Written by Leon Davis
I want to tell you about a class I went to put on by Ganei Beantown at Temple Shalom in Newton. We were instructed on how to make bread and made some of our own, chowed down on some pizza, and did some Torah study related to bread.
I don’t think there are many simpler baking recipes than making the type of bread we made. It’s relaxing to make because there are few ingredients, yet each step in the preparation process requires attention to detail. During the discussion portion of the night, one women mentioned that she cooks to focus her mind and relieve stress. Another described her weekly ritual of cooking Challah the night before Shabbat and how it helped bring her in touch spiritually with Shabbat and the people she was sharing the meal with.
All of our bread loaves turned out elegant, light and delicious. In my hectic and often scatterbrained daily life, making a loaf of bread out of water, flour, yeast, and a bit of sugar was the most productive and satisfying thing I did all week.
When you make bread, unless it’s Matzah, it contains leavening. Leavening is what causes the loaf to rise. The leavening agent that we used for our bread was yeast. The process involves first mixing the yeast with water and “feeding” it sugar to “activate” the yeast. Yeast is a living organism, and as it consumes sugar, it releases gas, which causes the dough to rise. An interesting little science lesson mixed in with the dough (har-har).
Combining the flour with the water-yeast and water mixture, and mixing it together stirred my soul as well as the dough. Kneading the mixture was a workout, the more you knead the more the “gluten” works together to make the dough a certain elastic texture, with the next step being to let the dough sit to rise.
I don’t think of baking bread as an easy thing to do, and it isn’t easy, but it’s simple and worth trying. Make sure to use yeast that is still alive (not expired) so that your bread will rise!
The dough probably tripled in size while rising, B Lareau-Meredith (our teacher) punched it down and it rose again, and then B carefully monitored the dough as it baked in the multiple ovens. There were a couple of different ovens, and B was able to cook each loaf to near perfection.
B’s competence as a chef was evident in the way she spoke extensively on all aspects of bread making. She also told us how her dream job, working in a high class restaurant, was a pressure cooker environment that was not what she thought it would be. Her favorite cooking job turned out to be one where she worked together closely with other cooks, establishing friendships, and then at the end of the day relaxing with the same people and… eating!
Kneading the bread: This took a while and is just a simple repetitive motion, but is hands-on fun. If you don’t knead the dough enough it won’t be the correct consistency. In some recipes kneading and stirring of dough together can be overdone, but not with this bread. Most of the bread came out perfectly.
After the ingredients were put together and the bread was left to rise, we chowed down and discussed the significance of bread in Judaism. The first thing we went over was a discussion where Jacob was making a covenant with God, where he said he would follow God and listen, and in turn God would provide him with Bread. Our discussion centered around the idea that this was a two way street: God did not freely give bread, as Jacob needed to fill his end of the bargain. To me, this is like life: to get, you must give; to gain, you must work. A lot of our discussion centered around Jewish traditions involving bread such as eating Challah during Shabbat. One question the Rabbi posed was whether each individual loaf of Challah needed to be blessed. Does blessing each food item bestow some sort of real change for the people who then eat? I think that this was bogus and one blessing was enough.
I was really enthralled by the people I met. One of them studied abroad in Zimbabwe and Kenya. There was someone who worked in the district court working with juvenile cases. There was also a couple from Kansas going to law school. Student Rabbi Alex Weissman and Rabbi Neil Hirsh helped lead the group.
An amazing coincidence was running into an old fellow Temple Beth David member and fellow Hebrew high school classmate who is now engaged to the rabbi of the temple in Newton and is in school herself to become a rabbi. I hadn’t seen her since I was probably fourteen and she was the last person I expected to see there. We split into smaller study groups and she led my group, which was exactly how I remembered things working twelve years ago…
The bread we made was delicious! I ended up eating most of the loaf that night with a lot of butter and jam on it.
About the Author Leon Davis
I grew up in Medfield, MA and went to Temple Beth David in Westwood as a kid. I went to school in Maryland for Phsychology and am now working as a mobile phlebotomist (blood drawer). I am interested in literature, nature, running, and pretty much everything. A note: I tried to make the recipe myself and it turned out really well!