JCC Hosts Challah Baking Class with SHDS Students
Flour, water, oil, and joyful group laughter were part of the recipe for a recent challah baking class at the Jewish Community Center. Roughly a dozen Syracuse Hebrew Day School (SHDS) students from the fourth and fifth grade classes gathered in the auditorium of the JCC in early December to bake bread. Marci Erlebacher, executive director of the JCC, led the class, and Assistant Director Erin Hart and Chef Donna helped organize the event.
“Baking bread is really very scientific,” Erlebacher said to the group as she asked them to channel their inner scientists. The students were up for the challenge! They mixed the ingredients, kneaded the dough, and covered it to let the dough rise, before shaping the challah. Once the bread came out of the oven, it was clear their hard work paid off!
Each student left with their own challah and received got challah? t-shirts. The challah was enjoyed by the entire school at the School Wide Shabbat program the following day.
“They did an amazing job,” Erlebacher said following the class.
Erlebacher’s love for baking challah developed gradually. Growing up she baked with her mother, but avoided bread because it scared her. It wasn’t until her late 20s, when a friend convinced her to give it a try and it stuck. Every Friday night Erlebacher and her family made challah for Shabbat on the table. The words of a Rabbi to “make Shabbat special,” inspired the new tradition. It’s a lesson she hopes to instill on future generations.
“Baking Challah isn’t just about baking. It is significant for the religious purpose, there’s science to it, and there’s the physical working and kneading of the bread,” she says. “Baking to me is an artform. We covered so many different views of life while baking bread. That’s what we wanted to impart on the kids.”
See the recipe Erlebacher uses below. She’s made some tweaks over the years (she doesn’t use food coloring or saffron) to make it her own.
This festive, seed-studded braid with its glossy brown crust and delicate flavor is called challah (sometimes spelled “hallah”). Now a popular deli-catessen item, challah has long-standing religious significance for the Jewish people, who enjoy it at Friday night Sabbath suppers, and sometimes adorn it with a sugar glaze and candied fruit or candies for special holidays. On Rosh Hashanah-the Jewish New Year-a custom is to dip a slice of challah into honey, symbolizing sweetness to be hoped for in the year to come.
- 1 pkg active dry yeast
- 1 1/4 cups warm water (about 110*)
- 1 tsp salt
- 1/4 cup each sugar and salad oil
- 2 eggs, lightly beaten
- Pinch of saffron (optional)
- 5 to 5 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 egg yolk beaten with 1 Tbsp water
- About 1 Tbsp sesame seeds or poppy seeds
In a large bowl, dissolve yeast in water. Stir in salt, sugar, oil, eggs, and saffron (if used). Gradually beat in about 4 1/2 cups of the flour to make a stiff dough.
Turn dough out onto a floured board and knead until smooth and satiny (5 to 20 minutes), adding flour as needed to prevent sticking. Place dough in a greased bowl; turn over to grease top. Cover and let rise in a warm place until doubled (about 1 1/2 hours). Punch dough down; knead briefly on a lightly floured board to release air. Set aside about 3/4 cup dough and cover it.
Divide remaining dough into 4 equal portions; roll each between your hands to form a strand about 20 inches long. Place the 4 strands length- wise on a large greased baking sheet (at least 14 by 17 inches, or put two sheets together, overlapping ends and wrapping the overlap with foil). Pinch tops together, and braid as follows: pick up strand on right, bring it over next one, under the third, and over the fourth. Repeat, always starting with strand on right, until braid is complete. Pinch ends together and tuck underneath loaf.
Roll reserved dough into a strand about 15 inches long; cut into 3 pieces and make a small 3-strand braid. Lay on top center of large braid. Cover and let rise in a warm place until almost doubled (about 1 hour).
Using a soft brush or your fingers, spread egg yolk mixture evenly over braids; sprinkle with seeds. Bake in a preheated 350* oven for 30 to 35 minutes or until loaf is golden brown. Let cool on a rack. Makes 1 loaf.