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Kids in the Kitchen

The Chabad Jewish Center of Petaluma presents kosher cooking classes that foster discovery and creativity, open to children of all faiths 5 and older. Classes meet from 3:30 to 5 p.m. and include a cooking or baking lesson, an activity and snacks. Each class is $10 per child or $15 for two children.

Monday, March 14 — Hamantash Bake

Monday, April 11 — Matzah Ball Soup

Monday, May 9 — Falafel

Monday, June 6 — Dairy Delights

For reservations, call (707) 559-8585 or visit JewishPetaluma.com/kitchen.


An enthusiastic group of children got permission to do some serious punching on a recent afternoon, all in the spirit of creativity and culinary best practices.

Devorah Bush of the Chabad Jewish Center of Petaluma asked for some “strong muscles” as she directed the first in a series of six kosher cooking classes for kids.

As her young students happily flexed their muscles, they took turns punching down the dough they prepared for challah, a braided white bread traditionally served for Jewish celebrations and religious observances, including Shabbat (Day of Rest) dinners.

“This is kind of hard,” said 6-year-old Matthew Lindeman of Petaluma, who attended the class with his 10-year-old sister, Kaitlyn.

The siblings are not Jewish and had never made — or even eaten — challah before. Their mom, Shannon Lindeman, was among those who wanted to provide a new experience and expose the children to a diversity of foods, cultures and traditions.

The “Challah Bake” was the first “Kids in the Kitchen” monthly sessions designed for children by Bush, 28, and her husband, Rabbi Dovid Bush, 31, as a way to celebrate Judaism and introduce children to culinary skills in a fun, hands-on way. The second class, “Bourekas,” focused on making appetizers from packaged pastry dough, one variety with mashed potatoes, another with spinach. Four more are planned this spring.

To the surprise of the young cooks, even the spinach bourekas were as tasty as those stuffed with mashed potatoes.

After cutting four-inch squares from dough lightly scored in advance, the children folded and filled the appetizers, completing them with an egg wash and a sprinkling of sesame seeds.

“They’re actually not very complicated at all,” said Devorah Bush. “The kids really did everything on their own.”

After a bake time of 15 to 20 minutes, the golden, puffy appetizers were tough to resist.

“The kids were inhaling them,” Bush said.

The Bushs moved from Boston to Petaluma last fall to establish the Jewish center offering educational, social and cultural programs. Chabad is the largest Jewish outreach organization in the world; the kosher cooking series is among the many programs the couple has introduced.

Challah (pronounced “hall-ah”) seemed a natural start to the culinary series because it is both fun to make and tasty, with a “crunchy outside and smooth, soft inner part,” Bush said.

“There’s actually whole cookbooks for making challah and braiding,” she said.

Bush, the mother of four young children and the oldest of eight siblings, has been cooking and baking since her childhood. She prefers a challah recipe without eggs and sweetened with sugar, a winning combination when kids are in the kitchen.

“Inevitably they sneak some of the dough to taste,” she said. With her recipe, there’s no worry about kids eating raw eggs.

After taking turns measuring ingredients and stirring and kneading the dough (while wearing clear pastry gloves), the 11 participants at the “Challah Bake” got an opportunity to roll out snakes for braiding and knotting into personal-sized challah.

“It’s like Play-Doh,” said 4-year-old Trenton Ranjbar of Cotati, who attended the class with his twin brother, Kyle, and their big brother, Aaron, 6. Their grandfather, Jonathan Cohen of Rohnert Park, offered encouragement throughout the process.

“They’ve never made challah before, but they’ve eaten it,” Cohen said. “I’ve eaten it a lot.”

Kids in the Kitchen

The Chabad Jewish Center of Petaluma presents kosher cooking classes that foster discovery and creativity, open to children of all faiths 5 and older. Classes meet from 3:30 to 5 p.m. and include a cooking or baking lesson, an activity and snacks. Each class is $10 per child or $15 for two children.

Monday, March 14 — Hamantash Bake

Monday, April 11 — Matzah Ball Soup

Monday, May 9 — Falafel

Monday, June 6 — Dairy Delights

For reservations, call (707) 559-8585 or visit JewishPetaluma.com/kitchen.

Cohen was grateful for the boys’ opportunity to learn a basic kosher recipe. The family is Jewish, and challah loaves have long been a part of their religious traditions.

“It’s good to get experience in their background,” Cohen said.

The Bushs planned popular and traditional recipes often used in Jewish celebrations. Each follows kosher practices, never using or eating both dairy and meat or chicken at the same time. Most of the foods originate in European countries like Poland, Russia and Hungary or Middle Eastern nations, with kosher adaptations.

Each program in the series is kid-friendly, fun and designed for children’s taste buds.

“They’re really easy for kids to do on their own,” Bush said. “That was the idea we were trying to get to.”

At the “Challah Bake,” children made rolls and small loaves about five inches in length; traditional challah is about the size of a standard loaf of bread, often topped with seeds. For Jewish celebrations like bar mitzvahs and bat mitzvahs, loaves can be “grand,” double or triple in size or even larger.

“There’s really not any significance to that. It’s just celebratory,” Bush said.

Braiding is typically done with three intertwined lengths of dough, but Bush has woven braids with four and even six lengths.

She planned ahead for the 90-minute kids’ class, preparing dough earlier so the children wouldn’t have to wait for theirs to rise. Like magic, the kids were able to turn a bowl overflowing with puffy dough into their very own mini-loaves and rolls.

After braiding three snakes and gently knotting another into a roll, each young baker brushed the bread with an egg wash and headed to the “Toppings Bar” to add finishing touches like chocolate chips, colorful sprinkles and a blend of sugar and cinnamon.

While waiting for their challah to bake, the children prepared a simple and aromatic warm pumpkin dip and decorated traditional cloth challah covers that keep the bread fresh. Bush found the pumpkin recipe on a blog she especially likes, Busy in Brooklyn.

Once the lightly browned challah emerged from the oven, both kids and adults were impressed.

“It’s not just food. This is art,” said Dolores Roberts of Petaluma as she admired the breads made by her children, Colby, 5, and Olivia, 12.

“Enjoy that yummy challah,” Bush said as her students carried out their pastry boxes tied with red and white twine. “It’s food for everyone.”

The next program in the “Kids in the Kitchen” series will be a “Hamantash Bake,” with children preparing the classic Hamantaschen cookie served during the Jewish holiday of Purim, which commemorates the saving of Jewish people from Haman in the ancient Persian Empire.

The filled cookies will be stuffed with favorites like chocolate or jam, their triangular shape mocking the hat worn by Haman.

Bush is planning another “Challah Bake” class in the coming months, this one for adults. Check the Chabad Jewish Center of Petaluma Facebook page for details at facebook.com/JewishPetaluma or visit JewishPetaluma.com.

___

Devorah Bush’s challah recipe makes enough dough for 3 loaves.

Challah

1 tablespoon yeast

2/3 cup sugar

2 cups warm water

¼ cup oil

2 tablespoons salt

6 cups flour

Mix yeast, sugar and water in a bowl, wait until it foams. Add oil, salt and flour.

Mix and knead until dough is smooth, not sticky. Cover dough and let rise for 1 hour.

Place dough on floured surface (if dough is sticky, mix in more flour). Divide into three equal balls, then divide each ball into three strips for braiding. Roll them into snakes.

Braid your challahs. Brush with egg, add toppings as desired.

Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes or until golden brown.

___

Pumpkin Dip

1 15-ounce can pumpkin (not pumpkin pie filling)

1/4 cup packed dark brown sugar

3 tablespoons maple syrup

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon ginger

1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

— Pinch of cloves

— Pinch of sea salt

Add all the ingredients to a pot and simmer for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Variation: Use roasted butternut squash instead of pumpkin.

Recipe from busyinbrooklyn.com.

___

Bourekas

4 potatoes

2 onions

3 eggs

— Frozen spinach

— Soy milk

— Puff pastry sheet

— Salt and pepper

— Sesame seeds

Peel potatoes. Boil in water until soft, drain and mash. Let cool completely.

To prepare the potato filling, mix cooled mashed potatoes with 1 egg, some soy milk, salt and pepper. Add 1 onion, sautéed.

To prepare the spinach filling, sauté the spinach and 1 onion. When cool, add 1 egg, salt and pepper.

Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper. Cut puff pastry into 4-inch squares. Place a heaping tablespoon of either filling in each square. Fold in half diagonally to form triangular pastries. With a fork, pinch the edges together to seal the filling inside.

Brush tops of borekas with beaten egg. Sprinkle sesame seeds on top. Bake in a preheated oven at 400 degrees for 20 minutes or until golden.

Dianne Reber Hart is a Sonoma-based freelance writer.