This year, many of us, myself included, are experiencing a bar or bat mitzvah with one of our children. Our daughter Aviva has been preparing herself for this special day by studying weekly with her teacher (and cousin) Elianna, and going over party preparations!
This past summer, we were fortunate enough to take Aviva and our oldest son, Benzi, to Israel. What an incredible experience! Our children immediately connected to the land of Israel and had a profound awareness of their heritage and Jewishness. I remember going to the Kotel and watching Aviva pray at the Wall. I gave her a blessing and sobbed as I prayed for G-d’s grace and kindness upon her. I prayed that she continues to carry the torch of our Torah throughout her life; by lighting Shabbat candles to illuminate her home with divine light, fulfilling family purity through the powerful waters of the mikvah, and separating challah as a declaration that all things are from G-d and through Him we can provide for our family and give tzedakah. I prayed that she should never forget this moment and the closeness we felt to our Creator and each other, but most of all, that she knows she is a treasure for the Jewish people, and she will find her voice and soar to heights yet unknown to her.
We are so proud of you Aviva, and blessed to have been entrusted by G-d to raise and mold you to be a daughter of Israel. Mazel Tov! And to all those becoming a bar/bat mitzvah, may G-d shine His light always on your path and bless you with Torah, chuppah and ma’asim tovim (good deeds).
Pull-Apart Chocolate Challah
A nice tradition we started in our home is eating chocolate challah on Shabbat. The kids will get upset and say it doesn’t feel like Shabbat without it! This recipe was developed by my dear friend Hadar Eyton, who introduced me to the mitzvah of separating challah. The moment after “challah” (what the piece is called) is removed, is a time of profound spiritual closeness to G-d. It is a conduit between this reality and a level of being far beyond the walls of our kitchens. Many women will take advantage of this moment to pray for their families, for our people and for the restoration of the Temple, or for anyone who is in need of special merit.
(makes 4 to 5 challahs)
4 packets of active dry yeast
1 1/2 cup sugar
4 cups lukewarm water
1/2 cup honey
1 cup canola oil
1 tablespoon salt
1 5-pound bag of bread flour
2 pounds of Hashahar H’aole L’mehadrin (Israeli cocoa spread, parve found at kosher markets)
2 tablespoons cold water
1 teaspoon salt
Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees.
Add the packets of yeast to the water with the sugar. Stir to dissolve.
Add the honey, canola oil and salt. Use a whisk to thoroughly blend the ingredients together.
Begin adding the flour to the bowl, ½ cup at a time, stirring with a large spoon to incorporate the flour after each addition. When the mixture becomes too thick to stir, use your hands to work in the remainder of the flour.
Continue to knead the dough until it’s smooth, elastic and not sticky. The amount of flour you will need to achieve this texture varies – only add flour until the dough feels pliable and “right.”
Remove the dough from the mixing bowl and wash out the bowl. Lightly grease the bowl with canola oil. Push the dough down into the bottom of the bowl, then flip it over so that both sides are slightly moistened by the oil.
Cover the bowl with a clean, damp kitchen towel. Place the bowl in a warm area and let the dough rise for 30 minutes to one hour.
Now the dough is ready to braid or be filled with chocolate. If you plan to separate and bless the challah, do it prior to braiding.
To fill with chocolate: separate dough into seven even balls and flatten them out. Drop a spoonful of chocolate in the center and pull the outer corners of the dough together and pinch closed until the chocolate is completely covered. Continue to do this until all seven balls are filled. Place one ball in the center and then arrange the remaining six around to make a flower shape.
After you’ve braided or filled your challah, place it on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper (this will catch any spills from your egg wash and keep your challah from sticking to the cookie sheet).
Prepare your egg wash by beating the eggs, salt and water until smooth. Use a pastry brush to brush a thin layer of the mixture over the surface of the challah. Set aside the remaining egg wash.
Reduce the oven temperature to 350 degrees. The challah needs to bake for about 30-40 minutes, but to get the best results, the baking should be done in stages. First, set your timer for 20 minutes and put the challah in the oven.
After 20 minutes, take the challah out of the oven and coat the center of the braid with another thin layer of egg wash. (This area tends to expand during baking, exposing areas that will turn white unless they are coated with egg wash.)
Rotate the cookie sheet, so the opposite side is facing front, and put the tray back into the oven. (Turning the tray helps your challah brown evenly – the back of the oven is usually hotter than the front.)
The challah will need to bake for about 15-20 minutes longer. For this last part of the baking process, keep an eye on your challah – it may be browning faster than it’s baking. Once the challah is evenly browned, take the challah out of the oven. You can test the bread for doneness by turning it over and tapping on the bottom of the loaf – if it makes a hollow sound, it’s done. Let the challah cool on the baking sheet or transfer to a wire cooling rack before serving.
Note: To freeze the challah first wrap it in parchment paper and then foil before placing in the freezer. To re-heat, just place challah in a pre-heated 350-degree oven for 30 minutes.
Lucia Schnitzer and her husband, Ken, own Pomelo (a full-service restaurant), Luci’s at The Orchard and Splurge (a candy and ice cream shop), all at The Orchard Phx, 7100 N 12th Street, Phoenix. They also own Luci’s Healthy Marketplace, 1590 E Bethany Home Road, Phoenix, which they opened in 2009 in Lucia’s honor after her successful battle with breast cancer.
Photo by Matthew Strauss