It is a fact that everyone loves challah (there are probably studies that prove this!). For many, Tamar Ansh, author of the bestselling A Taste of Challah, is a guide and inspiration to start baking challah or to improve and perfect their current baking efforts. Tamar is also the author of bestsellers Let’s Say Amen!; Splitting the Sea; & Riding the Waves; Pesach – Anything’s Possible! Tamar also does challah shows and live cooking demos which focus on healthier food & tons of tips, with easy ways to implement healthier food choices for fussy eaters and busy mothers.
Thus Inside Feldheim is excited to talk with Tamar – especially as A Taste of Challah is back in stock after selling out (and is 15% off right now on Feldheim.com!). Make sure to scroll down for an exclusive challah recipe from Tamar.
Tamar, Why did you write this book?
I’ve been asked this questions many times, especially when I do a live presentation about challah – why write an entire book on challah? The answer is kind of simple: I didn’t know how to make challah and so I went looking for a book on the topic, preferably with pictures or demonstrations on how to braid. But I came up empty-handed. There seemed to be nothing out there on the topic, or at least, nothing that was helpful to me. I found one old thin book but it was totally not what I needed. And I still really, really wanted to make better challahs than I knew how to at that time. It became a sort of overriding dream of mine, to learn how to shape and make beautiful challahs, to really learn the mitzvah of challah thoroughly and to find out as many shapes as possible. And then one day I said to myself, Well, if you really want a book on challah, why don’t you just make one yourself? And so, with lots of help from Hashem and other people, I did…
Why are so many scared away from baking challah? What advice do you have for them?
I think a lot of people just assume that making your own challahs is a project, a burden, something that will take too long and will be too hard to do. Many women are also not aware of the tremendous reward they get for this mitzvah, as it is one of the three main mitzvohs given specifically to women! Every single mitzvah is very important but the mitzvah of challah is especially so since it was designated for women. Men can do the mitzvah (as in the case of bakeries) too, but it was really set aside for women to do. And the opportunities for praying while doing it are immense. Baking challah is not so hard; and in fact, it can be quite enjoyable. I wrote the book splitting it up into steps with lots of tips there to help even the busiest, least kitchen-oriented person. You can break the process up into parts if it’s easier for you that way, you can make a large amount at once on a day that you plan to be home for a few hours and then freeze the challahs – there are lots of ideas on how to still do this mitzvah even if you are short on time or don’t usually bake. It is something that really can become very meaningful to everyone. By the way, the mitzvah of challah is NOT the shaping and the baking – that is the part of beautifying the mitzvah. The actual mitzvah is when you make a dough using quantities of flour large enough to need the biblical ‘separating of challah’ the piece we separate off with a blessing and then either burn or double wrap it and throw it away. When we had the Bais Hamikdash, that piece went to the Kohen. Today we don’t have that possibility but if enough women everywhere would do the mitzvah properly and pray the first tefillah we all say after taking challah with a bracha, it will bring that possibility much closer, much faster!
Challah seems to touch the soul of so many…why do you think that is?
Because its essence is holy; since it is a mitzvah from our Torah, it is NOT just another baking session.
Is Challah baking today different from 100 years ago? How?
Can’t say that I’m exactly old enough to know the differences myself…but I’m sure it involved different steps since they did not have electric ovens, refrigerators, freezers, and the plethora of ready made flour and materials that we have today. My grandmother, may she live and be well, tells me about her mother making challah and how she would get up before sunrise on Fridays in order to have it done on time.
What are your top 3 tips for someone who wants to start baking challah?
Read the book from the beginning to the end first so you see what is involved. If you’ve never baked challah before, don’t do it the first time on a pressurized Friday. Do it on a day that you have more time. Don’t expect perfection immediately. Remember: the mitzvah is the separating the dough, IF you have enough quantity of flour (about 5 lbs. of flour in the dough – which is why the main recipe of the book is based on 17 cups of flour, i.e., 5 lbs.). If your challahs are not pretty to start off with, don’t despair – neither were mine! There is hope! It will get better! And besides, you can always write to me on my “help-my-challahs aren’t coming out-hotline” at email@example.com … Better yet – come to one of my live shows or see the challah video I did for those who like to see things up close.
What advice do you have for experienced bakers who want to improve their challahs?
The key to good challahs is a very good dough. It should be soft enough to handle easily, but not too wet or too thin, and firm enough to shape with well. You should knead it for at least 5 minutes when you make the dough, 5 minutes from the time the mixture turns into dough. Turn on a timer to measure the time. Then let the dough rest, covered in plastic for 15 minutes, and knead once more for 2-3 minutes. Take challah, cover the dough and let it rise for 1 hour – 1.5 hours and start to shape!
Do you bake challah each week?
I most certainly try… Most importantly of all, besides praying while you create the challahs, praying when you do the mitzvah and praying that it comes out good (Yes! I do that too!) is to just enjoy the process. It may take a bit longer than a cake, but it is so worth it…
Will you please share a favorite recipe with us?
Delicious Egg Challahs
I made up this recipe years ago when I was first experimenting with challah recipes, and kept tweaking it until I was happy with both its taste and its texture. For those who are looking for a genuine, easy-to-work-with, home style egg challah, this is just the one…
Yields: 4 large loaves or about 20-25 small individual sized rolls
Remember, that if you have a small family or don’t want to use so much challah at once, you can either opt to halve this recipe, or follow the freezing tips and advice on page 42 of the book, Step Seven out of ‘Seven Steps to Amazing Challahs’. However, if you do make the entire recipe, you get the mitzvah of being mafrish challah with a bracha, i.e, separating challah with a blessing – the full mitzvah.
2 ounces/ 50 gram cube of fresh yeast
3-4 cups very warm water, divided
3/4 cup canola oil
3/4 cup light brown sugar, divided
1 & ½ T. salt
17 cups freshly sifted flour (2.3 – 2.4 kilos / 5 lbs. of flour)
1 more egg for glazing later on
Seeds for sprinkling the tops of the challah with, optional
Sift your flour and set is aside. In a small bowl, add 2 cups of warm water, the yeast, and 1/4 cup of the sugar. Cover the bowl loosely and leave it to activate for about 8 minutes.
In the mixing bowl add:
Rest of the sugar
Rest of the water
The 4 eggs
8 cups of flour
Start to mix it so it becomes a thick mixture. Check your yeast to make sure it activated properly. If so, pour it into your mixture and continue to knead. It should now turn into a sticky dough. Keep adding in the rest of the flour in increments until it is all kneaded in. If the dough is too firm, add bits more oil and water until it is smooth, pliable and non-sticky. Cover the dough and let it rest for 10 minutes or so. Re-knead for five more minutes. Now your dough is ready!
Separate challah at this point, with a blessing.
If you plan to shape and bake your challahs immediately, leave the dough to rise on your counter for an hour or until double in bulk, covered in plastic. If you cannot do this now, simply place your dough in a large plastic bag to rise in the fridge overnight or several hours.
Follow braiding and rising techniques in chapters 2-4 of the book. Brush the risen challahs with the last egg, and add on toppings of your choice. Bake as directed, at 360° / 190° until golden brown on top and bottom. Let the challahs cool on wire racks. Freeze the extras in good quality freezer bags until the day of use.
And most of all…
Tamar Ansh www.aTasteofChallah.com