Now Inducting Into the Challah Fame: Maya of @thechallahgal
The Challah Fame is a OneTable series that celebrates someone who loves to make challah (or delicious Jewish food!) and does so as a form of self-care, self-expression, as a business, or for any other reason (do we really need a reason to adore a good chunk of that beautiful bread?!).
Know someone who needs to be inducted ASAP? Fill this out with the info you have and we’ll be in touch, or send it over to them to complete!
How do you *pause* from all of the chaos and work of the week?
Getting off social media and TV is really helpful because it encourages me to be more intentional with how I spend my time. It’s so tough working from home and being in the same space most of the week, so changing up scenery and getting outside—exploring trails and gardens—is a helpful separation.
Where do you do your baking?
Chapel Hill, North Carolina
We’ve been drooling over pictures of your challah for a while, but where can other people see your creations?
We’re as obsessed with challah as the next person, but why make your own?
I LOVE baking for other people, and one of my greatest joys is bringing challah to friends and neighbors! My first job out of law school was as a law clerk to a Jewish Justice. I made a huge round challah for his family for Rosh Hashanah, and it was really meaningful for me to be able to connect with my boss through Jewish food.
I also really love the act and art of baking. I get super in the zone and it’s very fulfilling to watch the process start with activating yeast in a bowl of water and sugar and then end with these loaves of plaited ritual breads. It’s a creative process and I get to use a part of my brain that isn’t in use much while I’m working on lawsuits.
How did the pandemic change baking challah for you?
I had just started getting into baking challah weekly when the pandemic began. I used the first few weeks to really get into it—our house was overflowing with challah. Then, I got sick with COVID. Just a few days before I ended up in the hospital with medical issues stemming from the virus, I recorded a “how to make challah” video on Instagram. My friends loved it and asked lots of questions. It’s weird watching it back, because it was clear I was getting really sick—I was totally out of breath and struggling to process what I was doing. It took a few months before I was physically able to bake another challah, and when I did, it was a huge triumph. So, baking challah was sort of a central element of my physical and emotional healing, and I often think about how far I’ve come since that video. Plus, my challah is a lot prettier now.
One final note on this—it’s not always perfect and sometimes I get frustrated with how it turns out. But it’s been really neat getting good at something! I share tips with friends and cheer others on as they attempt some of their first bakes. I feel really connected to my culture, spirituality, and Judaism, knowing that around the world there are people doing the same thing as me as they prepare for Shabbat—and have been doing so for centuries. I know there were points in history when baking a challah would expose our ancestors as Jews and subject them to persecution. While anti-Semitism persists, I feel that baking challah and sharing it with others challenges the hate, and I’m proud to put myself out there and say “Look! I’m Jewish!” and teach people about the significance and history.
Even if our challah may not come out perfectly…can you share any tips to help make it a little better?
Let it rise! You can’t rush challah—let it fluff up. Also, you can practice your braids with yarn or friendship bracelet string to get used to the rhythm and pattern. The more I think about my braids, the more I mess up—it’s better when my hands just go through the motions through muscle memory. Also, having the right equipment makes a world of a difference. My Kitchenaid stand mixer changed my life! But you can totally make challah without investing in all of the tools (I’m still without a kitchen scale).