Herby's Bake Shop Secret Challah Recipe Cracked!

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[Note: I am reposting this blog post due to the postscript added below]

Anyone who has spent a Shabbat in the Jerusalem area has very possibly experienced the bliss of sinking his teeth into a Challah (bread baked for the Sabbath) from Herby's Bake Shop, located in my home town Bet El.

The recipe is obviously a trademark secret, but read on.

I am currently visiting in my former home town Memphis and coming out of the Anshei Sephard synagogue this morning, I sparked up conversation with longtime Memphians Phillip Evans and Rick Baer. When Phillip heard that I am from Bet El, he started telling tales about Herby, the master Challah Baker also from Memphis. I share with you these brief anecdotes because they reveal the struggle of a young Jew determined to guard Jewish tradition in a hic town in the 1960's, and they also reveal a lead towards the much-sought-after culinary code of the challahs.

herby.jpgHerby carefully guards the challahs from the camera's eye lest the secret be revealed

Phillip and Herby studied together at University of Tennessee in Knoxville, a town that has about as many Jews as a small bowling alley has bowling balls. Back in those days, it was against university protocol to have any type of stove in the dorms, but Herby, being the only Kashrut stringent student, struggled to get special privileges to have a closet where he could keep a hot plate and some kosher food.

It was difficult, but he was willing to do whatever it takes to learn at university and keep kosher.

When Shabbat came around, Herby wanted to get to synagogue, but the house of prayer was a hefty 3.5 miles away! And so, Herby would often walk the walk, in order to attend services.

And now, ladies and gentlemen, we take a leap closer to the secret. There was only one family that was really shomer Shabbat (observant of the laws of Shabbat) in town, and the two students would occasionally be invited to their home for a meal. The family, the Goodsteins, served a mean challah, home-baked by the Mrs.

In this little hic hub, in the only religious home, history was made: Herby asked for the recipe from Mrs. Goodstein and began baking his own challahs.

Upon his return to Memphis, friends and neighbors at his Mom's home expressed interest in the delicious challahs, and Herby's Mom's kitchen became a makeshift bakery to supply the demand.

When Herby finished college and the challah orders were increasing, he soon placed his law degree on a back burner and became a Baker at Law, opening a shop on Bethel street in Memphis.

In the late 1980's after Herby had made aliyah, I went to his son's bris in the absorption center in Mevasseret Zion, just outside of Jerusalem, where Herby's family had been absorbed. They were looking for where to take up permanent residence, and I invited them to check out Bet El, enthusiastically telling about the fine town folk there.

The Herby Dan family indeed moved the Bet El, and the Goodstein challahs found a new venue for dissemination until this day.

I have never met or even heard about Mrs. Goodstein until this morning, but anyone who takes the trouble to track her down and copy the challah recipe, will own a document that could be auctioned on eBay for millions. In the meantime, check out Herby's site: http://www.herbysbakeshop.com

Now when Herby reads this article, I will post his confirmation or denial of the above tales right below, so:

Y'all come back now!

Good luck and Shabbat Shalom!

Postscript
Well ladies and gentlemen, about a year after writing the above article, Herby celebrated the wedding of his daughter Peninit last night, and I had the honor of attending. Lo and behold, at my table was an elderly couple who made Aliyah 7 years ago: Mr. and Mrs. Goodstein.

So I got the history-making recipe from Mrs. Goodstein (delivered in a sweet, southern accent) and present it to y'all at no charge. 
IMG_4336_1_.JPG
Baruch writing down the famous Knoxville, Tennessee
Challah recipe from Mrs. Goodstein 
Just know that this is only a start in cracking Herby's recipe as Herby says that he has modified it over the years and, of course, added other challah doughs such as whole wheat and others.

Mrs. Goodstein's Knoxville, Tennessee Challah
Ingredients:
2 Kg. flour
9 eggs
cup of sugar
3 heaping teaspoons of salt
3 tablespoons of yeast
2-3 cups of water
Mix it all together (except for a quarter cup of egg which we'll need later to paint on the challah). Let it rise for about an hour until it's twice the bulk.

Divide into 6 balls. Divide each ball into 4 and roll each quarter into strips. Weave 4 strips together into one challah and place in a 5" x 9" loaf pan.

In the pan, let it rise again for about an hour. Paint with the quarter cup of egg that's left over. Sprinkle with poppy seed or sesame.

Bake at 350 degrees F for 20-25 minutes until the challahs are nice and brown. Then take 'em out of the pan and place 'em on a rack.

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  • commented 2014-03-06 06:24:29 -0500
    You only have half of the story of the Challah recipe. When Joe first married Marion, the family received fresh baked Challahs from Joe’s mother Clara Goodstein of blessed memory. Joe asked Marion if she would bake challahs like his mother. Marion tried but couldn’t produce a challah like his mother’s. Finally Joe took off from his architectural work to watch his mother bake challah. She would grab a hand full of this and pinch of that, he had to stop her at each step and measure what his mother was adding to the mix, not just letting her do what she had done for decades by just feel and measure of the eye. Joe gave Marion the measurements, ingredients and steps his mother used. Marion preceded to use and improve on that Friday Afternoons recipe to the point that she surpassed her mother-in-law. How do I know this story? I came after Herby Dan as a young single engineer working for Tennessee Valley Authority in Knoxville in the Late 70’s through the Mid-80’s at the Goodstein’s Shabbos Table. Roy Rosenfeld Chattanooga, Tennessee