Challah Biz On The Rise


Ten thousand dollars to bake challah? That’s a lot of dough.

But Birthright Israel/NEXT and the philanthropic group Natan thought Johanna Bronk’s idea was the greatest thing since sliced bread — so the 23-year-old Brooklynite got the funding to support her challah-baking initiative, A Kneaded Twist.

Inspired by CSAs — community supported agriculture, where consumers buy shares of seasonal produce from a local farmer — Bronk sells shares of kosher organic challah.

For a monthly fee — prices range from $30 to $78 — participants get one to three challahs a week, available in vegan, spelt or the traditional egg challah variety. All the ingredients — flour, eggs and honey — come from farms in Lancaster County, Pa.

Every Thursday, Bronk will allot six hours to bake the braided loaves with an assistant. The funding allows her to rent space from a commercial kitchen, Olga’s on Smith, in the Carroll Gardens section of Brooklyn.

The Birthright NEXT grants are intended to help young Jewish adults foster a communal connection among their peers — and what better place to do that than the dining room table?

“Challah is such an icon in Judaism, and eating dinner together is something a lot of people don’t do so regularly in the modern era,” said Bronk, who sings opera and teaches Hebrew school when she’s not baking.

“It’s a really great entryway into encouraging people who don’t already celebrate Shabbat regularly to put a little bit of special time aside — to sit down, have challah, and commemorate what it is to celebrate Shabbat.”

CSAs have grown in popularity in the Jewish community, fostered by the environmental group Hazon, which started the first Jewish CSA project six years ago at Congregation Ansche Chesed, on Manhattan’s Upper West Side.

There are 41 participants in the Hazon CSA program this year, with 11 of those CSAs in New York and New Jersey. Synagogues serve as the pick-up point for the produce — among them, Congregation Sons of Israel in Briarcliff Manor; the Reconstructionist Synagogue of the North Shore in Manhasset; and several locations in Manhattan, including the Upper West Side’s Congregation B’nai Jeshurun and Ansche Chesed, which sold 100 full vegetable shares last year.

Brooklyn has also nourished several CSAs, and a new one is getting underway at Congregation Mount Sinai in Brooklyn Heights this year.

Bronk was inspired to start A Kneaded Twist after spending a summer as an Adamah Fellow at the Isabella Freedman Jewish Retreat Center in Falls Village, Conn.

Through the fellowship, Bronk worked the land and learned about practical farming techniques, the history of Judaism and agriculture, and “the new and booming Jewish food movement.”

She also started baking her own vegan challah — and soon decided to turn professional.

Her advice to the amateur baker?

“My tip is to not let the dough rise too much, because when that happens, the consistency becomes less elastic,” Bronk said.

“I get a better consistency by doing one quick rise for an hour, punching it down, braiding and putting it in the oven.”

Bronk said she’ll be serving about a hundred customers — a major increase from the handful of people she’d already been baking for on her Prospect-Lefferts Gardens block.

New members are encouraged to sign up for challah shares, which they can pick up at the Park Slope Jewish Center on Friday mornings. The challah is certified by OK Kashrut Supervision; while the bread is not certified organic, all the ingredients used are.

With the CSA model, Bronk said she gets a “long-term investment” from members.

“Not only is it good for the business, but it also really ties in community,” she said.

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