, Texas Hold’Em poker or Scrabble together late into the night, squabbling over pieces and laughing over hilarious betting strategies.  We seldom pull out the board games now that the four of us are so busy, especially with me living away from home, my brother in high school and my parents constantly busy and/or traveling with their work.

But if there’s anything that came close to those memories as a family bonding experience, it was making our own pizzas together this afternoon.  Across the four of us, I swear you can tell Hu’s pizza is Hu’s (ha. get it?) just by gazing upon the toppings.  It’s as if each were a culinary representation of our own diverse personalities, right down to the colors and quantities of what we chose to adorn them with.

My brother, who prides himself on being able to down a whole bottle of Tabasco sauce in one go, decided to top his pizza with an entire minced jalapeño pepper.

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It ended up tasting delicious, proving that more is always merrier, especially when it comes to spicy food.

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My dad never developed a taste for cheese, but his adaptive nature and resourcefulness always made me wonder why restaurants never served more Asian-American fusion dishes.  (You’ve got to love a dad who can cook!)  Although he originally declared himself “not hungry,” he ended up loading as many toppings onto his pizza as could possibly fit, including jalapeño pepper, Chinese linked sausage, and walnuts!

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His pizza was also by far the most photogenic of ours.

My mom has been feeling sick recently, so for us I made classic pizza margherita, a rich blend of olive oil, fresh basil, mozzarella cheese and juicy tomato slices. (sound familiar? I’ve recently become obsessed with the caprese combination!)

While I generally consider myself an adventurous and ambitious person, sometimes you just need to indulge in comfort food in all of its familiarity.

And when it comes down to familiarity, there is nothing more comforting than knowing that although the world has a plan for each of us this next year, for the moment, we are united at home.

At least, for now.

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Homemade Pizza Margherita

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Pizza Dough

Ingredients: (makes 4 medium-sized pizzas)

3.5 to 4 cups flour, plus more for rolling
1 teaspoon sugar
1 envelope instant dry yeast
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1.5 cups water, 110 degrees F
2 tablespoons olive oil

Pizza Margherita

Ingredients: (serves 3)

9-inch thin pizza crust
1 tablespoon olive oil
4 tablespoons tomato sauce
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
3-4 large basil leaves, cut into strips
2 small tomatoes, sliced thinly
4 oz. mozzarella cheese, shredded
2 tablespoons parmesan cheese
salt and pepper, to taste
other custom toppings (I used Chinese linked sausages and jalapeño peppers)

Pizza Dough:

Combine the bread flour, sugar, yeast and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer and combine. While the mixer is running, add the water and 2 tablespoons of the oil and beat until the dough forms into a ball. If the dough is sticky, add additional flour, 1 tablespoon at a time, until the dough comes together in a solid ball. If the dough is too dry, add additional water, 1 tablespoon at a time. Scrape the dough onto a lightly floured surface and gently knead into a smooth, firm ball.

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Grease a large bowl with the remaining 2 teaspoons olive oil, add the dough, cover the bowl with plastic wrap and put it in a warm area to let it double in size, about 1 hour. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and divide it into 2 equal pieces. Cover each with a clean kitchen towel or plastic wrap and let them rest for 10 minutes.

Pizza Margherita:

Preheat the oven to 450 F.  Grease up a cookie sheet and roll the pizza dough out to about 1/4 inch thickness. Use a brush to spread olive oil around it, making sure to get the crust!  Disperse the finely chopped garlic evenly, and then spread tomato sauce and layer evenly with mozzarella cheese.

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Place the thinly sliced tomatoes and basil leaves across the entire pizza, seasoning to taste.  (Optionally, add some minced jalapeño).

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Bake the pizza in the oven for about 10-15 minutes, or until sufficiently crispy and melted to your liking. Add a little Parmesan cheese and enjoy!

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