Hollerin’ for challah: the Shabbat staple revisited

By Tina Wasserman

Editor’s Note: The Interactive digital version of “Entree to Judaism for Families” can be downloaded to a digital device for hours of fun exploring pictures of kitchen utensils, short videos about cooking techniques, recipes teaching Jewish traditions and history. To see a preview, buy and download a copy to your tablet or computer, go to https://bit.ly/2yRhUAk.
One of the wonderful joys in my life is to see how my writings or lectures impact the way people look at their culinary heritage. Recently I have received many calls and emails asking questions about making challah. Because of the “stay at home” order, among the cleaning and laundry and schooling and meal planning, people are trying new recipes and techniques using what is readily available in the house. Since multiple trips to the supermarket are unrealistic at this time, the recipes that are often tried are basic, humble, sustaining foods that give comfort. Challah is at the top of many cooks’ lists.
Having given a Zoom Q&A for my synagogue about making challah, I have received many photos of beaming adults and children holding their braided bread. I have been messaged about yeast, making in advance, egg wash, flour — well you get the picture. A smile comes to my face with every photo and every question. In a small way I am connecting people to their memories and their heritage. After this pandemic subsides, I promise you I will offer a hands-on challah making workshop again so that you can perfect this technique for generations to come.
Meanwhile, you have experimented with making challah but now what do you do with all the leftovers from Shabbat?
The following recipes offer delicious ways to use the leftovers and provide a great learning activity for you and any young cooks in your home.
Enjoy. Be safe and send pictures!
Basic Easy Challah
The following recipe can be completed in three hours, with time in between for other activities or schoolwork. The dough can be prepared on a Thursday, put in the refrigerator overnight to rise slowly and then braided and baked just before Shabbat. Do not be put off by the number of steps. I have described each step separately so that an adult beginner cook can successfully make challah, with or without a child’s help!
Here is the basic recipe with variations listed below.

7 cups bread flour + ½ cup or more as needed
2 packets Rapid Rise Yeast
1 tablespoon kosher salt
4 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup corn oil (or other vegetable oil) + 1 tabelspoon for greasing bowl
1½ cups water or unsweetened apple juice
¾ cup sugar
Egg wash — 1 egg mixed with 1 tablespoon of water and 1 teaspoon of honey

  1. Place 7 cups of flour, yeast and salt in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a dough hook. Turn machine to low (#1) for 10 seconds to combine.
  2. Lightly beat eggs and vanilla with a fork in a 1-quart bowl until combined. Set aside
  3. Measure oil in a 1-cup liquid measuring cup. Set aside.
  4. Measure 1½ cups water or juice in a 2-cup glass measuring cup. Add the sugar and stir once or twice. Microwave water/sugar on high for exactly 1 minute 20 seconds.
  5. Turn mixer to low (#1). Immediately add the hot water/sugar mixture straight from the microwave, and then add the eggs and then the oil. In that order.
  6. Turn mixer to medium (#2) and continue mixing with dough hook adding the additional flour for six minutes.
  7. ***If adding additional ingredients to the bread dough, add them now.
  8. Turn the machine back on to medium (#2) for another 3 minutes. The mixture should be satiny smooth and not sticky if touched with your floured finger.
  9. Grease a 4-quart bowl with the extra tablespoon of oil. Add the dough to the bowl, turning it over to coat on all sides. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let rise in a draft-free spot until doubled in size, about 1½ hours. (I like to use an out-of-the-way corner in my kitchen or a warming drawer set on low). Dough can also be put in the refrigerator to rise overnight.
  10. When dough is ready, remove from bowl, punch it gently with your fist and cut into 3 or 4 pieces.
  11. Shape dough into loaves or braided loaves. Place formed breads on parchment paper-lined cookie sheets and let rise until light and doubled (about 30 minutes).
  12. Heat the oven to 325 degrees. For even baking use 2 ovens if possible.
  13. Mix the egg wash ingredients together is a small glass bowl with a fork or bar whisk. Brush the tops of the loaves with the egg wash and place the cookie sheets on the lower third racks of your ovens.
  14. As soon as you place the loaves in the oven turn up the temperature to 350 degrees. Bake the loaves for 25 minutes or until the loaves are golden brown and have a hollow sound when tapped (internal temperature between 195 to 200 degrees). Cool completely before slicing.

Variations: Challah Your Way!
• Add 2 tablespoons poppy seeds to the flour and 1 cup of dark raisins in step #7.
• Add ½ teaspoon cinnamon to the flour and 1 cup finely chopped apples in step #7.
• Add 1½ teaspoons vanilla with the eggs and 8 ounces chocolate chips in step #7.
• Add grated zest of one orange to the flour, substitute ¼ cup of the water for ¼ cup orange juice and add 1 cup dried cranberries or cherries in step #7.

Tina’s Tidbits:
• Adding water to flour before oil allows the gluten to develop better and gives you a lighter loaf.
• Measuring ingredients is a great way to reinforce numbers with young children and fractions with older children. It can also enhance their gross motor coordination requiring two hands at one time.
• Although microwaves seem safe because they don’t get hot, their contents do. An adult or older child should be the one to remove food from the microwave especially if the unit is at eye level or higher.
• Before you attempt to check to see if the dough is the right consistency, turn the mixer off! Children should be told to wait until you have turned the machine off or unplugged it before they check the dough so that they don’t accidentally get their fingers caught.
Challah French Toast
This recipe takes basic French toast to new heights. If you start out with rich challah bread how can you go wrong? Children of all ages like to make French toast. It requires few utensils and short attention spans are no problem!
I use ice cream in this recipe because it is more likely that you have a container of ice cream in the house than a container of heavy cream or even half-and-half. Plus, children think it’s funny to have ice cream in their breakfast. This recipe can easily be made with milk and can certainly be doubled, which is not a bad idea if you want to serve more than two people and your challah is homemade (it will absorb more of the custard mixture).
Here is another way to extend the joy of Shabbat and its special bread. Enjoy!

1 egg
Pinch of Kosher salt
1 cup premium vanilla ice cream, half-and-half or milk
¼ cup light brown sugar
½ teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon vanilla extract (omit if using ice cream)
Zest of ½ fresh orange
Challah bread, crust included
2 or more tablespoons unsalted butter
Pure maple syrup, confectioners’ sugar or fruit, if desired

  1. Combine the egg and a pinch of salt in a 2-quart bowl.
  2. Add the ice cream or milk, brown sugar, cinnamon, vanilla and orange zest to the bowl and whisk well to combine and fully melt the ice cream if using. Pour into a 9-inch pie plate or flat bottom bowl. Set aside while you prepare the bread.
  3. Cut the bread into four ¾-inch slices. If desired, use a cookie cutter to cut designs from the center of the slices.
  4. Place 2 bread slices or cut out shapes in the egg/cream mixture. Turn slices over to absorb more egg mixture but be careful that they don’t absorb too much or they will fall apart when transferred to skillet.
    Heat a 10-inch skillet over medium heat for 15 seconds. Add 2 tablespoons butter to the skillet and swirl the pan around to melt the butter and coat the bottom of the pan.
  5. Using a large metal turner, carefully lift the bread slices from the egg/cream mixture and fry on one side until bottom of bread is golden brown. Turn slices over and continue cooking until the slices are soft but evenly golden.
  6. Remove to a warm plate and continue with more bread slices or shapes until all the egg/cream mixture is used. Add more butter to empty pan in between adding additional slices.
  7. Serve with maple syrup, powdered sugar and/or fresh fruit, if desired.
    Serves 2-4 depending on size and shape of bread.

Tina’s Tidbits:
• An easy, but fancy, way to make French Toast. All ages can make this but very young children MUST be on a sturdy step stool that will bring the stove to their waist height. I like to hold the child by the waist with my left arm and then help them add the bread with my right.
• 2- to 4-year-olds might be intimidated by the stove so you might wind up doing all of the cooking. That’s OK. They have helped with the preparation and will be satisfied.
• Using a rasp-type zester is very easy and requires little pressure on the peel of the orange so little hands can do it. In addition, some zesters catch the zest so you don’t have to scrape up the little pieces.
• Of course, this can be made with milk, even skim milk, but to make it fun the ice cream creates a great texture and taste.

Kitchen Conversations:
• Why not emphasize a holiday or season by cutting the bread into shapes? If you have little leaf cutters you can make tiny French toasts for tiny hands.
• Older children could create a design on paper, cut it out, and then use it as a template on the bread and cut around the design with a sharp paring knife.
• Hiddur Mitzvah means elevating the practice to make it special in honor of God. Is challah different from the everyday bread Jews ate in Europe? Is this recipe a way to express hiddur mitzvah?
Easy Challah Cheese Soufflé
When the Jews left Egypt and wandered in the desert, God sent manna from the heavens to feed them. On Friday they received a double portion because they could not work on the Sabbath. That is why we have the tradition of two loaves of challah on our Shabbat tables. Dew fell from heaven to protect the Manna and that is why many Jews today either cover their Challahs with a special cloth or they sprinkle sesame seeds on top to symbolize the dew.
Unless you have a large family or your two challahs are very small, you will have a lot of challah left over! This recipe and the two others that follow are good ways to use these leftovers. Not only do the recipes provide delicious ways to engage a child in the kitchen, they open the possibilities to discuss the meaning of Shabbat and its customs.
This is a modern version of a soufflé that will not fail or collapse since bread binds the ingredients together. This recipe is perfect for younger children with short attention spans because the dish needs to be assembled several hours or even the night before. This gives the challah time to absorb the liquids, which will puff up when baked.

1-1½ medium challahs
1 stick unsalted butter
6 eggs
2 cups milk
1 teaspoon salt
10 grindings of freshly ground black pepper
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
12-16 ounces grated sharp cheddar cheese or Jarlsberg cheese (about 3½ cups grated)
Additional butter or cooking spray for greasing the pan

  1. Cut challah into ½-inch slices and then cut slices into ½-inch cubes. Or, pull bread apart into small pieces if that is easier. Crust does not need to be removed if it isn’t hard. Set aside.
  2. Melt the butter in a 1-quart glass bowl covered with a sheet of paper towel, in your microwave according to manufacturer’s setting. Set aside.
  3. Whisk the eggs and the milk together with the salt, pepper and nutmeg. Add the melted butter and whisk to combine. Set aside.
  4. Grate the cheese on a coarse grater if not using packaged grated cheese.
  5. Grease a 2-quart casserole or soufflé dish with butter or nonstick cooking spray.
  6. Arrange 1/3 of the bread cubes in the bottom of the pan, and then layer 1/3 of the cheese on top. Make 2 more layers of bread and cheese then pour egg/milk mixture over all. Lightly press down to make sure all of the bread layers are covered with liquid ingredients.
  7. Cover the dish with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 4 hours or overnight.
  8. When ready to cook, preheat oven to 350 degrees. Bake dish in center of oven for 45 minutes to 1 hour or until top is golden brown and a thin pointy knife inserted in the center comes out wet but clear.
    Serves 6.

Tina’s Tidbits:
• Older children will enjoy the reinforcement of their math and geometry lessons with this recipe and younger children can easily make this dish if you let them break the challah into little pieces with their hands and you buy packaged shredded cheese.
• Butter often splatters when melting because it naturally contains some water. To avoid exploding all over your microwave oven, cover lightly with a piece of paper towel when melting.
• One stick of butter usually melts in one minute on high but most microwaves have a melt setting. Use it!
• It goes without saying that children under the age of 10 or those not tall enough to reach into an oven should not be removing any hot baking dish from an oven.
• If a child is doing the testing to see if soufflé is fully baked (step 8), test should be done out of the oven with the soufflé dish placed on a counter. If the soufflé is not ready and it is taken out of the oven for too long it will become dense when fully baked so young children should not do the testing.

Kitchen Conversations:
• Discuss why challah is so special for Shabbat.
• Did Jews always eat fancy braided bread?
• What did the original showbread brought to the Temple in Jerusalem look like?
• Why were there 12 loaves of bread brought each week? (Hint: 12 tribes)
• What’s your favorite challah? Does it have raisins? Plain? Flavored? Whole Wheat?

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