We rounded up the usual suspects: turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes, butternut squash soup, and slices of raspberry tart and pumpkin pie. While my family secured the perimeters outside, I pulled our car out front. I looked up and down the street one last time before pulling out of the driveway. You can never be too careful when transporting Thanksgiving leftovers home.
My vegetarian daughter startled us the next morning when she requested leftovers for breakfast. She’s had an anti-Thanksgiving stance the last few years because we haven’t made the journey back East to be with family. She also complains that there is nothing for her to eat. How about vegetables? I think her stance this year was softened by the amorous advances of a precious four-year old, who, after dinner, claimed her hand and protected her by delivering body blows to her annoying brother.
We gave our thanks for not having to cook dinner that night and worked our way through the leftovers. As usual, we couldn’t finish the cranberry sauce. The last survivor, it sat forlorn in its bowl, too good to waste and needing a new home, a new purpose in life. Muffins? Quick bread? Oh, is that challah I see before me? Come let me clutch thee! Oops! Wrong play.
I beat three eggs and added leftover challah (about 2 cups, cubed), ½ cup milk, the remaining cranberry sauce (½ cup) and let it soak in the refrigerator overnight. When I woke up, I preheated a 350° oven, warming the kitchen while we waited. A half hour later we had Thanksgiving cranberry sauce strata for breakfast. What will next year bring? The proof is in the pudding.
Let us call forth family recipes or recipes from well-worn, dog-eared pages and “stand before the lord of song” and sing a holy and joyful Challahlujah for each loaf we bake, every loaf we share. Like Hallelujah, the Leonard Cohen song, Challahlujah is a song that sings itself. Challahlujah. Challahlujah. Challahlujah. And like the Leonard Cohen song, challah is a bread that is open to many interpretations and versions. The singer tells his own tale, selecting which verses to sing or not sing, which words to modify. Challah is like the wandering Jew, absorbing the tales, customs, and stories from its travels. A baker also takes his journey and shares his stories, mixing a dough with or without eggs, adding or omitting sugar, sweetening with raisins or celebrating a holiday with apples, braiding or not-braiding the loaves. I have spent endless hours searching through the Mensch-elin Guide, tracking down bakeries and recipes (check out Annie Hall-ah next time you’re in Manhattan!). Two “can’t miss” challahs that I often bake are the Ultimate Challah from Joan Nathan’s The Jewish Holiday Baker and Holiday Challah from her The New American Cooking. A few weeks ago I went wild with Chocoholic Twists, a challah dough recipe from The Sweeter Side of Amy’s Bread, the recently published book from Amy Scherber, owner of Amy’s Bread. Her other book, Amy’s Bread Cookbook is a wonderful resource to have. My daughter swoons whenever I bake Amy’s Crusty Italian Loaf or Big Beautiful White Pan Loaves. I was very pleased with my first attempt at this recipe. Even though I stretched the twists a little too long, nobody was unhappy with the results. Let’s face it; you have to really screw up to make people complain about pairing bread and chocolate. A definite thumbs up TRIG rating. I couldn’t resist the challah trifecta so I also baked a traditional challah and some rolls. Can you say French toast?
For Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, I baked my first apple challah following a recipe from A Blessing of Bread: The Many Rich Traditions of Jewish Baking Around the World, Maggie Glezer’s homage to challah. I was worried that I would have problems baking it because the dough was tearing when I added the apples. Were the chunks too big? Did I overstretch the dough? After the fact, when most discoveries are made, I read where Glezer cautions against trying to make this a perfect loaf. “The less polished it looks, the prettier the finished loaf will be, she says.” At that time I wasn’t thinking about rustic looking loaves. I was stringing together a series of swear words and bouncing them against my kitchen walls. I set the loaves aside to rise and quickly started in on mixing and kneading dough for another challah as a backup, one without apples. Alex, I’ll take “How neurotic can you get?” for $20. The apple challah was wonderful, and pieces were very quickly passed around the table, as was the “reserve” challah. Her recipe called for sprinkling a few tablespoons of sugar on the crust before putting it in the oven. I couldn’t bring myself to do that. A hint of sugar seemed to do the trick. I might try cutting the apples into smaller chunks and also leaving it in the oven longer the next time I bake it. I’m sure that will be soon. Yom Kippur is approaching and I bet I’ll be hearing a chorus of voices asking if I will be baking the apple challah. For good measure, I’ll also bake one of the old standbys. You don’t want to mess with a good thing. Hallelujah. Challahlujah. Leonard Cohen sings, “there’s a blaze of light in every word.” There’s also a blaze of light in every challah.