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Friday, September 19, 2014

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Giant matzah ball presents some challenges

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From left are Alex Shafran, Spencer Shafran and Aiden Parker of DareSeeker. [Michelle Gelman photo]

TORONTO — When Zale Turner wanted to do something different at his fundraising event for Beit Halochem Canada, he hired a company called DareSeeker to create something his guests would remember: the world’s largest matzah ball.

“When people go to war, you can lose an arm or a leg,” said Turner, who chose to work for Beit Halochem because the money raised supports disabled Israeli war veterans and victims of terror. The goal was to raise $100,000.

“We also wanted to relate to that courage and dare,” he said. So they called on DareSeeker to help them.

The company quickly got to work to meet the dare and produce what they believe is the world’s biggest matzah ball –Guinness World Records lists a 267-pound matzah ball prepared in New York City in August 2009 as the largest, and a group in Tucson, Ariz., made one in 2010 that they said weighed in at 488 pounds.

Bagel World at Bathurst Street and Wilson Avenue donated the ingredients and utensils, and the DareSeeker team got started. They bought a four-by-four-foot custom-made pot in which to cook the 524-pound matzah ball, and spent five hours preparing it, using 1,200 eggs, 150 pounds of matzah meal and nine litres of grapeseed oil.

But that was the easy part. It took more than 30 hours for the matzah ball to cook, and they were constantly worried that it would boil over or break.

“It was twice as big as the stove,” said Alex Shafran, one of the founders of DareSeeker. Luckily, he said, they managed to perfect the one-handed egg crack early on. In total, they spent 48 hours non-stop, cooking and sleeping at Bagel World.

“A couple of times, we came in and it started smoking,” Shafran said. “We hooked up some fans and got some air blowing.”

But even after the matzah ball was cooked, they had to transport it downtown to The Hoxton, the venue where the Feb. 13 fundraising event, Love of Courage, was taking place, and where about 500 young professionals were waiting for the world’s largest matzah ball.

“I was sitting in the back, hugging the matzah ball to my chest,” said Spencer Shafran, co-founder of DareSeeker. “At every bump and turn, I prayed, ‘Please don’t break.’”

The 500-pound-plus matzah ball made it to the party safe and all in one piece. It was put on display at the event, covered in a thick, yellow, felt blanket in a makeshift enclosure to keep it from breaking, and garnished with carrots and dill. It didn’t exactly look like a matzah ball – it turned out to be dark brown and had a surprisingly soft touch on top, but was much tougher at the bottom. Although they were proud of their cooking skills, the Shafrans didn’t recommend tasting it.

It was long, hard and sweaty work, but that’s what they signed up for. DareSeeker, which launched in 2012, is a site where users can suggest dares they want other people to do – or dare themselves.

“It’s like the new version of America’s funniest home videos,” said Aiden Parker, vice-president of marketing for DareSeeker. They hope to do more publicity stunts and larger dares like this one, and if it involves raising money for charity, that’s a bonus, he said.

Turner wants to educate his peers about Beit Halochem while they have fun. “It’s a charity that’s small, and no one our age knew about this, even though it’s well-known in the older generation,” he said, adding that creating the world’s largest matzah ball was a good way to get their attention.

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