Though I am not actually Jewish, I am very Jew-ish. Probably one of the most Jew-ish goys you’ll meet. I can’t help it. I grew up in Hollywood. My step-father is a Jewish screenwriter. His parents are from New York and all the old family photos look like stills from Once Upon a Time in America. Nana from Flatbush. Jack from the Lower East Side. When Jack was growing up, his father was in the clink for racketeering. So who’d stop by to check in on him? Meyer Lansky, also known as The Mob’s Accountant. At least that’s the story I heard.
Growing up, most of my friends were Jewish. They still are. By the time I was 13, I had attended so many bar and bat mitzvahs that even I knew the haftarah. The first time I saw an uncircumcised penis I was baffled by it. For years, I wore a star of David around my neck and every Yom Kippur I like the way my heart feels after I atone. When I was cast to play Fran Drescher’s daughter on a sitcom, I put a mezuzah on the post outside my dressing room door. Ditto my first apartment. My first kiss was with a Jewish boy and my husband, well, to quote my Nana the first time she saw a picture of him, “His name is Jeffreys but why do I get the feeling he’s a member of the tribe?” Because he is and the name is actually Jaffe; the family changed it in 1927.
Things I don’t do: sweat, feel proud, get choked up, feel flustered.
Things I do do: schvitz, kvell, get verklempt and fershimmeled.
I also make a mean challah. Below is the recipe. Though I love to eat it straight out of the oven, it’s also great to make pain perdu with a day later.
3/4 c + 2 tbsp milk
1/4 c + 1 tsp sugar
3 tbsp runny or slightly melted honey
2 large eggs + 2 yolks
4 cups all purpose flour
4 tbsp unsalted butter, melted
2 tsp dried active yeast
1 1/4 tsp salt
For the egg wash: 1 egg + 1 tbsp water + 1/2 tsp salt
Warm the milk to 115F. Transfer it to a large bowl and add the yeast plus the 1 tsp of sugar. Allow to rest for 10 minutes.
In another bowl, combine the 2 large eggs plus the 2 yolks and the melted butter. Pour this into the yeast mixture and stir together.
Add the flour, remaining 1/4 c of sugar, honey, and salt. Use a wooden spoon to combine it all.
On a lightly floured counter top, knead the dough until smooth and supple, roughly 10 minutes.
Place the dough in a large lightly buttered bowl. Cover it with plastic wrap and allow the dough to rise. It should double in size in about an hour.
After this time, uncover the dough and punch it down. Then cover it again with the plastic wrap and allow it to rise for 30 more minutes.
Uncover the dough and divide it into 4 even pieces. Roll them into ropes that are approximately 16″ long.
Pinch the tops of the 4 ropes together to form an end of the loaf. Now braid the strands as illustrated in the video below.
OR, you can take your 4 ropes and braid them into a round as illustrated in this video:
Preheat the oven to 350°F/180°C/Gas4.
Line a tray with baking paper. Place the braided loaf on the paper. Cover it back up with plastic wrap. Allow the challah to rise for another hour.
Press a finger into the dough. If the indent stays, it is ready to bake.
Paint the challah with a thin layer of egg wash.
Bake for 20 minutes then remove the loaf from the oven. Paint another thin layer of egg wash, but only over the center of the braid.
Return the tray to the oven and continue baking for another 20 minutes. Be sure to watch the color of your loaf. When it’s the shade of brown you desire, remove the loaf, tent it with foil, then return it to the oven to finish baking. Remove the foil for the last few minutes of baking.