Flowers, Matan Torah, and… Challah!
By: Tamar Ansh
Photos by Chava Rosner, styling by Malka Tzivia Bulman
Flowers. Just thinking about them makes you smile. There is something truly captivating about them. They are not a necessity, yet everyone loves them.
They are not something you can wear (well, not normally!), eat, or even use for too long, yet they are a multi-million-dollar business.
And they feature prominently in our Shavous, Matan Torah time of year.
We all know that Hashem “decorated” Har Sinai with flowers before giving us the Torah on that spot.
The beauty, the scent, the array. It must have been magnificent.
Flowers are an outright chessed from Hashem. Think about it – the main reason He created so many flowers, with breathtaking colors, shapes, and forms, with such incredible scents and even textures – is all just so that we human beings can enjoy them! Like our own personal bouquets, every day.
So it’s no surprise that Hashem gave flowers to Klal Yisrael “together with” the giving of the Torah, on our “wedding day with Hashem.” After all, doesn’t every bride have flowers?
I’d like to take this theme of flowers, Shavous, and regal beauty and show you how you can incorporate this into the mitzvah of challah, our centerpiece for every Shabbos and Yom Tov meal. Here are a couple of ideas that I did together with my stylist, my daughter Malka Tzivia Bulman, that are very easy to do. And all you need are a few greens and some inexpensive flowers from an ordinary bouquet to go with it!
(One word of caution: if you are going to clip fresh flowers from your own garden, you must be careful of the tiny bugs hidden within them. They can crawl or drop out of your fresh flowers and get into the food on your table, creating a real problem. Flowers from stores have been treated so this is not an issue.)
First, though, let me share with you my main challah recipe. I teach it everywhere I go and it’s B”H easy to do and quite good. Yes, you can do it with whole wheat – you just may need a bit more water. The amount I am including here is enough to be mafrish challah with a bracha. If that is hard for you to do, you can divide the recipe in half. (Or use the link at the end of this article for my free Top Seven Challah Tips plus the one loaf of challah recipe.)
Yes, you can do all the ideas in this article with your own fav challah recipe. Yes, this can all be done in advance and frozen until the day of use.
Tamar Ansh’s Incredible Challah Dough
This amount of dough is enough to make a blessing for hafrashas challah
- 1 cup (230 ml.) oil, divided
- 1 to 1 and 1/2 cups (315 grams) white or light brown sugar
- 2 cups (460 ml.) boiling water
- 2 cups (460 ml.) room temperature water
- 2 tablespoons dry yeast/ 50 grams (2 oz.) fresh yeast
- 16 to 17 cups / 2.25 kilos (5 lbs.) sifted white flour
- 2 eggs
- 2 tablespoons salt
Extra: Additional water on the side if you need it later
Place the ingredients in your bowl in the order listed. Start to knead using your mixer, or, if doing this by hand, in a large bowl. Once the mixture turns into a dough, knead for 10 to 12 minutes. If the dough is too dry, add a bit more water and oil; if it is too wet add a bit more oil and flour. This is crucial to getting your best challah dough. The finished dough should be smooth and nice to the touch, but still a little bit sticky. Cover the dough with plastic; let the dough rest for 10 minutes. Knead again for another three to four more minutes.
Note: This method can be done equally well by kneading the dough by hand if you have no mixer.
In the meantime, do hafrashas challah now, as soon as your dough has been prepared.
This mitzvah is very holy and considered an auspicious time for supplications, so give yourself time to really pray at this special opportune moment.
After you’ve finished with the hafrasha, place the dough inside a large bag to rise until doubled in bulk, about an hour and a half to two hours. And then – punch it down and you are ready to shape!
Back to our Shavous challah rolls.
1. Shavous Mini-Flower Bud How-To
To make these pretty little flower bud shapes, all you need is a knife to cut your dough and a rolling pin.
Step one: Line your baking tray with parchment paper. Cut off pieces of dough that are 3.5 to 3.8 ounces (100 to 110 grams) in size. (Yes, I do use a gram scale. This way my challahs are exact.)
Step two: Roll out each piece of dough with your rolling pin so it is flat. Then roll it up like a small jelly roll. I do 10 at a time. If the dough sticks to you or the table, grease your hands lightly with a bit of oil.
Step three: Roll out each log as long as possible. Holding it up from one end, bring the other end to its middle like a number 9. With the part of the dough that is still hanging down as a tail, pull it in and out of the hole until all the dough is used up. The last bit of that tail should come through the hole and stick upwards. This is the “bulb,” so to speak, of the flower.
Step four: Leave them to rise for 35 minutes. Brush with a beaten egg and then sprinkle on seeds of choice. To make it more interesting, I used poppy seeds, black sesame seeds, white sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, and ground oats. Any kind of topping works. The more toppings you choose, the more different kinds of flowers you will have!
Step five: Bake your challahs at 375 degrees Fahrenheit (190 degrees Celsius); small rolls for 15–20 minutes. Let them cool on a wire rack and freeze until the day you want to use them. Arrange them around the base of your flower bouquets, add in some different baby’s breaths and voila, you have gorgeous Shavous themed challah flowers!
Now for our second idea, our…
2. Flower ‘n Leaves Challah Arrangement How-To
What you’ll need…
- 5 pieces of dough at 3.8 ounces (110 grams) each
- 1 piece of dough at 3.5 ounces (100 grams)
- Various smaller pieces of dough (about 10) at about 1 ounce (28 grams) each for the leaves and little balls
- Large flat baking tray lined with parchment paper
- Green leaves
Step one: Roll out the first 5 pieces of dough into simple snail shapes. Just roll them out into rolls, then roll them up as a snail. Lay them in the center of your baking tray in a roundish shape, barely touching each other (as they will rise and grow together anyhow and you need to leave some room for this.)
Step two: Roll out the center piece of dough, the one of 3.5 ounces, as either a small flower shape listed in the other challah idea above, or just another snail.
Step three: In the holes that remain in the center of this “arrangement,” put small round pieces of dough. These connect the whole arrangement and make it look good.
Step four: Take the last five small pieces of dough and flatten them in a sort of oval. Pinch them together in its center and elongate one end of it so it forms a sort of point and basically resembles a leaf. Place these in between the “flowers” at the perimeter of the challah, as soon in the photo.
Step five: Cover the flower challah arrangement loosely with a piece of plastic and let it rise for 45 minutes. Heat your oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit / 190 degrees Celsius.
Step six: Brush the risen challah with egg wash. Choose if you do or do not want to sprinkle seeds on the different flowers. I liked how it looked with only the center roll sprinkled with seeds and the rest left as just golden flowers.
Step seven: Slide the tray into the oven and bake until the challah is firm and golden brown on both the top and bottom, about 24 to 29 minutes. (YES, I do time things exactly!) And YES, you do have to check it to make sure it’s done as every oven works slightly differently.
Step eight: Let your challah cool down on the tray so it will not break. Freeze until solid and then you can remove it to a large freezer bag until Shavous. Decorate with leaves you set aside for this use before yuntif comes in and lay it on your challah tray.
In fact, the pieces do “pull apart” very nicely as well!
With best wishes for a beautiful Chag Matan Torah, and Kabbalas HaTorah for all Klal Yisrael,
Want to snag Tamar’s 7 Top Challah Secrets? Grab them right here! (Shhh, that link’s also got bonus recipes, too!)
Tamar Ansh is an international expert on challah and the author of seven books, including her bestseller, A Taste of Challah. Tamar runs the Jerusalem Challah Experience with customized challah performances for all ages. Think: tour groups, women’s and youth groups, neshei’s, bat mitzvahs and family events – both live, in person as well as on Zoom, internationally – with an inside look at the mitzvah of challah, why it is such an uplifting experience, hands-on challah braiding, tips, and tons of fun extras! She’s also been a food columnist for Mishpacha, the Jewish Press, the OU, and Hamodia. To book an event contact her here.
In her professional writing career, Tamar is a trained editor & copywriter, specializing in email marketing and content strategy.