Friday, April 22, 2011

challah, or, on kids cooking (again)

The girls are home this week, and they are hungry.
I'm locked away in my room, doing a final edit (okay, so I wasn't quite done with the book!), and so there is a lot of "Mom, we're going to.." and I say "fine!" before they finish, as long as they don't need my help. 

The other day, the activity was challah.  

 Now, I hope I have made it clear in the past that the whole topic of kids cooking is one I continue to try to untangle. I read accounts of parents who claim that they do it every day--that their toddlers stir and whisk and chop and everyone is happy--and I can only think one thing.
That they are better people than I.
Don't get me wrong, my kids cook with me a lot, but it rarely ends well.  I hand over the dry ingredients for a cake and they whisk whisk whisk until most of the powder has migrated out of the bowl.  I take a breath, and say, "can I help?" and they say no, and then we all get grumpy.  But lately, I've figured out the secret.  I've got it.

Get the hell out of the kitchen.
Of course, it helps if they can read, which they can! And the twelve-year-old aunt, that helps too.
But as long as I'm out of there, it all goes well. At least, they solve the problems that come up and I don't have to witness them. 

Sadie's been requesting that my next book be a kids' cooking book.  I guess it should be called, "Get the Hell out of the Kitchen."

They found the recipe themselves, appropriately from the big book on the shelf called "Baking." And all afternoon, they kneaded and stirred.  And then they braided and baked. 

And then there was this beautiful loaf of bread.
I have to admit, I've never made challah.  Those girls teach me a thing or two.

The next day, Rosie and Sadie were fighting, and Sadie got upset, and she stormed into my room with a stomp! stomp! (She actually stomps even when she's happy)  And she said, "Mom?  I need to make a cake.  Cooking is the only thing that can calm me down."

That's my girl.

She had her eye on a recipe that she had seen on the back of the Hershey's Unsweetened Cocoa box, some basic chocolate cake recipe.  She wanted to do this one all on her own.  So I got the ingredients of the higher shelves for her, I gave her my best cooking advice (Read the recipe 3 times!) and then I got the hell out of the kitchen.  Half an hour later, she tip-toed back into my room. "Mom, the cakes are in the oven!" Start to finish, that girl made her cakes.  She was calm, and happy, and couldn't stop turning the light on in the oven.  I also was feeling pretty self satisfied.  Look at me letting go of control! Honoring my daughter's power!  I must be getting better!
The rest of the day and a frosting mess later, we cut into that empowering and beautiful cake.  I couldn't help but notice the tiny white dots of baking soda scattered throughout the cake, but I figured that frosting could solve it all.  Sadie had the first bite.
"AHHHHHHEEEEEEEEEUGGGGHHHHHHHHH!" (Really, that was the sound she made)
Rosie took a bite and let out a similar sound, with a retch at the end.  They both fell off their chairs laughing before I could even taste it.  I figured that the baking soda had gotten them.  But then I looked closer at the cake itself.  There was a strange lighter colored center, and some chemical process hadn't quite occurred.  I braced myself and took a bite.  I couldn't even swallow it, but just having the cake in my mouth, I knew what had happened.
"Sadie, is it possible that you didn't put any sugar in this cake?"
She stopped, and put her chocolate covered fork to her chin in thinking pose.
"Yes, Mom, that is entirely possible."

from James Peterson, Baking (a totally beautiful book, by the way)

makes one loaf

5 cups flour
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup milk, barely warmed
5 eggs, warmed in a bowl of warm water
2 egg yolks
1 teaspoon active dry yeast, proofed in a 1 tablespoon barely warm water with 1 teaspoon flour
1 teaspoon salt
room temperature butter for the pan
egg wash (1 egg beaten with 1/2 teaspoon salt)

In a medium bowl, combine 1 cup of the flour with the sugar, milk, eggs, egg yolks, and yeast. Whisk lightly until smooth.  Cover with plastic wrap and let sit for 1 hour at room temperature.
In a large bowl, combine the remaining 4 cups flour with the salt. Pour the egg mixture over the flour mixture and mix for 2 minutes.  Cover with an inverted bowl and let rest for 20 minutes.
Knead the dough by hand for 10 minutes or with a stand mixer fit with the dough hook for 7 minutes, until the dough is smooth.  Cover with plastic wrap and let rise for 2 hours, or until nearly doubled in volume.
Punch down the dough and divide it into 3 equal pieces. Stretch each piece into a rope about 2 feet long. The dough is quite elastic so do this stretch in stages, letting it rest in between.
Butter a 13x17-inch sheet pan. 
Lay the three stands next to each other on the sheet pan so they all touch at the top.  Take the left strand and fold it over the center. Take the right strand, lift it over the now-center strand. Repeat until you are at the end of the dough, and pinch the ends together.
Cover with plastic wrap and let rise for 1 to 2 hours, or until almost doubled in volume.
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F, and set a metal sheet pan filled with water on the bottom shelf of the oven. Brush the loaf with egg wash. Put the challah in the oven.
Crack open the door and spray with water at 30 second intervals. Turn down the heat to 375 degrees F. Bake for about 45 minutes, or until the loaf is golden brown.


  1. I love this. Yes, please write a cookbook for kids next! My parents took the same approach - "here's a teaspoon, and this is a tablespoon ... see how they are different?" and just let me go, and even though the result was often inedible, they let me practice so that now a million years later they ask me for advice. I love your stories, because they always remind me of home!

  2. I have such great memories of cooking with my friend Alexandra at her house.... I never knew where her parents were which meant that we had the kitchen to ourselves and we loved making cakes. Honestly we made a lot of cakes but I can't remember eating a single one because they were always raw in the middle, like soup cake. Then one day a parent happened to appear and instructed us that the oven had to PRE-HEAT!!! Before learning that we would just pop the cake in the oven, turn on the oven and wait... And wait..... For soup cake every time:)
    Love this post!! I don't think Sadie will ever forget the sugar again! Sooo funny!

  3. My Mom makes Challah every Christmas (to go with the Clam Chowder) and since I was little one of my favorite parts was braiding the dough. We make roll sized Challah so I got to braid many little ones. Love.

  4. you are a great story teller, a. you really are. i don't know which i like better, the picture of S at the top or the reveal of the story, a means to an end.
    i got a book about kids hawaiian cooking from the decades gone by, but it wound up being mostly a promo for Dole products. still, there is a whole page of good habits for kids to get into:
    still- i don't think it approaches any reality, let alone the charming one you presented here.

  5. I'm going to resist staying up to read your entire blog but it's going to be hard. My mother did exactly what you are doing; she got out of the kitchen and let us cook. It was a great gift to my sister and I and one I'm trying to pass on to my daughters. She also would write down recipes in a note book for us so we could handle dinner once in a while. I still have that book. Thanks for a good read. Leslie

  6. I can't wait to buy your children's cooking book! I, too, try to restrict them to dry ingredients and can't help dropping heavy sighs when even that ends up all over the counter. Get out of the kitchen! Great advice!
    Love, Maria