Challah bread is the quintessential Israeli experience. Every Friday morning the intoxicating scents of freshly baked challahs fill the air. Challah bread is a staple of the traditional Shabbat dinner in nearly every home and baking challahs with the kids is the main attraction in nearly every Israeli kindergarten, both religious and non-religious. Every Friday, the children make sweet and (very) tasty individual-size challahs or challah buns with the kindergarten staff, and it never gets old. That’s why, in my opinion, this tradition of challah baking is more cultural than religious.
And so, every Friday at noontime, when parents pick up their children from kindergarten, the streets are bursting with the sweet voices of children stretching out their little hands and proudly presenting freshly baked challahs to their mommies or daddies, filling the air with the delightful smells of this wonderful Friday tradition.
Whenever my kids emerged from kindergarten with their freshly baked challahs, I could not resist the temptation (and usually I’m pretty good at resisting temptations) and had to take a bite… and on our walk from the class to the car we used to officially open our weekend by sharing this small challah they have made.
Challah is a great addition to another typical Israeli dish – Shakshuka. Challah is fun, nostalgic and generally pleasing, not only on weekends (although, for health reasons, it’s best to have it only once a week ;))
The following Kindergarten Challah recipe (from an actual kindergarten teacher) is a must-make recipe at home with the kids. Frankly, when you make it with the kids, it’s even tastier because of the secret ingredient – tiny fingers…
Making challahs together is a fun activity for the kids too, one that involves all the senses and despite the fact that I call it Kindergarten Challah, it’s great with kids of all ages, even adolescents. In fact, my kids, who are almost graduating elementary school, really love it.
Here are some benefits of baking a challah together:
- Learning about Israel and about an Israeli tradition. It’s also a good opportunity to tell stories that you may know about Israel and to listen to fun Israeli songs (I’ll share with you later a recommended playlist)
- Sensory development. The different ingredients – flour, water, sugar, yeast – provide an opportunity to use most senses: to see, touch and smell each ingredient. I recommend to stop and focus on each one – how it looks, how it feels, and how it smells - before and after mixing it into a dough. And of course, the dough. Kneading it is heaven for kids!
- Learning about processes – Challah is not made in an instant. There are no shortcuts in challah making, and like every other process it needs time and the product of every stage changes with time.
We start with a dry mix that becomes wet.
Next, we get an elastic mixture that’s sticky at first and then not.
The dough needs to rise which means we need to give it time and patience.
And after we put it in the oven, it’s a whole other kind of magic.
When we repeat this process with the kids, time and again, they get comfortable with it and learn about processes in life too. They learn that, very much like making a challah, to achieve something they need to go through a process; that most things in life are not instant, not immediate. They learn they need patience and that they are changing with the process too; that processes require learning and waiting and that there are certain stages that you cannot rush; that some things in life take time until reaching their anticipated final form; and lastly, they learn that even when they repeat the same process many times, the result is surprising and different each time and that’s all the magic.
By the way, it’s a good idea to remind the kids about the challah and its required stages before it comes out delicious and marvelous, every time they are doing something that requires a process – like finishing a challenging school assignment, for instance.
- Building confidence – whenever kids do grown-up stuff and get raving reviews from the entire family, they get a confidence boost.
- A solution for the “I’m bored” problem (although whenever that happens in my home, I always say to the kids that it’s not my job to entertain them…) However, when I pitch ideas on what to do after announcing that their “screen time” for the day is up, the suggestion: “how about making a challah?” is almost always happily accepted.
- Learning to take responsibility – age appropriately. After the challah is in the oven – I like to give age-appropriate cleaning assignments to tidying up all the post-baking mess, like, putting ingredients back in the pantry; or wiping surfaces with a washcloth. With time, the kids learn that leaving a clean work space is an important part of the process.
- And most importantly, baking together is a wonderful quality family time.
Here’s a fantastic recipe for kindergarten challah rolls. I actually went to the kindergarten my kids attended a couple of years ago and asked the kindergarten teacher to give me the recipe for her famous wonderful challah rolls. She gladly gave it to me along with permission to post it. I’m posting it here with photos of my son, Yonatan, who really loves to bake.
Work time: 30 min
Preparation time: 150 min
Difficulty level: anyone can do it
Ingredients for 12 Small Kindergarten Challah Rolls:
My post is about small challah rolls, because they are personal and fun for every child. However, from the same exact dough you can make one large challah for everyone. Whether you choose small challah rolls or one big challah – the result is super-delicious, guaranteed.
500 g (1 lb.) All-purpose flour
1 Tablespoon dry yeast
¼ Cup sugar
¼ Cup vegetable oil
1 ½ Cups lukewarm water
1 Heaping teaspoon table salt
Egg wash: 1 yolk + 1 tsp vegetable oil
Sesame for topping
1. Combine flour, yeast and sugar in a large bowl. Add the vegetable oil. Add water gradually as you knead the dough (you may not need all the water). If the dough is tough or dry, add more water. If the dough is sticky, add some flour. Add the salt.
2. Knead for 8 minutes. Dough should be smooth and soft. You may use a mixer with a dough hook for kneading. However, the most fun is to let the kids knead by hand. Cover the bowl with a towel and let the dough rise in a warm place until it doubles in volume.
3. Remove all the air from the dough and knead for 2 more minutes. Divide the dough and shape into balls. Flatten the dough into a long strip 15 cm (6”) long and 1 cm (0.4”) thick. Cut it into 1 cm (0.4”) wide strips with a pizza slicer. Grease hands with oil and braid into a 3-rope braid. Fold the edges under. Shape it a little with your hand into a round challah roll.
4. Transfer the rolls to a baking pan lined with baking paper which is lightly dusted with flour and set aside to rise for an additional 20 minutes.
5. Whisk the egg yolk with the vegetable oil and brush the rolls. Sprinkle with sesame seeds and bake for 20 minutes in a preheated oven 180°C (356°F), until golden.
Last but not least, here’s the playlist of Israeli tracks to enjoy together as you bake. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bcuRKDY0Rz0&list=PLinS5uF49IBqELH4C2PIJkHYwaa4V_RRp
More on the topic of weekend. I found on YouTube a link to the great Jewish tale Chanahle’s Shabbat Dress. I’m not sure if there’s an English translation for it – I couldn’t find one. But in Israel it’s a story known by every Israeli kid born in the 1980s and onward (my kids & myself included). If it’s interesting to you, write to me and I’ll try to find an English version for it after all. I’m sure you’ll find that it’s another great way to teach your kids something about Israel.
So, don’t forget to write and to share pics of your challahs on our Instagram. Perhaps we’ll even make a contest of the most teaching and most team-building challah!