Thoughts on Beit Sefer, and delicious challah recipe

By Leila Bagenstos

challahThis year, I helped Morah Sharon Alvandi with the Beit Sefer G’dolim class. The class had eight kids, ages 10-12. We did a lot of things over the year: learning about Jewish communal responsibilities and communities around the world, improving Hebrew skills, and mastering the core Shabbat morning prayers.

The kids worked really hard to learn about the Shabbat service’s structure and prayers, and yesterday, they led the central part of the AARC’s Second Saturday service.  The afternoon before, we gathered to bake for the kiddush that followed the service. We made brownies and cupcakes, and I showed the kids how to bake challah.

Here’s the recipe:

Ingredients:

  • 4 (.25 ounce) packages quick-rise yeast
  • 4 cups warm water (110 degrees F/45 degrees C)
  • 2 tablespoons salt
  • 3/4 cup white sugar
  • 1 cup pareve margarine (but I use butter instead), melted
  • 5 eggs
  • 12 cups bread flour, or as needed
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/4 cup sesame seeds (but I don’t use these)
  • Prep time: 40 minutes / Cook time: 30 minutes  / Ready in 2 hours, 40 minutes

  • NOTE:  I usually only make half of this recipe.  It makes 4 loaves.  if you make half, you can still make 2 loaves.
  1. Sprinkle the yeast over the water in a large bowl, and stir gently to moisten the yeast. Stir in salt, sugar, margarine [but I use butter], and 4 eggs, and beat well. Gradually mix in the flour, 1 cup at a time, up to 12 cups, until the dough becomes slightly tacky but not wet. Turn the dough out onto a floured surface, and knead until smooth and elastic, 8 to 10 minutes.
  2. Grease baking sheets, or line them with parchment paper and set aside.
  3. Cut the bread dough into 4 equal-sized pieces [I make a half recipe and make only two loaves]. Cut each piece into thirds for 3-strand braided loaves. Working on a floured surface, roll the small dough pieces into ropes about the thickness of your thumb and about 12 inches long. Ropes should be fatter in the middle and thinner at the ends. Pinch 3 ropes together at the top and braid them. Starting with the strand to the right, move it to the left over the middle strand (that strand becomes the new middle strand.) Take the strand farthest to the left, and move it over the new middle strand. Continue braiding, alternating sides each time, until the loaf is braided, and pinch the ends together and fold them underneath for a neat look. Repeat for the remaining loaves.
  4. Place the loaves onto the prepared baking sheets, and let rise until double in size, 1 to 1 1/2 hours.
  5. Preheat an oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Whisk 1 egg with vanilla extract in a small bowl, and brush the loaves with the egg wash. Sprinkle each loaf with about 1 tablespoon of sesame seeds. [I skip the sesame seeds]
  6. Bake in the preheated oven until the tops are shiny and golden brown, about 30 minutes. [I’ve found this is actually closer to 25 minutes.] Let cool before serving.

 

Challah Rising

challah risingAARC member Lori Lichtman is launching a new baking company, Challah Rising Baking Company: “Blessing the World One Challah at a Time,” on March 20 (the Spring Equinox, Solar Eclipse, Super (New) Moon). Lori has been baking challah every Friday since October 25, 2008. She learned from Jen Cohen and continues a tradition that was passed on to her by her father and grandfather. Her grandfather, from Hungary, became a baker when he came to the U.S. Lori uses local ingredients that connect her challah to our very own Michigan farms. Lori’s challah stands alone as she infuses the dough with blessing chants of love (Ahava Raba), Peace (Oseh Shalom), Abundance (Peleg Elohim), and Connecting to G-d’s light (V’eristich li). She does a meditation before kneading each batch of dough, connecting G-d’s light through her crown, heart, hands and into the dough. You can also order special blessings for pre-ordered loaves. Lori has been in prayer circles and uses the challah baking as one of her spiritual practices. She has taught workshops and after her first workshop stood in her garden and the inspiration came to start the business. Lori will be selling her challah (gluten free too!) on Fridays at Argus Farm Stop on Liberty. Please come out to try the deliciousness and blessings! We will also have a Challah Rising loaf at our Fourth Friday Shabbat on March 27, the last Shabbat before Pesach. Challah-leuia!

Recipe: Chavurah Challah

By Jennifer Cohen

[Note: Jen Cohen bakes challah for most of our Fourth Friday Shabbats. She says “I think this is the most current recipe.  I confess that I change it all the time.”] 

Ingredients
  • 1/4 pound (1 stick) butter, melted
  • 1 package active dry yeast
  • 1 1/2 cups warm water, separated
  • pinch of sugar
  • 3 large or extra large eggs
  • 1/2 cup honey
  • 5–6 cups flour (I typically use 1-2 cups whole wheat)
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • cornmeal
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten with a little bit of water
  • sesame or poppy seeds
Instructions
  1. Melt butter in small saucepan over low heat, set aside to cool a bit.
  2. Pour about a tablespoon of butter into a large bowl and swirl it around to coat the inside.
  3. Dissolve yeast in 1/2 cup of the warm water, with a pinch of sugar and set aside to proof.
  4. In a stand mixer or other large bowl, beat together eggs, honey and melted butter. Add remaining 1 cup warm water and mix well. Add yeast mixture and blend well. Add flour, with salt, 1 cup at a time, blending well after each addition until dough is thick enough to work by hand.
  5. Spoon dough onto floured work surface and knead for several minutes. If you’d like to add raisins (1-1 1/2 cups), here is where you would incorporate them, along with enough additional flour to make a smooth elastic dough.
  6. Rub the top of the dough in the buttered bowl, then flip the dough over and nestle inside. Cover the dough with a clean kitchen towel and place in a warm place until doubled in size. I let this part go on for quite a while—like 5 hours or so.
  7. When ready to bake, line a baking tray with parchment paper and sprinkle with cornmeal. Set oven to 350 degrees.
  8. For the Chav, I divide dough into 3 pieces and roll each into a long rope. I braid the ropes and then curve the braid into a circle, pinching the ends together. For a smaller gathering, I divide the dough in half and then make 2 smaller braided loaves.
  9. Cover with that clean kitchen towel and let rise in a warm place for 40 minutes.
  10. Brush the top and sides of the challah with egg wash and sprinkle with seeds if desired. Bake 30 to 40 minutes, depending on loaf size, until golden brown.

**Pumpkin Challah for Challoween: Replace 1/2 the butter and 1 of the eggs with a cup of pumpkin puree. Add a little pumpkin pie spice to the dough.

**Apple and Honey Challah for Rosh Hashanah: Add 2 finely diced granny smith apples to regular challah. Brush the top with 1 stick melted butter and 1/2 cup honey, before baking and again when just out of the oven.

**Thanksgiving Challah: same as Challoween Challah, but add 1 cup of dried cranberries. Top with toasted pumpkin seeds after the egg wash.