This article originally appeared in the Yiddish Forverts.
If you need to build an ark, the Torah will tell you how. If you need to construct an ephod, the Torah will tell you how to do that, too. But if you want to bake challah, you have to look beyond the Five Books of Moses, as Gitty Salomon has. The ingenious Brooklyn, N.Y.-based folk artist not only bakes a variety of challah. She also uses challah dough as sculptor’s clay to illustrate nearly 6,000 years of Jewish history, ritual and folklore.
Salomon’s challah art is equal parts profound and adorable.
A speech therapist by training, Salomon began her avocation in 2014 by baking a “schlissel” challah for the first Shabbat after Pesach. That tradition, in which bakers make challah in the shape of a house key, led to her making a flower-shaped challah at Shavuot seven weeks later. Salomon began posting photos of her new challah art — baked and unbaked — on Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest. She received an onslaught of positive feedback. Attracted to the hands-on aspect of the project, her artistic conceptualizations as well as the social media attention, she was soon crafting challah sculptures for every occasion.
To fix on a subject, Salomon goes online each week to read a parasha summary. Some parashiyot — the ones in “Genesis,” for example — are highly narrative and lend themselves to illustration (see “Tree of Life”). Others, particularly in “Leviticus,” strike Salomon as more esoteric, and some weeks she opts instead to illustrate a month on the Hebrew calendar (see “Adar”) or a scene from ”Fiddler on the Roof.”
Among Salomon’s other themes: Israel Independence Day (Yom Haatzmaut), American Thanksgiving and the Lion of Judah.
The dough Salomon uses is rich in eggs, sugar and gluten. “It’s delicious, but not the healthiest recipe,” she says. “In this case, artistry trumps nutrition.”
Salomon’s challah artwork survives only in virtual form. As for the actual bread sculptures, they share the same fate as their more conventional “bread-ren:” Salomon and her family eat them on Shabbat.
Challah Sculpture Recipe
Courtesy of Fraidy Maltz, Gitty Salomon’s aunt
Add 6 packets of active dry yeast in a large glass bowl.
Pour 4 cups warm water over yeast.
Add 1 tbsp sugar. (Don’t mix the yeast/sugar. Pour water in with a bit of force, causing more natural mixture).
Let sit for at least 10 minutes until it rises (sometimes bubbles). You can place bowl on the open door of the oven preheated to about 350 degrees. Keep in a warm area.
While the yeast is sitting, sift the flour into another bowl.
Place 5 pounds of sifted flour in mixer bowl.
Add 2 cups sugar.
Add 1.5 tbsp of salt.
Mix together with fork/spoon.
10.Make a well/hole in the middle of mixing bowl.
Beat four eggs in a separate bowl.
Pour the mixed eggs into well/hole in your mixing bowl.
Measure 1.5 cups of oil. Add to hole on top of the eggs all at once or start with 1 cup and add the rest slowly.
Put the yeast mixture from your oven door on top of the eggs/oil.
Turn bread machine on. Mix on low setting for about 12 minutes. You can mix for about 6 minutes, stop for a minute, continue mixing, stop for a minute, etc. Mixing all at once is fine too.
If you haven’t already done so, add the rest of the oil while dough is mixing. If you used 1 cup initially, you can add another half.
Empty dough into a big bowl and cover it with a tablecloth or towel(s). If the dough seems dry, add a drop of oil to bowl before adding dough. If you do not have a large bowl, use a white garbage bag. Add a drop of oil to the bag before putting the dough in. I add a drop of oil on top of the dough before covering it.
Let rise for 1 1/2 hours, and preferably 2. Use a rolling pin (optional) to remove air bubbles when shaping dough.
HAFRASHA. Recite the traditional blessing, and take a small piece off of the dough, called a ‘hafrasha.’ Some wrap the hafrasha twice in silver foil, place it in a small pan over a low fire and let it burn through completely on both sides. If you’re unable to burn it, double-wrap it and throw it out.
Shape dough. (I spray Pam on the bottom of pans/dishes.)
After shaping, let dough rise for approximately one hour.
Bake at 350 degrees for about 45 minutes. Note: Baking can take between 30 minutes and one hour, depending on how hot your oven is and how dark you want the challah to be._
Gitty Salomon Turns Challah-Making into an Art