Baking homemade challah with kids is fun and educational…science, math, and playing with dough all combine to make a wonderful bonding experience.
Baking, science, and math
My daughters will attest to the fact that, during their “growing up years,” I didn’t stop asking them questions intended for them to think about science, math, vocabulary, etc, as we went about our day. Yup, I drove them crazy all right (I still do!). Best of all was when I baked with my girls…spending time together creating magic and yummy things for us to share as a family. I’d ask them questions as we cooked, and sometimes they would answer. Mostly though, the time together wasn’t just making food…it was making memories. Baking homemade challah combined all these aspects into a wonderful bonding experience.
When it comes to baking, especially baking with kids, making bread is an ideal platform from which to ask questions. There is so much to see and do, so many ways to teach and learn! First, you’ve got the wonderful aspects of science and math. When I would help my preschool students make challah (egg bread) every Friday, we would talk about “waking up and feeding the yeasties” while preparing the dough, and I’d talk about how yeast is actually a living organism that makes the bread rise. I’d ask them questions like “how many ¼ cups of water would go into 1 cup of water?” instilling in them the thought that math is something we use every day. Learning to be careful when measuring out the ingredients taught them patience and control, as did stirring the ingredients carefully and watching how the dough takes shape in the bowl.
Then there’s the tactical, hands-on experience of shaping bread dough…these 3- and 4-year olds loved the feel of mashing and smashing the dough into whatever shape they chose. Some kids even allowed me to teach them how to braid a 3-strand loaf, pretty enough for any bakery. Then we would brush their creation with egg wash and (for those that wanted) sprinkle a little cinnamon sugar on top. I wish I had pictures of my students’ challahs, but alas, I do not (privacy issues…you understand). I’d make challah alongside theirs with the extra dough, so these were mine.
Finally, there’s the magic of seeing that, while a smooshy dough that smelled a little tangy went into the oven, what out came was bread…fluffy on the inside with a golden-brown crust on the outside. Amazing! While I would put the finished bread into a bag for the kids to take home, many couldn’t wait to show whoever was picking them up what they made…then eating it on the spot!
A time-tested, family-loved recipe
I’ve made challah for many years, for many occasions, in a variety of shapes. I’ve added chocolate chips or raisins to the dough, and have varied the toppings from the traditional sesame or poppy seeds to cinnamon sugar (the kids generally like that one!). Traditionally, challah is braided…a 3-strand braid is easiest, but you can find round challahs or other fancy shapes. I even learned to make a very professional looking 6-strand braid (you can modify the 6-strand to a 4-strand using the same technique).
Here’s my time- (and kid-) tested recipe for making homemade challah. Enjoy!
- kitchen scale
- stand mixer with dough hook attachment
- half sheet baking pan
- Silpat or parchment paper
- 3-1/2 cups bread flour or all purpose flour (15 oz, 425g), plus more as needed
- 1/4 cup sugar (1-3/4 oz, 50g)
- 2 tsp yeast (1/4 oz, 9g)
- 1-1/2 tsp kosher salt (1/3 oz, 9g)
- 2 large eggs
- 1/3 cup canola oil (2-1/4 oz, 60g)
- 1/2-2/3 cup water (5 oz, 141g), warmed to 105-110ºF (see Recipe Notes)
- cinnamon sugar, sesame seeds, poppy seeds, as desired
- Mix all the ingredients in the order listed into the bowl of a stand mixer or in a bread machine set to the manual cycle. Knead the dough with a dough hook for about 5 minutes (see Recipe Notes for manual kneading)'
- Place the dough in a covered, oiled bowl and let it rise 4 hours in a warm place (such as in the oven, turned off but with the light on) until it doubles in bulk. You can also let it rise in the refrigerator overnight. Let the dough come to room temperature if refrigerated (about an hour) before proceeding with the shaping.
- Let the shaped dough rise for 45 minutes in a warm place (like that light-warmed oven). Towards the end of the rising time, preheat the oven to 350ºF. If you’re letting your dough rise in the oven, you can let it stay there while the oven is heating (just make sure you start the baking timer once the oven has come to full temperature).
- Bake the dough for 25-35 minutes, rotating halfway through the baking time, until golden brown and it sounds hollow when tapped on the bottom.
- Remove the finished loaf from the baking sheet and cool on a wire rack. slice (or tear), serve, and enjoy!
Baking homemade challah satisfies that need (at least for me) of producing something that feeds my family’s soul as well as their hunger…something we took the time to create just for them, and making it together produces priceless memories. It’s also a way to observe the natural world in a microcosm. So set aside some time and bring the kids into the kitchen…let them help and learn along the way. Regardless of what comes out, it’s time together that’s not to be missed.
Slainté! L’chaim! Cheers!
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