Yeast frightens many people, since it’s a living thing and can be unpredictable. But Baba has it under control. “In Hungary baking wasn’t a big deal. Nobody was a hero if she could bake,” she says. Having watched Baba, and followed her recipes, it’s apparent that baking with yeast is about two things: confidence and elbow grease. “You have to knead, and you have to sweat,” she says.
Challah is plaited Jewish Sabbath bread, and this is Baba Schwartz’s fail-safe recipe. A formidable baker, Baba has baked challah and a Sabbath yeast cake every Friday, wherever's she lived – Hungary, Israel or Australia.
- 7 g / 1 sachet dry yeast or 20 g / 2/3 oz fresh yeast
- 2 ¾ cups warm water
- ¼ tsp sugar
- 60 ml (¼ cup) olive oil, plus extra
- 1 egg
- 1 kg (8 cups) all-purpose flour
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 egg beaten, for glazing
- Poppy or sesame seeds for sprinkling
For a richer dough
- 3 eggs, or 1 egg + 2 egg yolks, and 3 tbsp sugar, honey or date molasses
Oven temperatures are for conventional; if using fan-forced (convection), reduce the temperature by 20˚C. | We use Australian tablespoons and cups: 1 teaspoon equals 5 ml; 1 tablespoon equals 20 ml; 1 cup equals 250 ml. | All herbs are fresh (unless specified) and cups are lightly packed. | All vegetables are medium size and peeled, unless specified. | All eggs are 55-60 g, unless specified.
This recipe makes 2 large loaves or 3 smaller ones.
Resting time 2 hours
1. In a deep bowl, mix ¼ cup water with the yeast and sugar. Leave to 'proof'. It should take 8–10 minutes for the yeast to bubble.
2. Once the yeast has risen, pour the rest of the water over it, and the oil, and egg (plus extra egg yolks or sugar if you are making a richer loaf). Mix. Pour in the flour and salt, and knead by hand, or in a mixer with a dough hook, for 2–3 minutes. It will come together quickly but will be sticky.
3. Knead in the mixer for a further 5 minutes, or remove from bowl to a floured work surface and knead by hand for 10 minutes. It is ready when it feels elastic and doesn’t stick to your hands.
4. Form into a ball, return to the bowl, smear with 1 tablespoon oil or sprinkle with 1 tablespoon flour. Cover the bowl with a clean cloth, and let the dough rise in a warm place for 1 hour or till doubled in size. In winter, this will take longer.
5. Punch down and knead again with 2 extra tablespoons olive oil. Leave to rise again for 20 minutes.
6. For 2 braided loaves: Divide the dough into 2 equal parts. Then divide each half into 3 balls, and roll in your hands into a rope 30 cm long, thicker in the centre and tapering at the ends. On a floured work bench, or a piece of baking paper, lay the 3 ropes vertically in front of you. Join at the top, and plait as you would a girl’s hair. Secure the ends by pinching them together and folding them under the braid. Repeat with the second half of the dough.
7. Preheat your oven to 425°F / 210°C / 200°C fan-forced. Brush the loaves with beaten egg. Leave to rise (away from the oven) for 25 minutes. Brush again with egg, sprinkle with poppy or sesame seeds and bake till golden on top, 30–40 minutes. If you make smaller loaves, your baking time will be shorter.
Images and recipes from Just Add Love by Irris Makler, RRP $49.99, Photography by David Mane.