While I may have lost my senior soccer season to Covid-19, I gained a sacred skill: challah baking.
When quarantine hit in early March, my friends and I decided to bake challah together over Zoom. With no prior challah-baking experience, I was excited for a new challenge. One of my more experienced friends shared her recipe and expertise. We followed her instructions meticulously. On my first attempt, my dough turned rock hard and tasteless in the oven. After carefully retracing my steps, I discovered that my yeast, the active ingredient in challah dough, had expired.
To make a great challah, the secret ingredient is time and fresh yeast. The process is long and requires patience. Fortunately, in a pandemic lockdown, all I had was time. This 5-6 hour process filled my day and helped me escape my boredom. I will share with you some of my discoveries:
1. The dough must be made early enough in the day to allow it to rise for 1-3 hours.
2. If you rush the dough and don’t allow it to fully rise, the consistency will not be right.
3. Plain challah dough holds potential to be savory or sweet. So, I found an unexpected creative outlet, by creating new flavor combinations, such as banana chocolate chip and garlic rosemary. A real crowd pleaser was topping the challah with “Everything but the Bagel” seasoning from Trader Joe’s.
Achieving the perfectly fluffy and golden challah was rewarding, but it was even more rewarding to spend time with my friends, even through a screen. Aside from the physical baking process, there is a major social aspect involved in our Zooms. For me, our challah Zooms were one of my main social interactions. Although in different locations, we are all in the same position, high school seniors living our final year at home. Our conversations soar far beyond brainstorming flavors. We talk about our lives, the issues we were facing, and grief we are experiencing from the coronavirus. We are able to confide in each other and find solace in this sense of unity. Our challahs brought us closer together than we anticipated.
Challah restored my happiness in 2020 many times. While I have eaten challah every Shabbat of my life, I found a much fuller meaning when I made it myself. Laughing on Zoom with my friends and seeing my family’s eyes light up as the challah hits their mouths has made welcoming Shabbat a treasured part of my week and tradition I am proud to partake in.