The Challah from a Cabin in the California Woods
Recipe Roots: Brooklyn > Silicon Valley
Shared by Erin Gleeson
Parties and celebratory meals have always been a part of cookbook writer and photographer Erin Gleeson and her husband Jonathan’s life together. When they started dating more than a decade ago, when Erin was in her 20s living in New York City, they hosted themed parties together. “One of my favorites was Back to the Future. He made a great Marty McFly,” she says.
There were also Shabbat dinner parties with friends. But they all went on hiatus when Jonathan left for rabbinical school in Israel. When he returned, so did the parties, with something new on the table: fresh baked challah made by Erin. At the time, baking the braided loaves was new and unfamiliar to her. Growing up on an apple orchard in northern California, she watched her grandmother bake a simple white bread, but challah was the first bread Erin baked herself. It was also one of the first Jewish customs she adopted as she started a path towards conversion. Growing their Shabbat tradition together, Erin explains: “I learned the words to Lecha Dodi [a hymn that welcomes Shabbat] on YouTube.”
The first challah recipe she tried, she thinks came from a friend of her sister-in-law. In the years since, she’s adapted it, ultimately writing her own recipe that yields one loaf instead of the common two, and she’s mastered a six strand braid. The tradition of Friday baking followed her and Jonathan when they moved to a fairytale cabin in the woods of Northern California, where she started her artful food blog The Forest Feast, which has grown into a series of cookbooks.
There, she keeps the recipe simple, making it in a stand mixer. “I can never remember the exact measurements,” she says. “So I have them written on a little notecard, Post-it thing that’s taped inside my kitchen cupboard. I just open it up and it tells me.”
On Friday evenings, the loaves are enjoyed by her and her two boys, with the whole family, or with Jonathan later in evenings, after he returns from synagogue. “Because Jon’s a rabbi, he works pretty much every Friday night,” she says. But, on the Shabbats when he’s free, “we always try to have people over — Shabbat is our favorite thing.”
For those dinners, Erin often cooks a vegetarian feast of salads (sans lettuce, which she’s not a fan of), reflective of her life in California and often inspired by her weekly farm box. In her rotation, there’s Moroccan carrot salad with chickpeas, quinoa, golden raisins and crunchy pepitas; farro dressed with sesame oil and studded with chunks of avocado; and kale with hazelnuts, pomegranate arils, pear, and pecorino.
Of course, all of them pair well with challah.
Erin shared a version of this story at Schmaltzy, our live storytelling and tasting event, in California. Listen here:
Makes 1 loaf
Time: 7 hours
1 packet (or 1 tablespoon) active yeast
¾ cup warm water
⅓ cup packed brown sugar
2 tablespoons honey
1 teaspoon salt
¼ cup vegetable oil
3-4 cups all-purpose flour
1 egg, beaten, for egg wash
1. In electric mixer or by hand, mix 1 packet active yeast with warm water.
2. Let sit for 5 minutes or until slightly bubbly.
3. On low, mix in brown sugar, honey, egg, salt and vegetable oil.
4. With the mixer still on, add flour little-by-little until it forms a ball that is no longer sticky to the touch.
5. Put this ball in a big, oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap and place in a warm spot until ball has doubled in size (3-5 hours).
6. Braid the dough.
7. Place on an oiled sheet pan, brush with beaten egg and sprinkle with sesame seeds.
8. Preheat oven to 350°F.
9. Let rise again until puffy (30-60 minutes).
10. Bake for 25-30 min or until golden.
Morrocan Carrot Salad
Time: 15 minutes
5 medium carrots, peeled and sliced into thin coins
½ cup cooked quinoa (¼ when dry)
⅓ cup golden raisins
⅓ cup pepitas
½ cup canned chickpeas, drained
3 tablespoons fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves, chopped
3 tablespoons fresh mint leaves, chopped
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
1 tablespoon maple syrup
¼ teaspoon cumin
3 tablespoon olive oil
1. Toss all ingredients together.
2. Add dressing and toss once more.
3. This can be made ahead of time, but add pepitas, herbs, and dressing just before serving. The quinoa can be made one day in advance.
Sesame Farro Salad
Time: 15 minutes
2 cups dry farro
5 scallions, chopped
2 cups arugula
2 tablespoons sunflower seeds, shelled
1 avocado, cubed
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon soy sauce
3 tablespoons rice vinegar
1 tablespoon sesame oil
1. Cook the farro in boiling water for about twenty minutes, or until tender.
2. Drain and rinse under cold water. Can be cooked the day before.
3. Toss cooled farro with chopped scallions, arugula and sunflower seeds.
4. Dress the salad to taste.
5. Add cubed avocado to the top after dressing to avoid browning.
Kale Hazelnut Salad
Time: 15 min
2 pears, thinly sliced
¾ cup hazelnuts, chopped
8 small handfuls of baby kale, mixed greens or arugula
Seeds from 1 pomegranate
4 oz. shaved hard pecorino
Erin’s Favorite Vinaigrette:
¾ cup olive oil
¼ cup balsamic vinegar
2 teaspoons soy sauce or Braggs aminos
2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil
1. Up to an hour before serving, place kale in a big bowl and toss with your favorite vinaigrette.
2. Scatter all other ingredients on top of the greens so they are visible, mixing just a bit in.
3. Drizzle a little more dressing over the top.