Who doesn’t like the smell of freshly baked bread? It fills the air with comfort, security, and a promise everything will be alright. In other words, freshly baked bread smells like happiness
So why is it that fresh bread is such a commodity on the high seas? Baking bread isn’t difficult. It’s time consuming. What do you have on long passages? Nothing but time.
Okay, so boat ovens aren’t always the most reliable, but I haven’t met an oven yet, well one that worked, that you couldn’t bake bread in.
I adore baking, kneading the bread can be therapeutic and stress-relieving. Not that there’s much of that at sea but still, I find bread-baking perfect for the sailing life. You can stop any time and come back to it: leave the bread to rise while you go about your other duties and then come back to it whenever. The more times you let it proof (rise) the softer and fluffier it will be.
Now a lot of boating cookbooks recommend easy, fast meals. Time enough to open a can of soup and maybe heat it up. I find a nice loaf of warm bread does loads to improve morale. Not to mention making the whole boat smell gorgeous.
My favorite bread is undoubtedly Challah. I have adored the dense, sweet Jewish bread since the first time I remember having it, used in French Toast. Ever since then I have been baking the tender loaves and perfecting the recipe.
Unfortunately, no matter how often I make it, it never seems to last long enough for me to be able to make French toast with it. Such a hit, It is a miracle if a loaf even lasts a day.
Heave Ho Challah Bread
Makes 2 loaves
- 2 packets yeast or 1 ½ tablespoons (In my experience the salt air can affect the yeast’s growth. if cooking on land I suggest 1 packet or 2.5 teaspoons. )
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- ½ cup sugar
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 5 cups flour
- 1 ⅓ cups warm water
- ½ cup vegetable oil
- 2 eggs + egg yolk
- 1 egg white
(I use the yolk in the bread because I don’t like wasting a perfectly good yolk. If your eggs are older and the yolk has broken just use the whole egg for the glaze)
- Mix yeast, warm water, and 1 teaspoon sugar in small bowl, place in sink to sit for 10 minutes. The yeast mixture should look frothy and larger which means the yeast is alive and your bread will rise. If the yeast hasn’t activated let it sit a little longer and add a teaspoon more yeast.
- Mix sugar, salt, and 3 c flour
- Make a well in the center and add yeast water, oil, and 2 eggs
- Mix with a wooden spoon
- When mixed well gradually add more flour enough for the mixture to be smooth to the touch, not sticky and not too much or the dough will not be cohesive
- As the mixture starts to be elastic begin kneading with your hands.
- Knead dough for 5-10 minutes
- Place dough in oiled bowl and cover with a damp paper towel (When I’m on land I use a cloth but laundry can be an issue at sea)
- Allow to proof for 1 hour in the galley sink
- Punch dough down
- Allow to rise another 30 minutes. You can let your bread this as many times as you want. The dough should rise faster each time and the resulting bread will be fluffier the more times you let it proof.*
- Preheat the oven to 350◦ F (176◦ F or medium)
- Divide dough in half and divide each half into four balls
- Roll each ball into a rope
- Braid the dough rolls into braids of four strands you can also do 3 strand braids
- Let rise for 15 minutes
- Brush with egg glaze If you have a pastry brush then by all means use it. I don’t have all the amenities in my galley so just use my hands.
- Bake for about 35 minutes in preheated oven or until top is golden brown.
* Refrigerate half the dough dough. This way you will have a quick and easy fresh loaf of bread: When you are ready to bake the bread simply divide the dough in two and place in an oiled bowl covered with a damp cloth and refrigerate. When you are ready to bake it, punch the dough down (it will have risen in the refrigerator) and allow to stand in room temperature for an hour before baking.
* Be sure to leave the bread in the sink to proof so you don’t have dough flying across the galley.