Young girls with pink aprons down to their feet frolicked around the room, while women of all ages exchanged greetings and schmoozed.
Some wore wigs or scarves wrapped around their hair. Others had never kneaded challah before. But the more than 100 women and girls at Young Israel of Elkins Park on Oct. 24 came for the same purpose: to make challah at the Pink Challah Bake.
Cooking for My People food blogger Sylvia Fallas led the demonstration.
“Every year, it’s a really amazing opportunity for women from diverse backgrounds to unite [on] our common grounds, which is Shabbos and challah,” said Gevura Davis, director of programming at Etz Chaim, who organized the event. “It’s particularly exciting baking with women who have never made it before. Challah is really all about creating meaningful Jewish experiences in the home, and it’s really an honor to help people be a part of that or to be a part of people’s lives as they bring challah to their houses.”
Beyond the spirituality and the fun of making challah, the event also promoted women’s health.
Sharsheret and Myriad Genetics partnered for the event, the latter of which had employees tabling. Attendees had the opportunity to fill out forms to see if they were appropriate candidates for BRCA testing and to meet with a doctor. There was also a phlebotomist on-site to draw blood for the test.
When Davis was 12, her mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. It was a scary experience, she said. Now, providing support for families going through that same experience is meaningful for her.
“Women’s challah bakes are all about women empowerment,” Davis said, “and connecting that to health seemed like a great opportunity to combine passions.”
The Challah I Made
Serves one person who will regret eating an entire challah, or a family
- ½ tablespoon yeast
- ⅓ cup sugar
- 1 cup water
- ¼ cup oil
- ½ tablespoon salt
- 1 egg
- 4 cups flour
Trader Joe’s Everything but the Bagel Sesame Seasoning Blend to taste (I used an amount that could be described as “generous.”)
Pour the yeast in a mixing bowl. Confusion will ensue when you and your tablemates realize there is no half tablespoon available.
A generational divide will become apparent as the older women use the tablespoon and approximate half, while the younger women measure out three precise teaspoons instead.
Pour the sugar in the mixing bowl. Your tablemates pass around and share measuring cups and spoons, as well as a bowl of sugar. The table runs out of sugar before everyone gets some. The same seems to have occurred at other tables as well, as women go from table to table, looking for some extra sugar. Thankfully, there do seem to be some tables that had extra.
Pour the water in a mixing bowl. This step will be followed by questions of, “Should I mix it now?” This question will be asked after almost every step from here on out. No one really seems to know the answer. Mix it now anyway.
Let the mixture sit. It should begin to get a little bubbly.
Add the egg, oil, salt and flour. Crack the egg into a clear plastic cup to check for blood spots. Do not pack the flour into the cup. Fallas said she drips the oil instead of pouring as she imagines she’s anointing something. Intend to drip the oil in, but then forget as you actually go to do it and just pour it.
Stir the mixture with your mixing spatula until it gets tough. Fallas will go around to each table demonstrating proper kneading technique. Press with the palm of your hand then pull the dough back.
Now it’s time to let the dough rise. Cover the top of your bowl with tin foil. You will need to label the top so you don’t lose yours. This will be the most complex step of the challah-baking process, but remain vigilant. Someone will eventually point you to a corner, where you will find both the masking tape and a marker to write your name.
When you return, you’ve found that someone has written “MSZ” with marker on the tin foil of your bowl. Write your name on a piece of masking tape and stick it next to the initials.
Put your bowl on a table with some others in another room. As you wait, watch Fallas demonstrate how to make a challah filling. There will then be a prayer said for the soldiers of the Israel Defense Forces and a blessing for the challah. At this point, Davis will turn on some music and encourage everyone to start dancing.
Clear the table, and go get your dough. When your dough is not where you left it, spend a bit of time searching for it. You will find it pretty quickly. Return to your table and grease a pan. Fallas will demonstrate several braiding techniques, but ignore her and do it your own way.
Break the dough into three parts about equal in size and stretch them into strands because you’re not patient enough to roll them out. Sprinkle them with Everything but the Bagel Sesame Seasoning Blend. Pinch the strands together at the top, then braid them as you would hair. Redo the braid several times when you don’t like how it turned out.
When you feel like your braid is good enough, plop the dough into your greased pan. Sprinkle it with more seasoning until your dough smells strongly like garlic.
When you get home, stick the dough in your freezer. Enjoy.
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