I was a challah virgin – that’s what Tiffany Shlain would say – when I showed up to the Zoom Challah Bake on a Friday afternoon. I’d eaten plenty of it, I’d just never made any. There were many excuses: that braid looked so complicated, I don’t consider myself a baker, and I’d rather someone show me how to do it first.
But after virtually attending the Great Big Jewish Food Fest and hearing about Tiffany’s weekly Zoom Challah Bake, I’d run out of excuses. And so I showed up with 40 other people to listen to Dr. Michael Rich, founder and Director of the Centre on Media and Child Health, talk about the impact digital media has on children. Conversation flowed between Dr. Rich’s research, how long to knead the dough, and the police violence and subsequent protests raging across the country. In many ways it was the most stimulating hour of my entire week. So I came back the next week to learn about Katie Morford’s involvement with dine-1-1. And the next week to hear from Kimberly Ellis and Tanya Selvaratnam – two activists who guided us through making our vote count, turning anger into action, and how to organise on a local level.
In the beginning minutes of the Challah Bake, Tiffany always asks where we’re baking from and how we’re feeling. For those of us still taking social distancing seriously, this is the big social event of the week. The question is earnest as she takes the time to read through everyone’s responses in the chat, sometimes asking follow-up questions as she unmutes someone to go into greater detail about their response.
There have been other articles written about Tiffany’s challah gathering, including this and this … but none of them capture the extraordinary community she’s built around a handful of ingredients and a weekly guest speaker. It’s a genuine community – a community that permits strangers like me to show up every week and feel mentally and physically nourished. But it’s not all laughter and kneading tips – Tiffany and her guests ask difficult and polarizing questions, but it’s our moral imperative to contemplate, grapple with, and discuss these issues – regardless of whether or not bread is involved. I can bake challah on my own now, but I return for the conversation.
I can’t possibly eat through two loaves of challah in a week, but baking it has given me the chance to drop off one of the loaves to friends in my neighbourhood, creating yet another social event in the current human-interaction-desert we live in.
It’s not too late to participate, you can catch the last two challah bakes before the summer break by registering here. I’ll see you there.
Tiffany Shlain’s Challah Recipe
- 1 cup of hot water (95-105 degrees F)
- 1 packet of Fleishman’s Fast-Acting Yeast (or 2-1/4 teaspoon)
- 1/3 cup of sugar (you can also use honey if you’re out of sugar
- 1/2 tablespoon of kosher salt
- 3.5 cups of all-purpose flour
- 1 egg
- 1/4 cup of canola oil
For Dough to Rise
- 1 hot towel
- 1 egg for brushing
- “Everything bagel mix”
1. In a large bowl dissolve yeast and sugar in 1 cup hot water, stir and smell the great smell of the yeast. Let the yeast mixture sit for 20 minutes.
2. Then add the 2 cups flour. This is a great time to taste the dough.
3. In a separate bowl beat one egg and ¼ canola oil. Then add the 1/2 tbsp salt and mix this into the flour mixture. Slowly add the rest of the flour (the remaining 1.5 cups). You can add a little more flour so the dough is not too sticky and can be easily kneaded. Sprinkle some flour on your fingers and on the counter and then dump dough from bowl onto counter. Push, pull, kneed, fold on itself and repeat. The feeling of dough and flour being mixed together on Friday mornings is truly one of life’s great pleasures.
4. Then oil bowl with 2-3 tbsp of canola oil or grapeseed oil, put the dough back in oiled bowl. Cover the top with cling wrap and then place a hot tea towel over it. Allow to sit for dough to rise for the rest of the day (at least 5 hours). I put my dough in the oven with the oven light on because my house doesn’t get very warm.
1. After your Challah has risen (around 5 hours):
2. Spray a challah pan with olive oil spray so it doesn’t stick (or just put olive oil or parchment paper).
3. Divide the fluffy risen dough into 3 separate balls (or 6 if you want to make 2 smaller loaves so you can share). With your hands roll out each of the 3 separate balls into 3 medium length rope-like strands. Put these three strands in your oiled pan. Pinch the top of the three strands. Braid the strands together until you have a braided challah (like you are braiding hair;).
4. In a separate bowl beat 1 egg. Brush the top of the challah with the egg for a lovely glaze effect. Then sprinkle on the “Everything bagel mix”.
5. Then give your challah a “second rise” by letting it rise another 3 hours for extra fluffiness.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
1. After the second rise, you will probably need to sprinkle with more “everything” topping.
2. Then put that braided challah dough into the oven.
3. Bake at 350 degrees for about 25 or 30 minutes. Take it out and push the challah–it should give a bit and not be too doughy. You can tap the base of the challah’s base to see if it has a hallow sound to see if it’s ready.
4. When it’s done, take it out of the oven, and put it on a special plate and wrap with a beautiful cloth or napkin and serve with butter.
5. Make sure you give the first bite to someone else to eat.