Bread Baking 101: My transformation from buying challah

By Linda Levin

It was about an hour before Shabbos one week when I heard my WhatsApp ping. I assumed that I was receiving my weekly nachas pictures of my talented(!) beautiful(!) and brilliant (!) einiklach. Most likely, they were displaying their latest arts and crafts project on the parshah or perhaps a picture of their latest haircut or a new Shabbos robe. My favorites were when they were chosen as the talmid or talmidah of the week.

But no, not this time. When I looked at the screen the pictures were of beautiful loaves of bread, some oblong and some round, labelled whole-wheat, spelt and olive.
What was going on? Had one of my kids opened a bakery without me knowing about it? “What are these?” I texted. I was informed that these were their freshly-baked challahs of sourdough.
Oh? It seemed that my oldest daughter had gotten into baking with sourdough and the rest of my clan followed suit, making sourdough challahs for Shabbos in place of regular challah. Even one of my sons began baking for his family. Each challah was truly a masterpiece.
I was reluctant to admit that I didn’t really know what sourdough was, and the term itself didn’t sound so tasty. I could just imagine their response: “Oh, Ma! Sourdough bread and challah is the latest craze! It’s so delicious and it’s good for you too, no oil, sugar or eggs!”
“What’s it made out of?” I inquired.
I thought back to when I was a little girl. We bought our bread in a plastic bag at the grocery. Challah was bought the same way. By the time I was in high school we’d graduated to bakery challah, but we never baked our own. It just wasn’t a “thing” back then.
After I got married, I added challah baking to my bucket list. No more store- bought challah for me or my family. My friends had bought me a KitchenAid as an engagement present so I had no excuses. But where to begin? I was clueless, having had no experience. My shadchan offered to help me out. She provided me with a recipe and I bought my ingredients. After mixing the dough, I remember bundling it up to protect it from the elements in Montreal and taking it over to her house. I didn’t know how to tell if the dough was kneaded sufficiently or if it had risen enough. This was a totally new experience for me. My shadchan (and the rosh yeshivah’s wife) patted and pinched it as if it were a child’s soft cheek. I watched and learned.
With a prayer on my lips and hope in my heart, I baked my challahs. I was pleasantly surprised when a heavenly aroma filled my tiny newlywed apartment. The challahs looked beautiful and tasted amazing. Looking back, I laugh at my humble beginnings.


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