January: because it's winter cold and winter dry in my house, yesterday I found myself struggling with uncooperative challah dough. It would not rise. It wouldn't! And I couldn't find a naturally warm place anywhere in my house to coax that dough into submissiveness. But after combining two different tricks, I finally managed to get that darn dough to rise. True, the challah ended up slightly denser than usual, but it tasted no less delicious.
Trick 1: Use Your Tea Kettle
Not everyone owns a tea kettle. But if you do, this trick is the first thing you should try so that you can both moisten and heat your dough simultaneously. Your dough should be rising in a bowl covered with a damp towel. Fill your tea kettle with water, put it on the stove, and bring it to a shrieking boil. Now lower the heat to low or second-to-lowest. Put your covered bowl of dough next to the tea kettle and drape the damp cloth over BOTH the bowl AND the gently steaming tea kettle spout so that the steam enters the bowl of dough. Make sure nothing flammable is near a flame. Leave kettle and bowl together like that for an hour or more.
Trick 2: Use Your Oven
Some cookbooks say to stick your dough in the oven and turn the pilot light on. I have never had an oven with which I could do that. So instead, I braided my challah, placed them on a baking sheet, covered them with a very damp cloth and put them on the stove (above the oven). Then I turned on the oven to about 190ºF. The oven warmed the stove top but not too much. After an hour, the challah had risen quite decently. Then I turned the oven up to 375º, stuck the challah in, and baked it until perfect.
Trick 3: Use Your Bread Machine
I always have too much challah dough to fit into our bread machine, but if you're just making a single loaf pan worth of dough—and you own a bread machine—use your bread machine. Set it on the dough cycle. Not only will the bread machine stir and knead your dough for you, it will warm and rise your dough for you. Even in the cruelest winter months, your dough is guaranteed to rise! When the dough cycle ends, take the dough out, shape it how you like, preheat your oven, and bake the bread the normal way.
Trick 4: Wild Ideas
OK, this is just wild speculation on my part, but what if you stuck your bowl of dough on top of an electric blanket, heating pad, or hot water bottle? Maybe that would work! Or you could get into bed with your family or your pets and stick the dough bowl under the sheets so that your body heat could…
…never mind. Stick to the first three tricks.
What happens next - I remember last Channuka well. My friend Sharon Kitchens asked me to submit a few paragraphs about the holiday for her blog, based out of Maine, to give re...