Baking challah at the M.V. Hebrew Center

Baking challah at the M.V. Hebrew Center

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Measuring and mixing, workshop participants turned the back porch of the Hebrew Center into a bakery Friday morning. — File photo by Susan Safford

What do you get when you combine 26 women, many of them novice bakers and all of them toting large bowls and all manner of mixing and measuring implements, in a confined space with a celebrity cookbook writer who’s running a workshop to benefit the M.V. Hebrew Center?

Why… challah, of course.

Challah is a light, lovely bread made with eggs, flour, water, and sugar. Strands of dough are braided before cooking, giving the bread its distinctive shape. Sounds simple enough, right?

Well not quite, judging by the racket at the Hebrew Center last Friday morning. Chatter, clatter, laughter, and questions filled the air in equal measure, making it hard for many of the novice bakers to hear themselves think. For Joan Nathan, who led the workshop, it was hard to make herself heard at times. At one point she said under her breath, “They’ve asked me how much salt at least eight times.”

A member of the center who lives in Chilmark and Washington, D.C., Ms. Nathan has written ten cookbooks, mostly about Jewish cooking, including “The New American Cooking” (2005), which was for sale at the event, thanks to a cooperative venture with the Bunch of Grapes bookstore. Her latest book, “Quiches, Kugels, and Couscous, My Search for Jewish Cooking in France” is due out in November.

Enthusiasm ran deep among the prospective bakers, laced with a dash of confusion now and again. One woman mentioned that her husband had just died, and that she needed something new to turn her attention to.

“It sounded like fun,” said Donna Foster, who said her usual job in the kitchen was cleaning up. “My goal is to learn more about cooking.”

Last year, the workshop was held at the West Tisbury home of Judith Birsh. “There were 25 women,” Ms. Birsh recalled, “Then someone came by to play tennis. And I said all we need is a social director and we’d have Grossinger’s,” she added, referring to the once-renowned resort in the Catskills.

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