For Sivan, Wheat Stalk Challah

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A sprinkle of parmesan suits this challah, if you want to go dairy. Courtesy of Dahlia Abraham-Klein

In her book Spiritual Kneading, Dahlia Abraham-Klein crafts a challah for each month of the Jewish calendar.

Palpable Torah. That’s what Dahlia Abraham-Klein calls her second cookbook, the recently released "Spiritual Kneading Through the Jewish Months: Building the Sacred through Challah." It’s got meditations, Jewish insights and a different challah recipe for each month of the year. Sivan’s – a wheat stalk to celebrate the agricultural holiday of Shavuot – is a doozy. 

“It’s a book that’s disguised as a challah book but really it’s a Torah book,” said Abraham-Klein, whose first book is "Silk Road Vegetarian." I stand behind any agenda that uses the smell and taste of homemade bread as an introduction to the flavors of Judaism. 

“My ultimate goal is for women to feel connected to themselves and to use the challah as a conduit to connect to themselves and to connect to God,” she said in a recent phone conversation.

Her challahs are conversation pieces. Although I don’t see myself ever making Shvat’s pomegranate-shaped bread, or the corn grits flame for Kislev, I am intrigued by the wheat stalk of Sivan, which has an optional parmesan topping. I think of it as a focaccia getting chummy with a water challah.

On Shavuot, the freshly milled wheat was baked into two loaves of bread as an offering to God. This tell us that Hashem did not shun carbs. If you don’t believe me, look it up in Leviticus 23:17. I guess God wasn’t lactose intolerant, either. The parmesan topping fits the tradition of incorporating dairy foods into Shavuot celebrations.

It’s generally not permissible to bake dairy challah, lest someone accidentally eat it with a meat meal. But the Shulchan Aruch, or Code of Jewish Law [YD 97:1] states that in order to do so, the cook should make it look different than a regular challah, consume the entire thing at a non-meat meal and make sure it’s marked as dairy. This wheat stalk shape works

The month of Sivan is all about the partnership between God and his people, and baking challah is creating a spiritual link in that union, Abraham-Klein said.

“Every time a women bakes challah I want her to have the intention there,” she said. “Just to slow down and not rush through the process of it.” She views baking challah as an active meditation and one with meaning; the act is an important mitzvah, after all.

Delicious, homemade bread is also a yummy emissary of Torah.

Abraham-Klein teaches monthly spiritual kneading workshops and sends her students home with the raw dough: “I want their home to smell of Shabbat.”

To reach Dahlia Abraham-Klein and find out more about her challah workshops email her at silkroadvegetarian@gmail.com.

Servings & Times
Yield:
  • 8 to 10 stalks
Active Time:
  • 1 hr
Total Time:
  • 3 hrs 30 min
Ingredients
Special Equipment Needed:

Kitchen scissors

4 tablespoons active dry yeast

4 1/2 cups (1.1 liters) warm water

3/4 cup (150 g) organic sugar plus 2 tablespoons organic sugar

5 pounds (2.25 kg) organic white flour

1 1/2 tablespoons sea salt

1 cup (230 ml) olive oil

2 cage-free organic eggs, beaten

Grated Parmesan cheese, (optional)

Steps
  1. In a large bowl, combine the yeast with the 2 tablespoons of sugar and the warm water. Cover the bowl and allow the mixture to start activating. Yeast activation should take about 10 minutes; it will be bubbling and foamy.
  2. Set 1 cup (125 g) of flour aside. Sift the remaining flour, sugar, and salt into the bowl. Then pour oil onto the flour.
  3. Combine all the ingredients, using a spatula. When it begins to form a dough, it is time to knead. At this point, you can remove the dough from the bowl and knead on the kitchen counter if it’s easier for you, or directly in the bowl.
  4. To knead the dough: Grab the side of the dough furthest away from you and fold it toward yourself. Fold the dough in half and use your body weight to push the dough into itself. If you find that the dough is sticking too much to the surface and preventing you from kneading properly, dust the dough with flour. Give the dough a quarter turn (90 degrees). Grab the other side and fold it in half. Again, with a lot of weight behind it, push the newly folded half into itself. Repeat this process for 10-15 minutes, or until the dough is smooth, silky, elastic and the dough does not stick to the surface.
  5. After the dough is thoroughly prepared, lay it on the counter top while you grease the bowl with a fine layer of oil. Next, turn the dough in the oil several times so that the dough is greased lightly on all sides.
  6. Cover the bowl with a large plastic garbage bag or kitchen towel and allow it to rise for 1 hour.
  7. Make the blessing on Hafrashat Challah.
  8. Knead the dough again for a few more minutes and then divide the dough into 8 equal parts. Use the remaining flour, for the surface area and hands to prevent sticking.
  9. Roll out into logs that are about 16 inches (40 cm) long. They should look like baguettes.
  10. Starting from 2 inches (5 cm) from the bottom of the dough, cut into the dough in a 45-degree angle until the depth of the cut is about ¼ inch (6 mm) from the kitchen counter. Be careful not to cut all the way through the dough. The cut will look like a V shape. Lay the piece you’ve cut over to one side.
  11. Continue to cut into the dough, at 1 inch (2.5 cm) intervals, separating the cut pieces at opposite directions until you have reached the other end. There should be a total of 6 slits. This should look like a sheaf.
  12. Cover the loaves again and let them rise in a warm place for 1 hour or until the dough has doubled in volume from its original size.
  13. If you cannot bake the challahs immediately, then this is the time to wrap the shaped dough in plastic wrap to prevent drying. You can store it in the coldest part of the refrigerator for up to 48 hours. On the day of baking, remove the dough from refrigerator and let stand on kitchen counter until it comes to room temperature, about one hour.
  14. Preheat the oven to 350° F (180° C). Prepare your egg wash and decorate the top of the challah with grated Parmesan, if you want a dairy challah.
  15. Bake in your preheated oven for about 25-30 minutes, or until loaves turn golden brown and shiny. Bread should have a nice hollow sound when thumped on the bottom.
  16. Remove from the oven and cool on a rack. Wait at least one hour before serving. If you are freezing the challah, wrap in waxed paper and foil. It can be stored in the freezer for up to 2 months.