If there was one thing that characterised my social media feeds during the early days of lockdown, it was the sudden appearance of endless photographs of homemade bread.
It seems that, stuck at home, even in the face of a national shortage of flour and yeast, most people’s first reaction was to bake a loaf. People who had never made so much as a shortbread biscuit were consumed with the desire to start producing their own artisan bread.
However, it wasn’t long into the lockdown period that the bread photos began to distinguish themselves along ethno-religious lines. While the gentiles were busy making sourdough, the Jews were making challah.
They are both good choices. If you’re going to put in the time and effort to make loaf of bread, better make it a good one! But why did the gentiles choose the time-consuming, labour intensive days-of-effort sourdough, while the Jews went for the quick knead-plait-bake challah?
It makes some sense to me. After all these years of being encouraged by local Chabad rebbetzins across the country to make a weekly challah, why wouldn’t this tasty Shabbat bread be the first loaf to try when you finally have the time and inclination?
Also, challah has all the charm and artisanal delight of a sourdough boule, while also being inextricably of our heritage. Sadly, most non-Jewish Brits no longer have a traditional bread they grew up with, unless you count the sliced Mother’s Pride style loaf. Replicating one of those would be a less rewarding experience, I suspect.
In these uncertain and unsettling times, challah-baking also ties us to our history and tradition. Our grandparents faced worse than this, we tell ourselves, and they made challah.
Not to mention that a thick slice of challah, toasted and spread lavishly with an indecent amount of soft butter, is fantastic comfort food.
But I think there is even more to it than that.
Nurturing a sourdough starter requires patience. Daily feeding and dedication. Sourdough starters have names. It’s basically like having a small, quiet, countertop dog. And as the Yiddish saying goes, if you see a Jew with a dog, it’s either not a Jew or it’s not a dog.
So no surprises that, as a group, we chose challah-baking over sourdough. It offers familiarity, artisan charm, heritage, and comfort, and better yet, it offers them quickly!
I have several challah recipes on my website, but hands down the most popular is the 60-minute challah. From raw ingredients to loaves hot from the oven, in only an hour.
It’s Jewish through and through, and it couldn’t be further from sourdough.