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.”