Photos and Words by Natalie Goldberg
Growing up, Friday nights and holidays consisted of good food, friends and family, and catching up around the dinner table. Being far away from home and trying to find new ways to recreate this feeling have landed me within a new community at BU Hillel. I have become more nostalgic and reflective of the ability for food to bring people together. Challah has always been one of the staples for me at these special meals, especially during the process of ripping off pieces to share it among friends and family. The final product carries sentiments of ritual and tradition, representing a sense of community.
Challah is braided bread from the Jewish culture that is commonly eaten during weekly Shabbat meals as well as holidays. It has a sweet, soft texture with a brown crust on the outside. Challah is extremely versatile and can be eaten by itself, sliced down and used for sandwiches, dipped in soup, topped with butter and honey (a personal favorite!), or even made into a satisfying batch of your favorite challah french toast.
More than that, this carefully braided loaf of bread is just as fun to make as it can be to share with others! Challah for Hunger, a program hosted by BU Hillel, brings groups of 6-15 volunteers from around campus make challah from start to finish, sell it, and donate the money to charity. I can attest to the casual, friendly environment and find participating a wonderful break in the week to have a chance to bake, relieve some stress, and spend time with friends, all for a great cause.
Sophie Collender, a sophomore here at BU and the leader of Challah for Hunger, explains that this program has allowed her to find a new community while giving back. Through her involvement, she has engaged with students across campus and enjoys seeing how excited volunteers get about making the challah and learning about its significance. She emphasizes the fact that all students are welcome to participate, Jewish or not. Ultimately, she believes that this program “fosters a community of people who just want to ‘bake a difference.’” All of the profits from Challah for Hunger go to a local organization called ROFEH International, which helps support Jewish families from around the world in search of medical care in Boston with housing, meals, social services, and more.
This two-day event occurs about 4-5 times a semester and features a classic challah recipe along with a special flavor of the week, varying from apple cinnamon to chocolate chip to cinnamon sugar. The first night consists of making the dough. After letting it rise overnight, the second night finishes the process by braiding the dough and baking it in the oven. This week features cinnamon raisin, which happens to be one of my personal favorites. Everyone has their own favorite challah recipes, but Challah for Hunger has shared theirs with us—it makes a large quantity depending on how big you decide to make the loaves. Below is the recipe they use for a basic challah, though you can modify as necessary to add toppings and mix-ins!
Basic Challah Recipe
Making the Dough- Day 1
9-15 cups Flour (varies)
About 2 cups White granulated sugar (1 ½ cups and 3 Tbsp)
6 White eggs
¼ cup Yeast
5 cups Warm water
½ cup Vegetable Oil
1 Tsp Salt
2 Tsp Vanilla
1. Make the Yeast: In a small bowl, mix: 5 cups of warm water, 1/4 cup of yeast, and 3 tablespoons of sugar. Make sure to pour yeast into water/sugar mixture immediately to ensure activation.
2. Wait 20-30 minutes until it is foamy and bubbling.
3. While yeast is activating, prepare flour mixture: In a large bowl, mix: 6 white eggs, 1/2 cup oil, 1 teaspoon salt, 1 1/2 cups sugar, 2 teaspoons vanilla.
4. Add yeast after the 20-30 minutes have passed.
5. Add Flour gradually, mixing constantly. Start with 9 cups (you may need 12-15) until the dough is stretchy, but not overly sticky.
6. Place dough in large pot and cover with plastic wrap. Leave a small part uncovered (this allows the yeast to rise). Leave in refrigerator until dough has risen, about two hours (for our purposes, this is 24 hours until the second night).
Braiding and Baking- Day 2
1. Take the dough out of the refrigerator 1 hour before you are ready to work with it so it can get closer to room temperature.
2. Beat one egg and squirt a generous amount of honey into small bowl; mix.
3. Take out a piece of dough about the size of a softball (for bigger loaves, feel free to take more!)
4. Flatten and shape dough: Separate into three strands.
5. Braid. * If you are adding toppings or mixing in, now is the time!
6. Brush with eggwash mixture.
7. Bake at 350oF until golden brown for 20-40 minutes (12-15 if convection oven).