When the call went out in my community this week for 40 people to bake challah as a "segulah" (exact translation?) for someone who is ill, I thought why not?
Because I had never baked challah alone in my life, and because I have enough to do without taking this on. Because I'm just plain tired. Because my middle name is not Suzy Homemaker. Because I am not like some of my friends (whom I so admire) who bake and cook and decorate and garden and clean and daven and go to shiurim and car pool and exercise and shop and entertain and bare children and raise them, all before their first cup of coffee in the morning. And then they go to work.
I have made challah with my friend Sarah. Well she made the challah and I hung out with her. This was usually done for the first Shabbat after Pesach, when putting the key of your front door in the challah (Shlissel Challah) is a segulah for Parnasa (livelihood).
[UPDATE: Go check out what Jameel has to say about the origin of the Shlissel Challah tradition, and some cool pictures!]
This year, Sarah is there and I am here, and I thought why not?
So I called my friend Arlene (who lives here) for her excellent recipe. I was also armed with the book A Taste of Challah by Tamar Ansh. It was truly an adventure, because I don't have great equipment. I certainly don't have a kitchen aid or bread maker so I made it the old-fashioned way--by hand.
And I took some pictures.
Here are the 2 1/2 bags of flour I sifted, into a garbage bag (of course clean! The dirty one was being used.)
This is the two cubes of yeast with warm water and sugar. The yeast is "activating" and bubbling--a good sign. (I know I learned about that in science--something about "fermentation". Glad I don't have to understand it anymore.)
Here is the dough. To the foaming yeast thingie I added sugar, flour, oil, vanilla and eggs. I kneaded by hand, no machine for me. I am my mother's daughter.
Here is the dough two hours later, after rising. Thank G-d.
Next, I carefully followed instructions to "punch the dough down". That felt good.
(It is at this point that I separated the challah and said the bracha (blessing). I also said this beautiful prayer:
May it be your will, Eternal, our G-d, that the commandment of separating challah be considered as if I had performed it with all its details and ramifications. May my elevation of the challah be comparable to the sacrifice that was offered on the altar, which was acceptable and pleasing. Just as giving the challah to the Kohein in former times served to atone for sins, so may it atone for mine, and make me like a person reborn without sins. May it enable me to observe the holy Shabbat with my husband and our children and to become imbued with its holiness. May the spiritual influence of the mitzvah of challah enable our children to be constantly sustained by the hands of the Holy One, blessed is He, with His abundant mercy, loving-kindness, and love. Consider the mitzvah of challah as if I have given a tithe. And just as I am fulfilling this mitzvah with all my heart, so may Your compassion be aroused to keep me from sorrow and pain, always. Amen.
I also added my personal, private prayer to this.)
Back to our program.
Here is one of the challahs, ready for baking.
We--my daughters were active participants--made a pull-apart challah (that one had the key), a three-braided challah and a four-braided challah.
Here are the finished products:
I thought I would be stressed, but I wasn't. The challahs smell great, and hopefully will taste better. I feel very accomplished. My daughters had a great time and asked if we could do it every week.
Suzy Homemaker, watch out.
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