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By the IFF/Philadelphia Team: Robyn, Wendy and Robin
Challah is the yummy braided bread with which many Jews begin Shabbat dinner. For those who grew up Jewish, the smell and taste of challah often invokes fond memories of family meals.Â For those who didnâ€™t grow up Jewish (along with those who did), including challah with your Friday night dinner can be a fun and easy way to bring Judaism into your home.
In the Greater Philadelphia area, there are many grocery stores and bakeries where you can buy a delicious challah. But the best challot (plural for challah) are those that you make yourselfâ€”the ones you can smell baking in the oven and taste while theyâ€™re still warm. Theyâ€™re the ones that may not be braided perfectly, but are made with lots of love.
Our staff in the Philadelphia office of InterfaithFamily heard from a lot of people that they wanted to learn how to make challah. And when our people ask for something, we want to deliver (or should we say â€śriseâ€ť to the occasion)!Â First, we arranged for â€śChallah and Conversationâ€ť to meet at Robyn Frischâ€™s house on a Thursday evening (so that everyone could have their challah for dinner the following evening). Next, we needed to decide what challah recipe to use.Â So, one morning the three of us got together for a little bake-off. We tried out a few recipes, and ended up deciding on a recipe that was a combination of different ones we had used.
Then Wendy went shoppingâ€¦ and after buying 30 bowls, 30 measuring spoons, eight packages of bread flour, yeast, salt, sugar, eggs and vegetable oil to make the challot (along with wine, cheese and snacks for the â€śConversationâ€ť part of the evening)â€¦ we were ready!
â€śChallah and Conversationâ€ť was a great success. Everyone learned how to proof their yeast, knead their dough and then punch it down before they braided it. In between the kneading and the punchingâ€”while the dough was having its â€śfirst riseâ€ťâ€”we had time to learn about Friday night Shabbat rituals in general, and challah in particular.Â For example, have you ever wondered why challah is braided? Why itâ€™s traditional to use two challot on Friday evening? Or why the challah is covered with a cloth? The â€śChallah and Conversationâ€ť attendees now know the answers to these questions and many more!
Many people have told us that they want to make their own challah but theyâ€™ve never baked bread before and theyâ€™re afraid theyâ€™ll mess up. Theyâ€™re scared of words like â€śproofing,â€ť â€śkneadingâ€ť and â€śpunchingâ€ť when it comes to baking.Â We promise you that once you make challah with us, you wonâ€™t be scared. The result will be delicious, and your family and friends will be impressed!Â So keep an eye out for our upcoming â€śChallah and Conversationâ€ť programs and come join us for one of them.
And by the way, you donâ€™t have to worry if you have challah left over after your Shabbat meal.Â It makes delicious French toast!
Read on for Ruth Schapira, IFF/Philadelphia Advisory Council Memberâ€™s account of the evening, and then get our not-so-secret recipe!
Scoop, beat, pour, and mixâ€”then knead, fold, knead, fold. It’s the methodical way that you’d make a dough for challah, and the process itself seems quite mechanical, if you were doing it alone in your own kitchen.
But making challah with 20 people in someone’s home is quite a different experience, and creating challah with people who are doing it for the first time is exhilarating. The program, sponsored by IFF/Philadelphia and held in the Director’s home, attracted a demographic that would be the envy of any Jewish outreach movement. Four young millennial-aged couples attended, with a smattering of some young singles, older folks and a mom with her two kidsâ€”their common interest was in â€śdoing Jewish.â€ť That was the foundation upon which connections were built among those who shared Shabbat stories along with flour and measuring cups that were set aside at stations, like in some amazing challah bake-off on a Jewish Food Network show.
The event was called â€śChallah and Conversationâ€ť and by the end of the night, there was plenty of both. The environment was open, accepting and casual which allowed participants to feel comfortable asking about the many beautiful and significant rituals surrounding Shabbat. There was curiosity about egg-checking (for kashrut), traditions for candle-lighting, the custom some choose to follow for â€śtaking challah,â€ť and questions like: Why do some people tear the challah and not slice it with a knife? Why is salt sprinkled on it? Why is the challah covered? What is the â€śParent’s Prayerâ€ť?
The most outstanding experience from the evening was not the beautifully braided specimens in personal aluminum baking dishes, ready to be baked that everyone was taking home. Nor was it that everyone would get to savor the experience all over again when that unmistakable luscious challah smell filled their homes the next night before the Sabbath. What was undeniably special was that people came together in the true spirit of learning and community, and shared an experience that brought them that much closer to Judaism, and that much closer to one another.
Here is the challah recipe we ended up using:
1. Dissolve package of yeast in Â˝ cup lukewarm water and let sit for 5 minutes.Â (This is how you â€śproofâ€ť the dough.)
2. Measure the flour into the bowl. Make a well.
3. Pour the yeast mixture into the well and let stand 5 minutes.
4. Blend in the salt and sugar.
5. Combine two eggs, oil and remaining ÂĽ cup water and mix together.
6. Add the liquid mixture to the flour and stir until flour is moistened.
7. Turn out onto a well-floured board using flour to dust the board and your hands.Â Use up to another cup of flour to handle the dough. Knead by hand until smooth. Let rise on the boardÂ (you can cover with dish towel) about 1Â˝ hours or until doubled in bulk.
8. Punch dough down and divide into three sections and braid.
9. Cover and let rise at least 30 minutes. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees while the dough is rising.
10. Brush with beaten egg mixed with a few drops of water and, if you want, sprinkle with poppy seeds, sesame seeds or cinnamon.
11. Bake on middle rack of oven at 350 degrees for 30-40 minutes (ovens heat differentlyâ€”bake until light brown).