Kneading Sprituality



Challah baking at the Motor City Moishe House.

Participants braid their dough
Participants braid their dough

Among the aromas most intimately ensconced in Jewish tradition is the smell of freshly baked challah, the bread traditionally eaten on Shabbat and holidays. Commemorating the manna that fell from the heavens and nourished the Twelve Tribes of Israel in the desert following the Exodus from Egypt, this bread likely evokes fond memories, be it of your mother’s kitchen or of staying at a dear friend’s house for Shabbat.

On Sunday, Jan. 20, the Motor City Moishe House in Detroit’s Midtown held a special workshop on challah baking. Meredith Cohen and Lea Selitsky, Motor City Moishe House residents, were instrumental in getting the event going by reaching out to members of Southfield-based Congregation Shaarey Zedek Sisterhood, who agreed to co-sponsor the event. The free event highlighted Detroit’s thriving and vibrant Jewish community and was a great opportunity for meeting new faces.

In all, 16 participants — 13 women and three men — learned how much fun and easy it is to make this “holy” food. Most participants heard about the event through word-of-mouth; others through Facebook.

Leading the workshop was experienced challah baker Linda Cohen, who has been making challah for her family ever since her daughter Meredith journeyed to Israel and experienced the delicious joy of challah on Shabbat. Upon Meredith’s return, she encouraged her mother to take up the tradition.

Enjoying the fruits of their labor
Enjoying the fruits of their labor

After a brief snack of fruit and nuts, the leader skillfully directed the eager crowd, first on how to knead and braid the risen dough, and then later how to make the dough from scratch. While the participants’ first challah loaves were baking, they enjoyed a light lunch and a chance to make new friends.

Jamie Seiger, a University of Central Florida grad and newcomer to Michigan, loved the class and the chance to connect with new people.

“I like that there is a wide variety of ideas although [we] all have the same goals,” she says. The event showed “the diversity of the Jewish community in that we all are different but have the same purpose. I’m really into [this kind of event] and want to continue to learn more.”

I’ll admit I was a bit intimidated coming to the workshop. Baking bread was supposed to be tough stuff, right? But like Jamie, I found the baking process to be surprisingly easy.

Check out future events from Moishe House and Shaarey Zedek Sisterhood on Facebook. Most events are free to the community. 

By Jason Mick, Special to the Jewish News. Jason, 28, of Rochester works as a Ph.D. program chemical engineering researcher at Wayne State University, specializing in computer simulations. He is currently studying Judaism, learning Hebrew and working toward conversion with the help of Rabbi Elimelech Silberberg.


Linda Cohen
Linda Cohen

Want to try it for yourself? Here’s a recipe to try at home provided by Linda Cohen (from Devorah Rich):

Yield: two large challahs or 4 small
1 heaping Tbsp. yeast (plus 1 tsp. sugar, optional)
2 cups warm water
3 eggs plus one for egg wash
½ cup sugar
¾ cup oil
1 Tbsp. salt plus 1 tsp. salt
flour (8-plus cups)
sesame or poppy seeds

Proof the yeast with the water (about 5 minutes). Feel free to add a bit of sugar (1 tsp.) to get it going.

In a separate bowl, mix 3 of the eggs, ½ cup sugar, ¾ cup oil and 1 Tbsp. plus 1 tsp. salt. Add the yeast mixture. Stir.

Add flour, and knead. Start with 8 cups and add more, ¼-cup at a time, if too sticky. If making in a Kitchen Aid mixer, the mixture will come away from the sides when it has been sufficiently kneaded.

Put the mixture in an oiled bowl, and let rise until double in volume. (Cover with a plastic bag or plastic wrap to let it rise nicely.)

Punch down. Divide the dough in half. Divide each half into 3 ropes (or more), and braid.

Prepare the egg wash: Beat an egg with a little water. Cover the challah with the egg wash. Let the challah rise for about 45 minutes. Cover with the egg wash again if extra golden crust is desired. Sprinkle with sesame or poppy seeds before baking, and bake at 350 degrees for about 50 minutes for two large loaves (about 30 minutes if making four small loaves).

Quick tip: If the dough is too wet/sticky, add a bit of flour to make it drier. But if it’s dry/tearing, add oil and water by the tsp. (particularly oil) to make it looser/stickier. Be careful not to add too much liquid.

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