Category: Bar Mitzvah

Recipe #13: Bubby’s Challah

Homemade braided challah bread with everything seasoning

I have to hand it to my mother–she has, without fail, baked challah every Friday for years now. She took over after my Bubby–my grandmother–passed away. The entire family looks forward to her homemade bread, which are shaped into beautiful round boules of egg bread, often sprinkled with sesame seeds or dotted with sweet raisins inside. Usually there are not one, but two challahs on the table. We say the blessings over the candles, then the wine and finish with the bread. The loaf is sliced, passed around the table to the delight of guests big and small. It tastes delicious on its own, or as is often the case, used to dip into a bowl of piping hot chicken soup. If there are any leftovers, they make great french toast the next morning, or a hearty PB & J sandwich.

Challah is meant to be a ceremonial bread used for special occasions like the Sabbath (every Friday night for Jews) or weddings and Bar Mitzvahs. It is often braided, washed with egg and sprinkled with sesame or poppy seeds.

I looked up the origin of the bread on Wikipedia and discovered that the name refers to the act of separating a portion of the dough for “payment” or taxation to the high priests, who were known as the Kohens (the surname Cohen is the modern name for the descendants of these priests), before the dough was braided.

Whatever the reason was back in biblical times, challah remains a staple for Jewish households. The act of making challah, I find, is very comforting. Measuring, mixing and especially kneading the bread are a great way to stay in the present. It’s almost a form of meditation.

The recipe I am using comes from my Mom. She hand wrote it into a book full of recipes and her own illustrations back in 2006. I cherish this book so much and hope that I can write something similar for my three kids, minus the beautiful illustrations–I’ll leave that to her. My one piece of advice: be patient. You can’t rush good bread. Take the time to knead it (or use a food processor to cut the time by 8 minutes), and give it time to rise before you bake it. The smell in the house is heavenly, which is fitting, since challah is made to honour God and all the bounty he/she has provided. This Friday, take time to thank whatever power you believe in is keeping us safe during such uncertain times. I hope this bread brings you the kind of comfort it brings to me and my family.

Challah Bread

  • 3/4 cup of water
  • 1/3 cup of oil
  • 2 Tablespoons + 1 teaspoon of sugar
  • 1 teaspoon of salt
  • 1 envelope OR 2 1/4 teaspoons of dry activated yeast
  • 2 eggs
  • 3 cups of flour (plus more for kneading)
  • 1 egg for egg wash
  • sesame seeds, poppy seeds, raisins, everything seasoning for finishing the bread


Heat the water and oil together, but not boiling (you can do this on the stovetop or in the microwave)

Add sugar and salt to the water and oil

Sprinkle the yeast on top of this mixture and gently stir–set aside

Measure 3 cups of flour into a large bowl

Beat two eggs and pour over flour

Water and yeast mixture should look foamy now; pour this mixture into the bowl with the flour and eggs.

*If you want to put raisins in your challah, now is the time to add them to your dough.

Mix all the ingredients until they come together

Sprinkle flour onto a tea towel

Pour the dough out onto the tea towel and knead the dough for 8 to 10 minutes, until it is no longer sticky and becomes elastic-y.

*If using a food processor, knead for two minutes in the machine.

Let the dough rest for 10 minutes.

While the dough is resting, line a cookie sheet with parchment paper.

*HINT: if you don’t want the bottom of the bread to burn while baking, double up your baking sheets, or if you have a baking stone, use that!

Next step is to shape the dough: I like to braid it like a hair braid: divide your dough into three even pieces–if you want to be precise, use a kitchen scale. Roll out each piece into a long strand. Press all three strands together at one end and start braiding. When you get to the end, tuck it underneath the braid. Put your challah on your baking sheet and cover it with your tea towel. Leave the challah to rise for approximately 1 hour, or until it is nearly double in size.

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees . While it’s heating up beat an egg and add a dash of water to it. Use this for the egg wash on the challah. Sprinkle with the seeds or seasoning of your choice.

Bake for approximately 30 minutes. If you find the exterior of your challah is browning too quickly, you can always tent it with tin foil, or lower the temperature on your oven by 10 or 15 degrees.

You can also check the internal temperature of your challah before removing it with an oven thermometer, which should read 190 degrees.

Remove from oven and cool in the pan covered with a tea towel.

The Big Bar Mitzvah (Part 2)

If anyone reading this has been on the Bar or Bat Mitzvah circuit in Toronto, you can probably tell someone who doesn’t know any better what to expect at a typical evening reception for a 13-year-old kid:

  • Gender stereotypical themes like Tiffany boxes and fashion labels for the girls, pro sports teams and rock n’ roll for the boys
  • Obnoxiously loud pop music, flashing lights and a couple of sweaty dancers charged with enticing reluctant self-conscious pre-teens on to the dance floor by baiting them with made-in-China giveaways
  • Barely teenaged girls in barely there dresses, high heels and Kardashian-style smokey eye make up
  • A sit down dinner for the adults who attempt to exchange pleasantries but can’t hear each other over the thumping bass music
  • A buffet of fast food favourites for the scores of kids that generally include burgers, chicken nuggets, hot dogs and french fries
  • A photo booth with tacky feather boas, sparkling cardboard top hats and wacky glass frames for accessories that dole out pictures not meant for any photo album
  • A kids’ candy buffet overflowing with gummies, gum balls, sour keys and every other sugar-laden treat imaginable the adults secretly covet

We decided to forego the serial (and predictable) evening reception for something a little different. I call it a 13-year-old boy’s birthday bash extraordinaire.

Mere hours after the brunch reception that followed the Bar Mitzvah service, we changed out of our fancy duds for jeans and cozy sweaters and headed down to the William P Wilder Arena at Upper Canada College.

We rented one of the ice rinks for an hour and a half for the kids (and any adults who wanted to) to skate and play some shinny. We hired a former hockey trainer of the boys’ to do some fun games and activities on the ice–we did have giveaways for the kids, but they didn’t know it. We slipped the trainer some gift cards to give to kids who participated in the activities.

On the ice……

We also rented out the lounge that overlooks the ice rink–this is where non-skaters and the few adults invited could hang out and watch the skating.

My son likes music but isn’t into dance parties, so he made a playlist on Spotify to play over the sound system inside the rink. I had my playlist going over the speakers in the lounge.

I hired Jacqui, who owns TWSS Balloons, to do a big balloon display over the entrance to the lounge as well as a couple of balloon bouquets inside the room–nothing crazy, but definitely festive.

Balloon display by TWSS balloons

I also brought some board games from home for those who didn’t want to skate and were looking for something to do. I was glad I brought them because it kept some of the younger kids entertained while the adults could enjoy a drink and conversation.

My son’s favourite colour is red, so I purposely decorated the tables with inexpensive red table cloths with a small stack of hockey pucks and a votive candle for a centrepiece. This was a kids’ party after all, so any effort on decor was for my benefit–not the kids’.

Red table cloths and coordinated balloons

I got lots of praise for the dinner menu, but credit really goes to my son, who asked for his favourites; burger sliders, chicken wings, caesar salad and penne in a pomodoro sauce. The food was catered by my neighbourhood friend, Suresh, who owns Avondale Foodworks. He’s catered for us before and he consistently produces delicious and flavourful meals that are always crowd pleasers.

Before dessert was served, the kids all gathered at one end of the lounge and were treated to a show by Magic Dan. He was great with the kids, held their attention, encouraged lots of participation and kept everyone, young and old, entertained. My youngest was particularly freaked out when Magic Dan made him float in the air!

Magic Dan performs to a rapt audience

Dessert was probably the most fun. I asked Suresh to order donuts and chocolate milk from Tim Hortons because what kid doesn’t like donuts and chocolate milk? And yes, there was another cake! I actually wanted to order a cake from a bakery because I really didn’t think I’d have the time or the energy to do another cake, but I made a deal with my husband that if I baked the cake (and prepared the icing), he would decorate it. So I baked four marble cakes, recipe courtesy of Martha Stewart. Then I left it to my husband to ice it. You can see the results below–a cake that looks like a giant hockey rink.

Hockey rink cake, anyone?

I did end up doing a candy table for the kids, but I had my rules: no bowls of open candy that grubby, germy paws could dig their hands into. I ordered retro candy and gum from a wholesaler and set it all up in galvanized metal trays and buckets. Kids would take a loot bag and fill it with their candy loot.

At the end of the candy table, kids picked up their parting gift: a red and white trucker-style baseball cap with a custom design embroidered on the front.

Nifty trucker baseball caps

All in all, it was a great party with lots of variety for the kids and the adults. The vibe was just right. There were still plenty of details to remember and lots of elements that maybe others would have happily left to a party planner, but I really enjoyed researching all the options and coming up with a party concept that I knew would be emblematic of my son.