Jason Fortunato ’17 and Reina Weinstock ’17 are computer science majors who love to bake, which drew them to Hamilton’s Challah for Hunger, a campus chapter of a national anti-hunger organization. The classmates, who run the volunteer group with a third student, are nontraditionalists when it comes to challah. They regularly create new flavors: chocolate, pesto, raspberry French toast and focaccia are among their successes.
The little braided loaves sell out fast at $3 a pop. Last year their bread brought in roughly $1,700 for national Challah for Hunger. Still, as in any creative venture, an occasional flop is unavoidable. Coffee-flavored challah was a bad idea. The coffee extract made the bread taste like alcohol, and a dash of brewed coffee didn’t seem to help. The end product was bitter and didn’t look so great. “It was like a grayish, purple brown,” Fortunato says. “Not even a dark brown,” Weinstock adds.
They put in a lot of time in the kitchen, mixing the dough on Saturday, punching it down, grabbing lunch as it rises for an hour, then punching it down again to let it rise over night. They are back at it Sunday for four hours, with help from other volunteers, braiding the dough into as many as 56 single-serving loaves and baking them in the big ovens in the basement of Commons dining hall.
Sunday night, over in the Kirner-Johnson atrium, students put down their laptops to queue up about 20 minutes before the bread goes on sale at 8 p.m., some angling for preferential status. “People don’t get too mad when we say, ‘Just go wait in line,’” Fortunato says. Stragglers go away hungry. The bread is usually gone by 8:05 p.m.