Olympia - On a rainy Sunday afternoon in a back room of Temple Beth Hatfiloh a door was ominously marked with the words: "Judge's chambers, please do not enter." Inside, three hungry judges weighed the pros and cons of 19 varieties of challah, a traditional Jewish bread.
They poked, sniffed, ripped and filled their bellies with the braided egg bread as part of the 23rd annual Blintzapalooza, a day synonymous with blintzes and bagels, buying used books, giving back to the community and bringing in baked goods for a little good-humored judging.
Organizers expected about 1,500 people to walk through the doors Sunday. Last year, there were 10,000 blintzes eaten and 5,000 books sold.
The judges voted on the appearance, taste, texture and “subjective intangibles” of the breads.
They inspected the braiding on the bread and commented on its moistness and the ability to take you back to times when grandma pulled a fresh loaf out of the oven.
Jen Estroff, chair of the Washington State Jewish Democratic caucus, said “pullability” was an important aspect.
However, it was state Rep. Marcie Maxwell, D-Renton, who showed the other judges proper technique.
“Oh, come on, you guys,” she said before grabbing a challah loaf with both hands and ripping off a large chunk.
Throughout the process, the judges provided notable nicknames to several of the dishes: Challah on steroids, a whole lotta challah and “Moses challah,” which came in a wood basket covered in a blanket.
After taking a bite out of the Moses challah, Estroff had only one comment about
the bread’s less-than-appetizing texture.
“If your teeth were really long and you needed to file them down, you could chew on this for a while,” she said.
Other challah dishes didn’t receive as much ribbing.
Maxwell said she was “pleasantly surprised” by the vegan option that used bananas instead of eggs. The vegan dish won in the non-traditional category, beating out breads topped with chocolate, cinnamon and frosting.
And while the taste buds of those in attendance were definitely tantalized, the event’s focus was on those in need, said Oscar Soule, committee member for the event.
All profits from book and food sales are donated to local charities. This year’s primary beneficiaries are the Crisis Clinic, Out of the Woods Shelter, Pizza Klatch and Interfaith Works but there are many more, said Brian Boyd, president of the congregation.
“It’s just a rough year,” Boyd said, noting the unprecedented number of requests for help the temple has recently received.
With a stack of books in one hand and a bag of frozen blintzes in the other, Stephen Bray said he’s been coming to Blintzapalooza for years. He decided to take his blintzes to go, saying the crowd, while encouraging, isn’t quite his scene.
As for the cheese-filled blintzes?
“I can’t go overboard,” he said. “They’re pretty rich.”
This is the first year judges have sampled challah (previous competitions have featured bagels, blintzes and kugel) and there were more entries than normal, leaving Zach Carstensen, a lobbyist for the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle, completely stuffed.
“I don’t think I’ve eaten so much challah in my life,” he said, noting that he was impressed with the variety of tastes, including one that featured kosher salt on top.
“Everyone tackled it so differently,” he said.
Throughout the process, onlookers pressed their noses to the glass window to get a peak at the selection of breads. Others, like Rabbi Seth Goldstein and Soule, came in to give the judges a hard time.
“We don’t want any hanging chads,” Soule said jokingly about selecting winners.
The judges awarded challah-shaped plaques for the top three traditional breads and one for the best nontraditional recipe.
The winner, a three-bread presentation baked by Hava Aviv, included “everything bagel” seasoning, kosher salt and sesames.
While judging, Maxwell noted that the bread was good enough to be sold in a store, a line that isn’t far from reality. Aviv plans on opening Kitzel’s Crazy Delicious Delicatessen in Olympia in December.
Aviv said she started making challah to make sure her 12-year-old daughter, Tovah, was not only being educated about the Jewish tradition at school but also at home.
As for secret ingredients, Aviv said she uses a classic recipe that’s at least 300 years old – to which someone said, “That’s 300 years good!”