What you knead to know about the Great Big Challah Bake 2022

Tehilla and Elisheva Raskas make challah dough during the Great Big Challah Bake of St. Louis on Nov. 10 at the Clayton Plaza Hotel. The event drew close to 500 people. Photo: Kristi Foster

Tehilla and Elisheva Raskas make challah dough during the Great Big Challah Bake of St. Louis on Nov. 10 at the Clayton Plaza Hotel. The event drew close to 500 people. Photo: Kristi Foster

Jordan Palmer, Chief Digital Content Officer

Shabbat has long been an occasion to reconnect with ourselves, our families and our community. And nothing embodies the Shabbat table more than delicious fresh baked challah.

Baking challah can be an occasion as well. And that’s exactly the premise behind the Great Big Challah Bake  — making challah baking an occasion to join with family, friends and our community to create the festive bread.

Local challah baking expert Giti Fredman, the owner of Just Bake It!, is the new organizer and is no stranger to putting together events like this. In 2017, she went to work for the Jewish Federation of Minneapolis where she organized the “The Great Big Challah Bake,” as part of “The Global Shabbat Project.”

The Global Shabbat Project and the St. Louis Challah bake

The Shabbat Project is a global, grassroots movement that has united more than one million Jews from around the globe. The Shabbat Project was founded by Rabbi Warren Goldstein, the chief rabbi of South Africa. Goldstein also happens to be the nephew of Rene Price, who along with Barbara Strashun successfully ran the St. Louis challah bake for many years.

“They are ready to pass on the torch and since I ran the bake in Minneapolis for four years it seemed like a natural fit for me to take this on,” said Fredman. “People are ready to gather again and what better way than this?”

What to expect

The event will begin with everyone kneading their dough while the dough rises there will be socializing and dancing.

“We will then say the blessing of separating the challah and then everyone will learn braiding techniques,” said Fredman. “Everyone will go home with two loaves to bake in their home oven.  We challenge them to save them for Shabbat! They will smell amazing.”

“The Great Big Challa Bake” is just what it sounds like, big, with up to 500 people attending and baking challah together.

Women and girls ages 8+ are invited to join Fredman in fulfilling the mitzvah of baking challah together at the Jewish Community Center near Creve Coeur on Nov. 2 from 7 to 9 p.m. Registration is required. Adults $36; students $18.

The Jewishness of challah

Date-stuffed challah

Three braids symbolize truth, peace, and justice. Twelve humps from two small or one large-braided bread recall the miracle of the 12 loaves for the 12 tribes of Israel.

Round loaves, where there is no beginning and no end, are baked for Rosh Hashanah to symbolize continuity.

Ladder and hand shapes are served at the meal before the fast of Yom Kippur, the ladder signifying that we should ascend to great heights, the hand that we may be inscribed for a good year.

Learning and loving to bake 

Fredman learned to bake at an early age. She grew up in a close-knit Hungarian Jewish family that was big on making meals together. Her paternal grandmother showed her the art of baking, and she soon discovered she was a natural.

“I would make my own birthday cakes and bake for my family during the holidays,” remembers Fredman. “I took two classes, one in elementary school and then again in high school. The rest I figured out on my own.

In 2001, she got married and lived in Israel with her husband. There were limited job options for non-Hebrew-speaking workers, so she began baking and started a small delivery business, focusing on a clientele of families with kids going to school in Israel and selling, what she describes as boutique baked goods.

This is when Fredman found her love for baking.

“It never ceases to amaze me how we can take ordinary ingredients, and with little effort, combine and mix and create food. And like art, those same ingredients can be used to create something else entirely different,” says Fredman.

For her, the act of baking and the processes it includes such as kneading dough is therapeutic.

“When I knead the dough, and incorporate ingredients, something magical happens. I find a kind of spiritualness in it,” says Fredman.

But, she also discovered was really bad at making challah.

The art of baking challah

Diane Packman’s mini round challahs. Photo: Michael Sherwin

Challah is very similar to bread, but there are some key differences. Classic bread is flour, water, yeast, and salt. Challah is all those things but is enriched with eggs, oil, and sugar.

“The key to baking challah is patience and time, in three stages,” said Fredman.

The first step is to proof the yeast, which means you’re testing its vitality to make sure it’s vigorous enough to make dough rise. Next, the first rise.

“The third step is what we call the second rise,” says Fredman. “We braid the challah, and when you do this a lot of gas comes out when you’re creating your strands. Getting rid of the air allows the yeast to do its job. This cannot be rushed, and the time makes for great conversation and sharing.”

Challah is on the move

By 2008, Fredman’s now family of five relocated to Seattle, where ironically she found a new calling after discovering the city had no good places to buy good challah.

“I stopped making baked goods, as it became work and I lost the joy. I decided to dedicate myself to making challah,” says Fredman. “Bread is more forgiving, and I soon developed a reputation as the ‘Challah Lady.’”

Over the next four years, Fredman discovered not only how to bake delicious challah, but the power of the group bake. Her joy of finding that spiritualness was contagious, as more and more people who joined her told her they found their own connections to their faith, their inner-selves, and their communities.

In 2012, the family moved to Minnesota, where Fredman and her husband David were hired by Aish Minnesota. It was during this time, that she began hosting small challah bakes, which grew very popular.

In 2017, she went to work for the Jewish Federation of Minneapolis where she organized the “The Great Big Challa Bake,” as part of “The Global Shabbat Project.” “The Great Big Challa Bake” was just that, big, with more than 400 people attending and baking challah together.

It was during this experience that Fredman became convinced there was more to the group baking experience. She even conceived of the idea of turning her group bakes into a small business. “Bonding with Bread” was to focus on team-building exercises. She even had a catchy tagline, “Your team kneads it,” but sadly the business never got underway.

Baking in St. Louis

In August of 2021 the family once again relocated, this time to Chesterfield where Fredman’s husband grew up. Not willing to give up on her belief in the power of challah, she decided to get serious about starting her business and thus began Just Bake It!

“But, Just Bake It! is for everyone, not just for corporate bonding,” said Fredman.

Fredman has now opened her kitchen to everyone with Just Bake It! now bringing these powerful moments to even more people.

“At a time when many of us feel more remote and disconnected than ever, I want to bring people together and bake delicious memories,” wrote Fredman on her website. “Whether it is a corporate event, a family fun night, a team-building experience, or a group celebration, you decide on the guest list and Just Bake It! does the rest.”

Now, she’s offering online and in-person bread-baking workshops that include kosher baking kits of challah (regular or pretzel), babka, bagels or cinnamon buns. Customers of all ages, religions, and from all over the world are finding Fredman as the challah phenomenon continues to spread.