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Jewish Breads - Past, Present, and Future

Marissa Wojcik

Aug 17, 2023

Everything you "knead" to know!

Originally published in Jewish Chicago, The JUF Magazine

What's round--at least at this time of year--puffy, and has a deep connection to the people and places of the past?

What else? Challah! 

Challah--the delicious, leavened centerpiece of most Jewish holiday tables--has a way of connecting us with days gone by. When I knead my dough every Friday morning before Shabbos, I feel my ancestors in the kitchen with me--the ones who fled from Berlin on a moment's notice with no destination in mind besides safety, and the ones who boarded a ship in Russia that would take (most of them) to the United States and a better life. I feel all of the Holocaust survivors I have had the honor to befriend standing beside me. And I feel my mother-in-law, who passed away just a year ago, keeping me company in the kitchen.  

As we approach Rosh Hashanah, I am thinking a lot about the legacy we leave in the world. About how I will be inscribed in the Book of Life for the coming year. This past year has brought both great joy and great tragedy in my life.  

Just about a year ago, I was lucky enough to get married in a beautiful ceremony surrounded by family and friends from around the country…while also commemorating the fact that my mother-in-law suddenly passed away two months before our big day.  

After her death, I was left thinking about the stories I want people to tell, not just when I am gone, but the stories I will tell when my grandparents are gone, and when my parents are gone. For the last few years, I have curated and written a Jewish baking blog (; in June, I was finally able to take some of those recipes and publish them in a cookbook titled Modern Jewish Breads. 

Now, you're probably wondering, "How does this book of bread relate to the Book of Life?"  

In a way, the cookbook is the book of my life. The challah and babka recipes in the book represent a significant moment or memory of mine. They connect me to a person or a place that may no longer be accessible. They are my unique Jewish American story told through my breads.  

In some, I use my favorite seasonal ingredients to take me home to Chicago, or to transport me across the globe to countries I've visited- or dream of visiting. Others remind me of my Reform upbringing, Modern Orthodox (almost) post-college days, or my now beach-Conservative adulthood (it's a thing, trust me!). All of them combine traditional baking techniques with modern flavors that will have your friends and family (I hope!) begging for more. 

Because that's the beauty of bread, Jewish or not. You can take a recipe that's been handed down from generation to generation and follow it to a T in the hopes of recreating grandma's finest (it's never quite there, but it's always so close!)…or you can take a page out of my book and add in a wacky ingredient that has no business in a loaf but somehow makes it taste even better (looking at you, Chicago-style Hot Dogbabka !).  

So, this High Holiday season, I hope that while you are kneading your challah dough, you will take the time to think about the stories you want to leave behind and how you will share them.  

Golden Milk Latte Challah  

3 teaspoons instant yeast 

¼ cup honey 

1 large egg, beaten 

¼ cup coconut oil, melted 

2 teaspoons turmeric 

½ cup warm water 

½ cup milk or milk alternative 

3-4 cups flour 

  1. Whisk egg, salt, melted coconut oil, honey, turmeric, water, milk, and yeast in a large bowl.  

  2. Add the flour, one cup at a time, to the yeast mixture. Use a strong spatula to mix at the beginning, and your hands once it gets too difficult with the spatula. 

  3. Once the dough is fully mixed, turn onto a floured surface and knead for 10 minutes. (If you don't knead the dough well enough, the challah will not hold its shape when it is braided.) 

  4. Grease a large bowl with spray oil and transfer the dough to the bowl. Cover with a damp paper towel and put in the oven to proof. (Make sure the oven is off!) Proof until the dough is doubled in size- about 45 minutes to an hour. 

  5. Once proofed, turn the dough onto a floured surface and cut into 4 equal portions. Then, cut each portion into 4 equally sized pieces and roll these out into logs.  



  1. Form a pound sign (#) with the logs of dough, one vertical strand going over the first horizontal strand and under the second, the other vertical strand going under the first horizontal strand and over the second.  

  2. Take the vertical strand under the first horizontal strand and pull it over the vertical strand to the left. Moving counterclockwise, continue to do this until all strands have been moved.  

  3. Now, moving clockwise, do the same thing again, and fold any excess dough under the bottom of the bun.  

  4. Let proof again for 45 minutes.  

  5. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. While the oven is heating, beat one egg with a splash of water to create an egg wash. Using a pastry brush, brush the egg wash over the top of the loaves.  

  6. Bake the loaves for 25 minutes. 

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