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On Rosh Hashanah, An Appreciation Of Challah, The Bread That ‘Wove A Community’ For One LA Baker

A braided loaf of challah bread served on a platter with apples, pomegranates and honey, on top of a floral tablecloth.
For many Jews, challah is a nearly year-round staple at the shabbat table. At Rosh Hashanah — the Jewish New Year celebration — the bread is often molded into a rounded shape. It's also served alongside apples, honey and pomegranates to usher in a "sweet new year."
(Courtesy of Kate Mallor)
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Kate Mallor grew up going to weekly shabbat dinners at the home of her grandmother. The place-settings were always elegant, the food was always delicious — and there was always a golden, braided loaf on the table.

On Rosh Hashanah, An Appreciation Of Challah, The Bread That ‘Wove A Community’ For One LA Baker

“I just grew up with this delicious challah at the table every Friday night,” Mallor remembered.

Challah is a staple at many meals for Rosh Hashanah, the two-day Jewish New Year celebration which ends Tuesday evening. Rosh Hashanah begins the Ten Days of Repentance, which culminates in Yom Kippur.

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On this holiday, the usually elongated loaf is often baked in a circular, rounded form, symbolizing “goodness without end” and marking the passage of another year.

Two women pose for a photograph in front of a tree. The woman on the left has a dark blue blouse. The woman on the right had a light blue tank top.
@Mommelas_LA baker Kate Mallor (left) poses with frequent baking collaborator Elissa Singer
(Courtesy of Kate Mallor)

But for Mallor, challah is also a (nearly) year-round comfort food.

When the pandemic hit two years ago, Mallor started baking challah and trading it with other moms in Silver Lake and Los Feliz through a Facebook group. For her, the bread was a golden, fluffy vessel ready-made for bringing a sense of peace into a dark time.

“The process of making the bread feels like a holy act to me,” Mallor said. “It really gave me a sense of purpose and joy feeling like I was giving a hug to all these other mommas.”

Mallor’s baking has now turned into a side-hustle: an Instagram account @Mommelas_LA. She sells challah through that account along with double-chocolate chocolate chip cookies and a “mean matzo ball soup.” (“That’s my mom’s recipe, and she’s the best cook I’ve ever met.”)

Mallor is a freelance costume designer, not a professional baker. She said she isn’t even a foodie. But “the three things I do, I do really well,” she said, adding that she loves “the culture of the table — and what happens above the table.”

Mallor went on: “If you had told me a few years ago I’d become a challah slinger, I would’ve told you that’s crazy.”

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She called her transformation into a baker “the most unexpected blessing to come out of [the pandemic]. It’s almost made like a woven network of community for me in a town that can feel very isolating … Not to be cheesy — it’s been so spiritually and soulfully rewarding.”

Sleeper Hit Challah Bakers: Schools & Daycares

Some of the city's most beloved challah bread, however, doesn't come from a bakery.

Some Of LA's Best Challah Bread Come Schools & Daycares

Many Jewish private schools either sell or give away the bread on Fridays that families can serve at shabbat dinners.

When Gali Barak's son was 16 months old, she enrolled him in a "gan" — an in-home, family-run daycare where the workers spoke to the children in Hebrew. Barak, who was born in Israel, wanted her son to grow up surrounded by Jewish tradition.

Every Friday, the gan's operators would bake challah bread to send home with the kids.

"I’d come hungry to pick up my kid from school," Barak remembered, "… and get this yummy, Saran-wrapped challah; the small braided kind with the sesame seeds on top. They were delicious.”

She said that bread was her favorite.

“I knew it was made that morning on the spot," Barak remembered. "And there’s some piece around creating and sharing and giving.”

Where Do You Go For Your Challah?

Mallor said she and her frequent collaborator, chef Elissa Singer, are hoping to eventually afford space in a commercial kitchen to be able to handle larger orders.

Mallor’s story emerged from a callout on Twitter for L.A.’s best challah breads. A few of your recommendations:

It’s not too late to … challah at us — rimshot! — and add your recommendation to our thread. Or submit it through the form below:

What questions do you have about K-12 education in Southern California?
Kyle Stokes reports on the public education system — and the societal forces, parental choices and political decisions that determine which students get access to a “good” school (and how we define a “good school”).

Updated October 3, 2022 at 2:40 PM PDT
This story was updated to include our follow-up interview with Gali Barak about challah from her son's childcare center. The interview was conducted after publication of the original story.
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