Challah Connections

Categories: B-shul, Not a man of words, Religious School

Sometimes you aren’t even looking, but you find a recipe that is a keeper.  People are like that, too–you are just doing your job and, BAM, it happens-a spark starts and friendship grows.

For many years I have admired the Langer family from afar.  There have been opportunities to connect through our children.  Bea and Sarah danced together at the JCC, and Henry and Melanie were in the same Beth El Mitzvah class.  But our families grew, literally grew, their’s to three and ours to four children and like most busy parents, we smiled, waved, or made small talk as we rushed from one activity to the next.   This year we stopped rushing and began connecting.  I really got to know the Langers through my role as Bshul (cooking) teacher at Beth El Religious School.  Nancy manages the Beth El website and asked me to blog about the cooking class.   And now, not a week goes by that we don’t text, email, talk and giggle over topics, recipes or photos.

Once a month I cook with Martin and the “Steam Team.” My goal is to teach Martin about the typical foods that are part of our Jewish tradition.  I was nervous at first to work with Martin because of his disability. I am not experienced in dealing with autism–how would I know if he was understanding my lesson?  Do you see my big mistake?  I was worried about ME instead of my student.  Martin taught me to step back and analyze my cooking lessons to best fit the student.  Sometimes this means more work for me, but when my students are engaged in a lesson I feel successful!  To tailor cooking class to Martin’s needs I asked his teacher, Merril Nash, and his mom Nancy about his likes and dislikes.  I discovered he likes videos–not just watching but editing videos!  I sent Martin a short video introducing myself and the kitchen where we would be cooking.  The first few lessons of Bshul became a cooking show with Martin and Zayin students as the chefs!  Customized hand painted aprons and all!  Older brother Henry videoed the class so Martin could edit and watch the lessons at his leisure. All the planning and coordinating paid off!  Martin was engaged in cooking, and like all my other students, very engaged in eating the final product!


For a man of few words, Martin has a gift for bringing people together.  This Zayin class is the closest group I have observed in my many years at Beth El.  I believe this is in large part due to their relationship with Martin.  Under Merril’s direction this team has worked together to support each other through their Bar and Bat Mitzvahs and really pulled together for their Tzedakah project with Family Promise.  After the first few lessons with Martin and the Steam Team,  I asked myself, “how can I help Martin to prepare for his Bar Mitzvah?”  Watching Martin bless the challah in front of the congregation one Shabbat, the answer came to me–bake challah!   Not only does challah have great religious significance, but it is one of Martin’s favorite Jewish foods!  Not only did Nancy love the idea but she suggested using her challah recipe.  Once again I was coaxed out of my comfort zone and set aside my tried and true recipe to test Nancy’s  recipe.  My test kitchen (daughters Melanie and Jenna) agree this dough is very stretchy and easy to work with.  The finished product is moist and delicious.  For a final project, the Steam team baked challah (see photos), which after a short stint in the freezer, will be served at Martin’s Bar Mitzvah in May.


So the moral of this story is that beautiful connections happen when you get involved at Beth El.  I wasn’t looking for a new friend but it happened.  I wasn’t looking for this challah recipe, but trust me it is the BEST EVER!

Nancy Langer’s Challah Recipe (adapted from Shonna Valeska)SteamTeam_challah

3 pkgs active dry yeast (note: 2 1/4 teaspoons yeast=1 packet)
1/4 cup warm (105 to 110 degrees F) water
3/4 cup corn or vegetable oil
3/4 cup sugar
1 tsp salt
2 cups hot water
5 large eggs (1 egg is for glazing the dough before baking)
9 cups all-purpose or bread flour
(optional  1 Tablespoon Honey)


  1. Dissolve the yeast in the warm water.
  2. Using a kitchen aid mixer with the whisk attachment, mix the dissolved yeast, oil, sugar, hot water, and salt and stir well then
    Mix in 4 of the eggs.
  3. Change to the dough hook and gradually stir in 4 cups of the flour. Scrape down the sides and add 4 cups more flour and mix until smooth.  (note: the dough will be sticky)
  4.  Sprinkle the remaining 1 cup flour on a work surface. Vigorously knead it into the dough until smooth. 5-10 minutes.
  5. Return the dough to the bowl, cover with a damp cloth, and set aside to rise in a warm place until slightly risen, 30-40 minutes.
  6. Punch down the dough. Knead for 3 more minutes. Place the dough in a large bowl sprayed with cooking oil, cover, and set aside to rise until doubled in size, 1 hour.
  7. Punch down the dough. Knead for 1 minute. For two LARGE Challot-divide the dough in half.
    (For MEDIUM challot -divide into four and for small chal0t-divide into eight)
    Shape each half into a ball; set aside to rise for 10 minutes.
  8. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Cover a large baking sheet with parchment paper.
  9. Separate each ball of dough into 3 or 4 smaller balls. Roll out each ball into a rope. Braid dough into two loaves of 3 or 4 ropes each. Place loaves on baking sheet.
  10. In a small bowl, beat the remaining egg. (note:  you can add honey to the egg wash for extra Shabbat sweetness)
    Using a pastry brush, paint the loaves with the egg wash.
  11. Bake for approximately 50 minutes*, turning the pan once to make sure the loaves are browned evenly. Cool on a rack before serving.
    (*Bake Medium loaves 25-30 minutes and small loaves 15-20 minutes)

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