|Nomi with Gamma, Spring 2014|
BARBARA ON CHALLAH BAKING
I’ve been baking challah every Friday morning since my husband showed up at home with an envelope of yeast forty-five years ago. The most enjoyment, however, has come with retirement and time to make challah with my three grandchildren. Ela joined in the fun before she turned two. Gila and Nomi joined us in one-and-a- half year increments. All three little girls learned how to measure out a tablespoon of yeast and one of sugar, then with child-size whisk, mix the two together, first dry and then with added warm water. We counted the number of cups of flour, filled the quarter-cup measure with sugar, the teaspoon measure of salt. I whisked the dry ingredients together and one child carefully dug a hole in the center. Together we oohed and aahhed over the bubbles the yeast mixture formed, poured it into the hole and carefully covered it up with the dry ingredients. Then one of the children dumped the over-flowing tablespoons of oil I measured out into the flour mixture. Next they “smashed” the eggs and “plopped” their contents into a small bowl accompanied by shouts of “no shells!” or sighs of “oops” and careful removal of them. The best part of all followed when we stuck out hands in the large bread-making bowl, squished the egg yolks into the flour mixture making “monster hands” and shouting with glee. Each child got a lump of dough to knead. We’d switch about every minute or so, giving me the opportunity to do a good kneading and them to see quicker results as the dough became a smooth mass. Of course, there was the tasting. All three seemed to think raw flour a delicacy and each had to taste the kneaded dough to make sure we had just the right amount of flavoring. Standing on the step stool and washing the bowls, measuring utensils, whisks, and large spoons with lots of soapy bubbles topped off the morning’s activity. The kitchen became one unbelievable mess, but I never minded. Our youngest started all-day kindergarten this year. She called me up on Thursday evening, worried that I wouldn’t be able to make the challah correctly without her help. I still smile recalling that loving, concerned call.
Before moving to Brooklyn and my closet-size efficient kitchen, I had a very large one with lots of counter space. We had room enough for each girl to shape her personal mini challah in addition to the large challot I braid in six strands for the family. That meant we baked flower and heart shaped challot, twists, or whatever inspiration came their way. Luckily the girls don’t have school the holidays, so on Sukkot, I make a six-braid for the top and they continue to make twists for the sides of the challah Sukkah. The top gets decorated with candied fruits (for Sabba and me) and the sides get doused with honey but no fruits for the children and parents. During Shavuot we make the Ten Commandments. Ela, now ten, has taken over Sabba’s part of creating beautiful dough Hebrew letters for the numbers. Sometimes we make a dove out of dough to go along with the tablets.
Our ritual doesn’t end there. Every week, the girls’ abba, asks, “Where did you buy this challah?” The girls answer, “Kline’s on 3rd Place.”