How I put my own twist on Challah


I've a newfound respect for Jewish women who bake their own bread.

Seriously. There's something to be said for women like Rebbetzin Joanne Dove, an educator and mother-of-eight who bakes challah at midnight for her Friday night dinner table.

Or Ruth Mimran, who runs the Manna Deli in Hendon. While catering for other people, she managed to bake six challot hours before we met last week.

I was sent to a Finchley home to meet five volunteers practising for Shabbat UK's Great Challah Make in Allianz Park on October 23.

Rebbetzin Dove walked in with two plastic bin bags of dough. The bags, I learnt whilst carrying in an electric mixer, kept it moist and made for a better batch.

Co-chair of the Great Challah Make, she has baked her own bread for 32 years. Every week, she meets 40 other women to make challah. As they separate the dough, they recite a refuah shlema (healing prayer).

"It's a beautiful thing to do. Putting a Jewish perspective on your bread - there's nothing nicer," she said.

"Having a Friday night dinner is about our Shabbat candles, kiddush wine and challahs. It's the thing that brings people around the table."

Now, I'm used to sampling challot – Carmelli, Daniel's, Hendon Bagel, I don't really mind – but baking one from scratch is another matter. I wash my hands and dab oil into my palm. Rolling a line of dough for plait looks easy, but isn't. Rebbetzin Dove seemlessly kneads away, lining up perfect rolls of dough.

Competitive impulses edge in, and some roll faster than others.

Mrs Mimran, a member of Kinloss, has started to break her own bread, as her mother and grandmother did at home in Morocco.

"It's not so difficult and it's a pleasure," said Mrs Mimran, who makes different shapes for each festival. For Succot, she crafts challah in the shape of a bunch of grapes, using her hand for the outline of a leaf. "We have round challah for Rosh Hashanah, a funny shape for Purim and a normal one for Shabbat."

Rebbetzin Dove said: "There are hundreds of recipes, it's crazy. Some people's are crusty on the outside and soft in, and some a little too hard."

Fearing mine might come out too hard (I'm relieved it actually doesn't) I wait for the challah to rise and bake it at home - just like guests will at the event.

Dalia Cramer, co-chair, is hoping men will also join in. She said: "The modern man is much more engaged in food. It's important to be connected to something as integral as challah."

Shabbat UK was inspired by South African Chief Rabbi Warren Goldstein, who ran his Shabbos Project last year. The Great Challah Make is expect to attract 3,000 people.

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