NO MATTER WHAT culture or religion you’re familiar with, every one has their own version of comfort food. And for many Jewish people, challah bread is the go-to source. Cha-what? you might be asking yourself if you’ve never had the pleasure of indulging in this two-thousand-year-old braided bread (pronounced like ha-lah in Hebrew). So, in honor of the recent Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashannah, and Yom Kippur, (The Day of Atonement AKA the Jewish version of Easter), LadyClever reached out to the Challah Hub, founded by Sarah Klegman and Elina Tilipman, two ladies that are putting an inventive spin on an otherwise traditional recipe, churning out challahs that everyone can appreciate. And as they say, this is “not your mama’s challah!” We were able to chat with Sarah Klegman, half of this dynamic duo:
How would you explain challah to a person not of Jewish background?
We usually say something like: “Have you ever seen that braided bread?” Most of the time, that’s challah. It’s sweeter bread. Traditionally Jewish, but we think it’s for everyone. In Christianity, they also have a version of challah that’s made around Easter — so most people are familiar with it, whether or not they know so.
Why challah? How did you start Challah Hub?
The spark of inspiration arrived at brunch in Silverlake last year, where the two of us met for the first time, because an old mutual friend was in town. I had made a challah to have at the house for Anna (the aforementioned guest), and while waiting for our food to arrive, I took out my phone and started showing Elina pictures of the challah I was baking, which blew her mind. So, Elina told me she’d pay for brunch, if I taught her how to bake challah. Obviously, I said yes. And funny because that’s what challah essentially means in Hebrew, a mitzvah or a gift.
What’s your baking process? How do you find the time? Doesn’t it take hours?
So we started baking in Elina’s kitchen, and talking about all the different kinds of challahs that I had baked, but Elina was set on trying more. Baking challah is such a fun process, but it can seem daunting to most, though it really isn’t that tough. Yes, it’s an all-day process, but you can pop the dough in the oven and leave it while you go do something else. We were both working in social media in one way or another (still are), so we know that tasty photos can brighten someone’s day. So why not start baking all these crazy challahs we want to try, and share our adventure with the world? So that’s what we’re doing.
What are some of your “crazy” challahs?
We have recipes from s’mores challah to lavendar challah, to our most recent pumpkin challah.
What inspires your inventive recipes?
We’re inspired by our own taste buds, the seasons, or upcoming holidays. But it’s also about the actual experience of baking. Our Cinco De Mayo recipe that we called “Margarita Challah” is a great example, and not just because we were drinking tequila while writing it. Okay, partially because we were drinking tequila and writing it. But we try to incorporate the usual suspect ingredients from other traditional recipes (i.e. a margarita) to spice up our challahs.
Can you put whiskey in a challah? How about pesto? Pomegranates?
Yes, yes, and yes! All of it. But not at the same time, that’d be gross.
Have you ever tried going further with the recipe and changing the form? Challah pizza?
We’ve talked about branching out, but there’s so much to do within the limitations of challah. The closest we’ve gotten is posting a recipe for challah French toast. We already go crazy enough with just challah, could you imagine if we moved into desserts? Stuffing? Challah bread pudding?! The possibilities are endless.
“Carbs” and “bread” are like dirty words nowadays. Do you make low-carb Challah? Or gluten-free? Does that even exist?
We tried to make a gluten-free challah. We bought all this weird non-flour, and put bananas in it, and we didn’t follow a specific recipe — we just went for it. And when we were finished, we had these sad, hard balls. Almost like a stale biscuit. Then we just accepted that there is gluten in challah and there can not be real challah without it! But we’ll try again, and let you know when we do.
What are your “challah” plans for the future? World peace, one challah at a time?
Although we say, “not your mama’s challah,” our intention is making the act of challah-baking accessible and fun for everyone, not just religious types and moms. Baking is really fun, and in a way a dying art form, because everything can now be store-bought.
We also invite people to come bake with us, which is a blast. We’ve cooked with much more qualified bakers than us, like Claire Thomas of The Kitschy Kitchen (her book just came out!), but we also have plans to bake with some cool people in the music world. We plan to post interviews along with the recipes. We’ll also be opening a web store. How about an apron that says, “Challah if you knead me,” or “Shut Up Your Mouth: Put Challah In It,” and “Not Your Mama’s Challah”?