Sunday, January 24, 2010

Namesake - Parshat Bishalach

Ok, I'm pretty excited about this week. The portion contains the reference to the whole reason behind the name I chose for this blog!

Here's how that worked. In this week's portion, Parshat Bishalach, the Israelites make it through the split sea, narrowly escaping the Egyptians who end up coming after their slaves. Lots of rejoicing, praising God and merriment ensues. Then it's back to the harsh reality that there is a long, dry, dusty desert road ahead of them, and they are totally dependent on God for ... everything.

But God has their back - creating a cloud to shade them during their day time travel, and a pillar of fire as their night light. And then, low and behold, manna, or man, rains down from heaven each morning for their gastronomical pleasure. Many commentators say that manna tasted like whatever the eater imagined. The text says "it was like coriander seed, white and tasted like wafers in honey," hence the pictures above and below of wheat berries, my stand in for coriander seeds. And what's more, at the end of the week, in preparation for Shabbat, a double portion of manna falls on Friday (no man collecting on the Sabbath, the day of rest, though the Israelites have a hard time catching onto this at first, see Exodus, chapter 16).

So you see? One of the reasons behind the name of my (still feels like new to me) blog is from this special, weekly double portion of manna. My genetically programmed corny sense of humor is probably what propelled me to choose the title. Because not only is the blog name a reference to this double portion, it also references taking seconds of yummy food (which I hope I am providing you good directions for), and the weeks when two Torah portions are read on the same Sabbath (here's why).

So now to the recipe. It is commonly understood that the reason we have two loaves of challah at our Shabbat meals each week is to represent this double portion of manna that the Israelites received for all 40 years in the desert. And I do think it is high time I shared my challah recipe with you. Not to brag, but it's unbelievable!! And I'm not the only one who thinks so. Making challah almost every week has become my routine, and it only strikes me as extraordinary when I watch my guests stay quiet for longer than they have to after eating the bread, and then asking wide eyed "did you make this"? Aw shucks.

For those who might not make challah yourselves because you are intimidated by it - just stop that right now. Challah is not intimidating. There are steps that can trip you up if your not prepared- particularly the kind of yeast you use (see my note below) but that's ok - my first try at challah 10 years ago, when I lived in Israel, produced a rock hard bread that my hosts couldn't slice through with a sharp bread knife.

Please know that I don't use a bread machine (most frequently asked question) and with the rare exception of weekends that I have made this in someone else's kitchen and for some reason or another produced challahs that, according to my father, looked like Mickey Mouse shoes (they still tasted great) things go pretty smoothly. And, I think my husband falls a little more in love with me every time he bites into a warm hunk of my home made challah.

I dedicate this post to my Abba (father). It was with him whom I baked my very first challahs when it was just me and my 2 hippy parents living in the middle of the woods. There, my dad and I would defrost the Kineret Challah you can find in the freezer section of many grocery stores, shellac them with egg and sprinkle with poppy or sesame seeds. Once we moved to civilization (aka Riverdale) and kosher bakeries with freshly baked loaves abounded, the search for the holy grail of challah began. A few years in my father got kicked out of Heisler's Bakery in Riverdale for demanding better service and we were off on our search again. By the time I was in high school every Friday morning we were driving the carpool out to Washington Heights on the way to school in Teaneck to pick up yellow, cake-like-challah from Bagel City for our family and at least 3 others in Riverdale. Not only were we in love with the challah, we loved Moshe, the colorful Israeli owner who would start baking challah, bagels, and my favorite- apricot danishes, at a very early morning hour.

Then tragedy struck when Bagel City closed up shop. We were all bereft and my Abba started trying every cakey looking challah he could get his hands on. Each week he dropped my brother off at his bass guitar lesson in Williamsburg, Brooklyn and would poke around the neighborhood for an hour trying to dig up an amazing challah. We tried a lot of interesting stuff in that time, but no true replacement. Consolation came when we heard Bagel City challah would be available commercially - but obviously it never tasted as good. My dad never did find the perfect replacement, but now has a whole new slew of bakeries to try in Boynton Beach. And if he ever needs challahs in the shape of Mickey shoes, he knows I'm his girl.


This is a recipe that I originally got from Sara Shemtov, the Chabad Rebbitzin or Riverdale. I have since halved it and played with it. For a long time I was making it with half olive, half canola oil, but recently switched back to all canola and I'm sticking to that. I also like to use honey instead of sugar some weeks.

A note about yeast, kneading and rising: first of all, I suggest buying a jar of yeast if you think you may get into the habit of challah baking. When I first started making challah I had some trouble getting the dough to rise well - I was somehow convinced that this was all the fault of Fleishman's yeast and swore that off for years. But I recently tried it and it works just fine.

The key to getting yeast to rise well is two fold - use very hot water to dissolve it in and add sugar right away to feed it! I used to knead the dough by hand but I have weak wrists and now just let my Kitchenaid do it for me with a dough hook (I mix my dough in there as well). If you're lucky enough to have one I recommend you use it. And lastly, let your dough rise in as warm a place as possible - mine is often near a stove that's on.

2 packets , or 4 and 1/2 tsp of yeast
2 cups of hot tap water
1/2 cup sugar
1 Tbsp salt
7 cups of flour
1 egg, beaten
1/2 cup of canola oil

In the bowl of a mixer or a regular bowl, dissolve yeast in hot water with a fork or a spatula. Then add sugar right away and dissolve. Add salt and dissolve.

Next, add three cups of flour and mix well with the dough hook of a mixer or with a fork. Add the beaten egg and the oil. Slowly stir in the other four cups of flour.

When the dough pulls from the side of the bowl, either let the dough hook go for another minute or so to knead, or take out and knead for 10 minutes by hand (think of kneading as folding the dough over on itself and squishing it down, again and again).

Place the dough in an oiled bowl and turn the dough over in the bowl to coat with oil. Cover the bowl with a warm damp cloth. Let the dough rise in warm place for 2 hours (or a bit longer or shorter depending on your schedule). Also, depending on your schedule try to punch the dough down every so often.

Now it's time to form the loaves. You can make 2 large loaves or 2 medium and a small. Tear the dough into the number and size of pieces that you want. Divide each piece into three and squeeze each into a coil (try not to man handle it too much, I don't roll them). Braid the three coils into loaves. Repeat with remaining pieces and put the loaves onto a silplat mat, parchment paper or a greased sheet.

Re-wet the cloth with warm water and cover for an hour- set in a warm place to rise like on a warm over. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

If you like to be fancy you can brush the top of each loaf with egg yolk, but I usually don't. Bake for 20 minutes, until golden brown (but it will still be on the doughy side).

Tu Bishvat Bonus Recipes

I'm planning on featuring the following two fruit-filled dishes at our Shabbat Meal, which falls on Tu Bishvat, the Jewish new year of the trees. Biblically, this holiday (the 15th day of the month of Shevat) was a way to count the years of a new tree- and determine which tithes to take from which trees. Kabbalists later wrote a Seder for the holiday, to appreciate and celebrate the produce that God creates. Today, many environmentalists use it as a day to focus communities on our use of resources. It is still customary to eat fruits on Tu Bishvat, and a custom of eating dried fruits evolved for the non Mediterranean folks (but fresh is cool too).

Lamb Tagine over Couscous

My brother makes this for our family practically every time were together for Shabbat. He used to enjoy eating it at Darna in NYC and found a recipe on food network to recreate it - the only change he makes is omitting the squash. I plan on serving it over some couscous (which you can easily buy in the grocery store and follow the directions on the box to cook it up) I think it's a great Tu Bishvat dish since it uses lots of dried fruit.

I'll be using lamb sausages from Smokey Joe's Kosher BBQ in Teaneck where Sam and I had a delicious, carnivorous meal this week (I dare you to read their menu without salivating) and we had to bring some home (along with some of their wing sauce, but that's for another use).

Date Bars

These will be for desert. My mom would make these from time to time and the recipe that I came across on the blog Seven Spoons reminded me of that so I'm going to give it a whirl.


  1. Great photos, Elisha! Love it! Those lamb sausages look so yummy - I know a certain fiance of mine who would LOVE those :-)

  2. It was great to have the two of you in our restaurant.
    Yasher koach! Your blog looks great. Ok if I promote your blog in my next email blast? email me at

  3. Thanks Alexis - and thanks for the nudge to get more pictures on the blog. You should totally order some sausages for Howard- Somkey Joes will ship to Boston! They are so worth it.

    Thanks Smokey - it's so nice to see your comment here. I'm flattered that you want to include a link to the blog in your email blast - go right ahead. We look forward to ordering more sausages!

  4. You can buy bagel city challah online at

  5. Thanks Eric. How do you know about that site? I may have to try it one week and see how it compares to the old school version I used to love.