Cooking Class:  Challah Bread— Learning to Braid the Best Jewish Brioche with Jennifer Abadi

Cooking Class: Challah Bread— Learning to Braid the Best Jewish Brioche with Jennifer Abadi


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Challah — the iconic braided Jewish brioche — is known worldwide as a traditional sabbath bread prepared by German and Eastern European or Ashkenazi Jews. But how did challah become synonymous with Jewish culture and cooking traditions around the world? 

The plural Hebrew word challot (חַלּ֑וֹת) is mentioned in the Bible when the Israelites are commanded to prepare 12 loaves or cakes (representing the 12 tribes of Israel) and place them in the desert tabernacle for Shabbat. Once settled in the Land of Israel, the Israelites are instructed to set aside a small portion of kneaded dough (challah / חַלָּה) for the priests (kohanim) of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. After the First and Second Temples were destroyed the ritual of burning a small piece of dough or baked bread began as a way of commemorating the gift that was reserved for the kohanim when the Holy Temples once stood. Although the original style and shape of these sabbath loaves of bread were flat and often round in the Middle East, a sweeter and more cake-like bread made with eggs was adopted centuries later in the West, turning into the popular braided challah version we know today.

Over time the challah bread has evolved into different shapes and sizes, incorporating all kinds of fillings and decorations. The interwoven braided strands have come to symbolize love, unity, and connectedness, while the poppy and sesame seeds sprinkled on top represent the manna that fell from heaven and sustained the Israelites during their long trek through the desert. During the Jewish new year of Rosh Hashanah, round loaves sweetened with honey and raisins are prepared for good luck, while in recent years food coloring has been incorporated to create a braided rainbow that recalls God’s covenant with Noah after the big flood. 

Led by Jewish cookbook author, Sephardic and Middle Eastern food instructor, and recipe preserver Jennifer Abadi, this interactive seminar will demonstrate how to make this cherished traditional bread as well as an easy homemade butter with dill and za’tar to spread on your freshly baked bread. Designed to inform curiosity as well as future travels, participants will come away with an increased understanding of what challah is, and the creative ways in which to prepare it at home. Whether you are a novice and have always wanted to learn how to make homemade bread, or more advanced and simply looking for new and creative ways to improve your technique, this lesson is for you. You don’t have to be Jewish — or observe Shabbat — to make neighbors jealous of that freshly-baked bread smell wafting from your kitchen. (And honestly, what is more delicious than freshly baked bread right out of the oven, spread with homemade butter?)

Please note: Because challah requires a period of several hours to rise Jennifer will be showing how to prepare a basic challah dough during class, and then demonstrate how to shape two kinds of challah bread with dough she has prepped ahead of the lesson: one traditional 3-strand braid and one spiral-shaped stuffed with raisins. Participants will receive a recipe packet explaining how to braid using 3, 4, and 6 strands as well as how to use a standard loaf pan or create a spiral-shaped round loaf.

If you would prefer one All White Flour Challah Dough

Dry Ingredients:

  • 17 ounces / 482 grams / about 3 cups King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
  • 1½ teaspoons salt
  • 1 tablespoon active dry yeast
  • ¾ to 1 cup black or yellow raisins (or mixture of the two) and/or mix of sugar and ground cinnamon,
  • for sweet/Rosh Hashanah version (optional)

Wet Ingredients:

  • ½ cup + 2 tablespoons lukewarm water
  • 6 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • ¼ cup honey
  • 2 large eggs

If you would prefer Jennifer’s Variation: Mixed Wheat and White Flour Challah Dough

Dry Ingredients:

  • 345 grams/about 2¼ cups King Arthur whole wheat flour
  • 137 grams/about ¾ cup King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
  • 2 tablespoons ground flax seeds (optional)
  • 1½ teaspoons salt
  • 1 tablespoon active dry yeast

Wet Ingredients:

  • 1 cup lukewarm water
  • 6 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • ¼ cup honey
  • 2 large eggs

Topping/Outside (for any challah version)

  • 1 large egg beaten with 1 tablespoon cold water, for glaze (1 egg is good for brushing 2 challahs)
  • Sesame and/or poppy seeds for sprinkling on top, optional

EQUIPMENT:

  • Measuring cups and spoons
  • Kitchen scale, for weighing flour (optional but preferable)
  • Large mixing bowl and spoon (for mixing dough)
  • Large mixing bowl (need 1 for each dough that needs to rise)
  • Plastic wrap or light kitchen towel, for covering rising dough
  • Large baking tray or half sheet pan, for baking 1 or 2 standard challah breads
  • Standard bread loaf pan (if baking in loaf style)
  • 8- or 9-inch round baking pan (if forming and baking dough into round shape)
  • Parchment paper or silicone baking pad, for lining baking trays/pans (optional but highly recommended)
  • Small bowl, for making egg glaze
  • Pastry brush, for brushing unbaked breads with glaze
  • Pastry Scraper (optional but recommended for easily picking up/cleaning dough from bowl and counter)
  • Food processor, for making butter
  • Medium bowl, for mixing butter ingredients
  • Clean kitchen towel or large pieces of cheesecloth, for preparing butter
  • Rubber spatula, for making butter
  • 1½- to 2-cup size air-tight glass, ceramic, or plastic container, to store butter

Jennifer Abadi is a native New Yorker, born, bred and raised on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. She is half Sephardic (Aleppo, Syria) and half Ashkenazic (Riga, Latvia). She is a researcher, developer, and preserver of Judeo-Arabic and Sephardic recipes and food customs, focusing on the Jewish communities of the Middle East, Mediterranean, Central Asia, and North Africa. She is the author of two cookbooks: "Too Good To Passover: Sephardic & Judeo-Arabic Seder Menus and Memories from Africa, Asia and Europe" and "A Fistful of Lentils: Syrian-Jewish Recipes From Grandma Fritzie's Kitchen." Jennifer teaches cooking at the Institute of Culinary Education (ICE) and at the Jewish Community Center Manhattan (JCC), as well as privately. Jennifer has been providing Jewish Food & Culture tours on Manhattan’s Lower East Side for Context Travel since 2012."

This conversation is suitable for all ages.

90 minutes, including a 30 minute Q&A.

Customer Reviews

Based on 2 reviews
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Janet Stritychuk (Halifax, CA)
Review of Jennifer Abadi's Cooking Class: Challah Bread

Very well presented and organized. She explained how the class would proceed and was very inventive in how she handled the different stages of preparation, baking and presentation of the bread.

S
Sally H (Virginia Beach, US)
Great teacher

I have made many challahs but Jennifer not only provided a basic recipe, but more important to me, gave many tips that I know will help me going forward. Great teacher - very clear in-depth presentation with enriching background information throughout.

Customer Reviews

Based on 2 reviews
100%
(2)
0%
(0)
0%
(0)
0%
(0)
0%
(0)
J
Janet Stritychuk (Halifax, CA)
Review of Jennifer Abadi's Cooking Class: Challah Bread

Very well presented and organized. She explained how the class would proceed and was very inventive in how she handled the different stages of preparation, baking and presentation of the bread.

S
Sally H (Virginia Beach, US)
Great teacher

I have made many challahs but Jennifer not only provided a basic recipe, but more important to me, gave many tips that I know will help me going forward. Great teacher - very clear in-depth presentation with enriching background information throughout.