Sunday, August 08, 2010

Auntie Sally’s Challah

image_thumb1 Everybody needs an Auntie Sally. If you don’t have one, you can borrow mine, but beware: she’s opinionated. If Nanny was the easygoing elder of the family, Auntie Sally is – well – not. Whether it’s a nose ring, a religious view, you are almost certainly WRONG in Auntie Sally’s world.

This is a woman who can’t understand how it is even physically possible to be a Jew and not speak Jewish. They’re practically the same word. It’s the way we’re wired, right? This from a woman with a Sephardi daughter-in-law; not much Yiddish in that family, I assume.

Everybody has her tzuris, and Auntie Sally has had plenty in her lifetime, including a concentration camp, so I smile and I’m happy just to listen.

Which is why I wasn’t too offended when she said tonight that my challah was bad. Wrong. Too dense! Not fluffy! Like hers!

“Get a paper and a pencil, dahling.”

Yes, she really does talk like that. She was my most accented relative, growing up, and as she admits herself, 62 years after arriving in Canada, she’s still a greener.

So I ran and got a paper and wrote down her recipe. I’ll make it this Shabbos, despite the preponderance of eggs. Unless cousin Freddie manages to email me his mother, my Auntie Dora’s recipe for blueberry bun dough.

Which, I suspect, may be quite close to the Holy Grail: my Bubby’s challah dough. You see, my Bubby had one dough for absolutely everything that required yeast: pletzl, blueberry buns, challah. You’d think that would be a BAD thing, and certainly it was a family joke, except for the fact that it was DELICIOUS.

Heavy as lead, like all her baking, but delicious nevertheless. My Bubby made an apple pie that could break your foot if you dropped it. Her eyerkichlach (egg kichels, little dry sugarless “buns” that make your tongue gum around drily, searching for your palate) were legendary for their heft, especially when she sent them home (in a sour-smelling rinsed out bag which those little bags of milk had come in) with us “for your mother,” where they would sit and sit and sit. I doubt they ever went bad – just sat in the bread box, acquiring density.

But her challah was nice. And her pletzlach were nice – okay, as a kid I was mostly obsessed with slicing them open so I could butter the inside (they were about an inch thick, so this wasn’t easy).

My Auntie Dora was my Bubby’s cousin, who was then taken into her home, which made them – according to my Bubby – sisters. Then Dora married my Bubby’s brother Sam, so they were sisters-in-law as well. That’s how family worked in the old country.

So I’m hoping her dough recipe is a lot like the one my Bubby made, though I have no idea if she made a family recipe or one she discovered here in Canada. She was awfully young when she came over here.

Here’s her actual recipe! I moved the recipe over to my bread blog. The recipe plus this rant was originally a single post, but I have split it because I want to keep that blog more or less on topic – if only to demonstrate that I really CAN stay on-topic when I set my mind to it.

P.S. Don’t even try to make the dough into blueberry buns. First, Auntie says blueberry muffins are better than blueberry buns. So the buns are maybe a little bit WRONG even though she didn’t say so, maybe not wanting to diss her sisters-in-law and other family who swear by them. But second, “that’s a different dough. This is CHALLAH.”

In case you were wondering, though, this is not a bread recipe. I know it’s a bread blog and sometimes features bread recipes… but as Auntie says, “I don’t make bread… just CHALLAH.” Oh, yeah, and pizza, too. But shh… don’t tell her that’s bread.

I never mentioned how Auntie Sally knew my challah sucked so very badly.

Um, here’s how: because I baked some and brought it to her once. When she was in the HOSPITAL. Having heart surgery. I shlepped down a couple of times a week, and one time I baked and brought it to her – on a busy Friday! – and handed it over and yup – it was WRONG.

I love it. I love knowing there’s one person in the world who will tell it like it is, even if it’s from a hospital bed, choking down too-dense challah and wishing it had more egg, more fluff… wishing it was more like hers.

Interested but missed the link above? Click here for the recipe!

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