All You Knead...

It’s 4:30 p.m. on Thursday and we are closely packed in the back kitchen of Brown University’s Hillel. We are also ready for some challah. Sam is our leader, but it might be more appropriate to call him our suggester. A senior at Brown, he stands at the helm of one of the kitchen’s two metal tables and offers instructions for this simple challah recipe off the cuff.

“Just mix it all together.” “Did this batch get salt yet?” “You can eyeball it.”

To the casual observer it might appear that he is writing the recipe on the fly. That he’s just fooling around with these techniques for the first time. Only he’s not. The challah comes out perfectly. And it’s come out perfectly every Thursday for the past two years.

Emerson Tenney


Sam joined Brown University’s branch of Challah For Hunger as a sophomore and has been seriously bringing it in the bread department ever since. Challah for Hunger is a national non-profit that seeks to bring people together to bake and sell challah in an effort to raise money and awareness for social justice causes. Every Friday between 12 and 2 p.m., the loaves are sold in Brown University’s Blue Room Café for $5 per loaf. The profits go towards charities for hunger relief, both in the Providence community and across the country.

I’d walked by the Challah For Hunger table many a Friday. Sometimes I’d buy a loaf; often I’d pilfer a handful of samples and go about my day. As an outsider to the challah-making community, I always assumed that the primary purpose of the organization was to raise funds. However, after enough sample-stealing sprees, I got to know Sam—the man behind the table. Maybe it was his friendly banter or the fact that he never seemed to judge me for eating all their samples without buying a loaf, but Sam just seemed like the kind of guy who would be fun to cook with. So I asked him if I could tag along for one of the challah bakes and write about it for Spoon. I had a whole pitch: “It would be great exposure for Challah For Hunger, Spoon University has thousands of readers, I love to make bread…” I was halfway through my spiel when Sam cut me off and smiled, “Of course you can. Everyone’s welcome to come bake with us.”

In The Kitchen

So the next Thursday afternoon I found myself walking into Hillel’s cramped kitchen. The air was rich with the smell of yeast and roasting chicken, which was being prepared for Shabbat dinner the next day. Before I could take my jacket off I was handed a silver bowl and a spoon and told to start mixing.

As we measured, and mixed, and braided, I was struck by the true importance of the Challah For Hunger organization…. It wasn’t about the funds. It wasn’t even really about the bread we were baking or the simple challah recipe that guided us. It was about taking two hours out of your day to create community.

Emerson Tenney

There is something incredibly meditative about making bread. It can be a time to be alone with your thoughts or it can be the time in your day that you gather with those close to you and reflect. I hope this simple challah recipe can bring you peace, community, and the space to create as well.

The Recipe

*Recipe Note: This recipe is for plain white or whole-wheat challah. You can spice up your challah by adding a variety of toppings including but not limited to: Chocolate chips, goat cheese and pesto, or shredded mozzarella and tomato sauce. These ingredients should be added on top of the braided loaf or incorporated into the braids themselves before baking. 


2 ½ cups warm (but not hot) water

½ cup canola oil

¾ cup white sugar

1 tbsp yeast (this is a lot for a traditional bread recipe, but the added yeast allows for a shorter rise time)

1 tsp salt

6 cups of flour (I prefer whole wheat, but all purpose white works just as well)

Makes 4 loaves (because challah is better shared!)


Preheat the oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit.

Making the Dough:

1. Combine all ingredients in large mixing bowl and stir with a metal spoon until well combined and smooth.

2. Transfer dough from bowl to a dry, clean surface that has been dusted with flour.

3. Knead the dough (adding flour if it sticks to the surface) until it forms a round, smooth loaf. This should take about 5 to 8 minutes of kneading.

4. Place dough back into bowl and cover surface with a thin film of canola oil to prevent it from drying out while it proves.

5. Let the dough rise for 20 minutes.

Emerson Tenney

Shaping the Challah:

1. Remove risen dough from bowl and place on clean, dry surface.

2. Cut dough into 8 equal pieces using a large kitchen knife.

3. Roll each piece out into cylindrical strands.

4. Take two strands and twist them together. Then turn the double strands around themselves in a circle.

5. Repeat with the remaining 6 pieces of dough. You should end up with 4 round loaves of challah.

6. Bake the loaves for 23 minutes, until they are golden brown on the top but still slightly soft on the sides.

7. Remove from oven and enjoy!

Challah can be stored in an airtight container for up to one week.

Emerson Tenney