Back in November, I bought a highly-recommended cookbook I’d been wanting for ages. I’d read it would give me a foolproof challah recipe.
I had never made homemade challah before. It was something I had always wanted to do, one of those things on the endless list that never happened. It was a bit of my ancestry I wanted to start incorporating. Making challah is something I had wanted to make a Friday night tradition. I have no one left to ask if it’s true, but I can imagine my ancestors doing this every week. I imagine them making the challah every week and observing Shabbat. But in the busy of everyday life, it got pushed to the side, over and over again. I thought of it sometimes, but I never managed to bake the bread I wanted.
Enter the pandemic – and the yeast that I luckily always kept in my fridge (thank goodness for my hoarding tendencies). After wanting to for months, a few weeks ago, I made my first two loaves of challah.
Last week, I decided to make two more – and successfully executed a six-strand challah braid. It gave me a sense of accomplishment I wasn’t expecting, and Friday morning I woke up ready to make two more. Today, both my loaves were six-strand braids.
These loaves of bread appear simple, but in making them I discovered what makes them so special – the natural rhythm in the kneading and braiding. While mixing the ingredients in a certain way makes the recipe come together, making challah is an art. It’s an art and a tradition with connection, one that connects me to so many that have come before me – to my grandparents, the great-grandparents that perished in the Holocaust, to the countless ancestors I may never know the names of.
It’s hard to explain, but the simple act of kneading the bread has brought a calm and purpose to my heart each week. I look forward to mixing and kneading the dough, to accomplishing the task of making this traditional bread for my family. In this time of crisis, it’s brought a connection I’ve been craving and one simple way to connect my girls to our history. Food has a way of doing that.
Once this pandemic is over and everything settles down, I know our lives will look a lot different. Even when this time is just a memory, just a notation in the history books, it will have left a mark on all of us. It will show up in all areas of our life and change the way we live. The way we move through life will change, and we’ll forever have pieces of this time in the way we live.
For me, that will be baking challah bread. Will I do it every week? Who knows. I don’t know what the future will bring (although I desperately wish I did). I do know that I’ll try. The simple, centering act of baking bread will forever be a part of my life and my practice – and that is one thing I’m thankful for in this uncertain time.
If you’d like to bake your own challah, the recipe I use is in Modern Jewish Baker by Shannon Sarna. I’ve had perfect results every time and I highly recommend the entire book. This recipe is a good option too – I haven’t used it myself but it has great recommendations.