Every Tuesday afternoon, the Topfer Center for Jewish Life is engulfed in a thick cloud of fumes coming from a small kitchen at the end of the hall. Twenty students in aprons, packed tightly around counters and ovens, shuffle and yell over one another as they knead, braid and bake challah.
The UT chapter of Challah For Hunger was founded in 2006 to increase awareness of food insecurity and raise money to combat hunger on both an international and local scale. By baking and selling challah bread, the chapter has raised thousands of dollars for the American Jewish World Service Emergency Appeal for Darfur and the Capital Area Food Bank of Texas in Austin.
Psychology junior Cari Cohen, the service organization’s president, said raising donation money is only one of the rewarding aspects of working with Challah For Hunger.
“Challah, traditionally eaten at Shabbat every Friday night, is a common experience, a common bond we all share as Jews,” Cohen said. “To be able to make it and share it with others is just a comforting reminder of my values and upbringing, and it is just really special to me.”
Cohen groaned when asked what her favorite flavor is.
“So every week we have plain, chocolate, cinnamon sugar, chocolate chip and a flavor of the week,” Cohen said. “I prefer the sweet breads, but sometimes I like the cheesier breads more, and the traditional plain is always delicious. It is impossible to choose because I love them all.”
While Cohen is unsure of her favorite flavor, she is certain Challah For Hunger has strengthened her sense of community and identity among the Jewish student population.
“Challah For Hunger brings so many different people together to have fun while doing something good,” Cohen said. “I have made so many close friends with people I might never have met if I hadn’t joined.”
Fellow baker Sarah Nussbaum, psychology senior and Challah For Hunger vice president, makes and braids challah dough three hours a day, two days a week in the tightly packed, sweetly scented kitchen.
“I get so bogged down in all of my academics, which exhaust so much of my time and mental capacity,” Nussbaum said. “Baking challah is this mindless, therapeutic activity that allows me to socialize and have fun while also doing something constructive.”
UT Alumnus Rob McKenna helped found the chapter in 2006 and is now the organization’s mashgiach, the kitchen supervisor in charge of making sure the bread remains kosher. According to McKenna, while his role in the organization has changed, his passion for the club and its cause remains the same.
“It is amazing to be able to make a meaningful differences in social justice doing something as fun and as simple as baking challah,” McKenna said. “It is as enjoyable now as it was the first day.”
Challah for Hunger’s vegan challah recipe
Makes about 2 challot
The following recipe is for ACTIVE DRY yeast.
1 tablespoon of yeast
1/2 cup of warm water
A dash of sugar
Put the water in a small bowl and sprinkle the yeast and sugar on top. Mix it up.
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup vegetable or other oil
2 cups water
1/2 tablespoon salt
Mix together the sugar, oil, water and salt in a large bowl
Add the yeast (from step 1) and mix
6-8 cups flour
Add 3 cups flour all at once
Add the rest of the flour slowly until dough isn’t too sticky
*If you put too much flour in, it will be easier to work with but it will be heavier bread and will go stale faster. The dough, when it has enough flour, will be a little sticky but will not pull away from your hand without actually sticking
Let the dough rest for 10 minutes
Knead for 6 minutes (You may have to add some flour, but be conservative)
Put dough back in the bowl, cover with a towel and let it rise for at least one hour, but monitor it to make sure it doesn’t overflow the bowl. If it looks like it’s going to, punch it down with clean and dry hands. You can let the dough rise overnight in the fridge (the rising process slows down in cooler temperatures)
Braid and bake at 350 degrees until golden-brown (about 25 minutes)