Barry Lynn
Barry Lynn
Intersection of Science and Policy

Baking is Science, Too

Good Morning:

My wife and I share the kitchen.

When we moved to our new home,  my wife was very insistent that we have both a meat and dairy sink. How else were we to be sure to follow the Torah commandment not to mix milk and meat? In fact, she even designed an L-shaped kitchen such that the sinks are not even part of the same countertop.

Yet, it soon became very clear to me that the real purpose of the separation was to make sure that the two of us would never meet at the same (kitchen) place, and it turns out even at the same time (I’m the morning cooker, and she is the afternoon cooker, when it comes to preparing for Shabbat).

This is hard for me to accept, but I see the same behavior from our daughters, too.  So, I must take full responsibility for this aversion to my presence in the kitchen. Apparently,  nothing is more “annoying” than having to share the kitchen with me, or if you prefer: “what are you doing here, now?”

Yet, I have to say, I just may not deserve such opprobrium. Okay, maybe I do, but as in life, it’s sometimes better to focus on where you’re going rather than the mess along the way.

With the advice of a friend, I’ve been trying to perfect my Shabbat Challah recipe. In fact, chemistry was one of my favorite subjects. How much water to titrate (add) into the solid (flours) to turn it into a liquid (pliable dough)? How much sucrose or sugar to sweeten it?

The “problem” is that much is a matter of taste, rather than how many moles (or Tablespoons) of oil one adds so that the bread is moist, but not too moist to work with.

To arrive at my perfect Challah has taken years of finessing, and much feedback from the philosopher-scientist among the kids. By perfect here, I mean more perfect than before, which as you know is a very precise definition of perfection. I even had a little help from my friend. But, it was my wife who pointed out that it’s honey that can give bread a dry texture, which runs counter to the advice I found on the internet. So, I have now left it out of this later challah iteration.

The other problem in baking Challah is size. Challah is best eaten fresh, and how many times does one want to make “French-Toast” with its leftovers.  Hence, the recipe I provide below is for a family that likes Challah for Friday night dinner, and individual portions or rolls for Shabbat day.

It’s a recipe for three-flour Challah, white, whole wheat, and spelt. I add the ingredients to the bread machine (dough cycle) in the order listed.

  1. 3/4 cups water
  2. 2 eggs
  3. 3 Tb of olive oil
  4. 1 1/2 Tb of salt
  5. 1/8 to 1/4 cup sugar
  6. 1 Cup white flour
  7. 1 Cup Spelt flour
  8. 1 Cup Whole Wheat Flour
  9. 1/8 to 1/4 cup Gluten (to add texture)
  10. 2 tsp of active dry yeast

After the initial mixing, make sure the dough is pliable, but not sticky.  If it is sticky, add a bit more water (or if lumpy, vice versa). After the dough rises, divide into about equal halves. One half will make around five Challah rolls, which are simply twisted into shape.  Otherwise, cut the other half lengthwise into three strands, and then braid them into a Challah.

Brush with a beaten egg, and let rise at 45 Celsius until about double in size (around 1/2 an hour).  Brush again, and then sprinkle with sesame and/or poppy seeds. Bake at 180 Celsius.  I just turn the oven on with the aspiring Challahs inside and set the timer for 29 minutes.  Despite my attention to moles and proper titration, this seems to work just fine.  The Challahs should be nicely brown on the outside, but not hard.

For those without a bread maker, add the yeast directly to the liquid, and then add 1 cup of flour to blend the rest of the ingredients together (but not the gluten).  You can then add the gluten and rest of the flour and knead the dough for about five minutes.  After enough kneading, the dough should be pliable and springy, so I’ve read.  Let the dough rise in a warm place or oven, until about double the size.  Then proceed to divide, brush with egg, let rise again, and bake as mentioned above.

I have attached a video of last week’s snowstorm, blizzard. To cook up that storm to perfection was an involved process, really the culmination of years of work. This is a credit to the developers of weather forecast technology, including a greater ability to assimilate (add) observations to the forecast models, and further improvements in the ability to simulate the finer scale cloud processes that brought our snow.

In fact, I remember experiments from the 1980s (referred to as “GALE”)  to measure and better understand the finer scale physical processes that lead to the genesis and intensification of east coast US storms,  These experiments helped enable the development of improved weather forecasting technology, and started the process towards improved wintertime forecasts. In fact, I remember that the winter of 1992-93 was the first time forecasters in the New York Metropolitan area were able to predict the day to day arrival of winter storms.  Here and in our time, we make use of forecasts made by the National Center for Environmental Prediction covering the globe and combine them with our very high resolution forecast, but limited area models to predict our wintertime storms.

The video was taken in Efrat by a colleague from our Israel Winter Weather group (now four people).  We finally had more to do than talk about snow, but actually measure it.  It actually happened, and happened as forecast.  Interestingly, the snow forecast amounts were quite sensitive to elevation, even in Gush Etzion, where about 25 cm occurred in Efrat, but 30 to 40 cm was estimated in Alon Shavut, for example,  which is higher than Efrat. Moreover, the snow in Alon Shavut was more powdery than the snow in Efrat (my kids really enjoyed throwing snowballs at me, but it wasn’t so easy to throw snowballs at Dads in Alon Shavut).

The next period of stormy weather should occur mid next week, when the weather should turn chillier and rainier again.

Barry Lynn

About the Author
Dr. Barry Lynn has a PhD in Environmental and Atmospheric Sciences. He has an undergraduate degree in Biology. He is a researcher/lecturer at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and is the CTO of Weather It Is, LTD, a weather forecasting and consulting company.
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