When I moved into my apartment this year, I pondered starting a blog about independent living. I thought it could be a fun feature-writing and photography experience to document my first year foraying into a life of cooking, cleaning and keeping track of bills.

More than anything, I thought such a blog could be a journalistic way to make light of my domestic shortcomings. Although I have a general grasp on laundry and have no problem keeping track of bills (after all, a journalist’s life is run by deadlines), the kitchen is its own story.

History suggested that upon returning to campus, I was destined to be a disappointment to Jewish bubbes around the globe. But shortly after moving in, I discovered that I’m actually pretty decent at the stove, so that blog would have been nothing more than a series of food photos.

And so, I’d like to take this opportunity to once — just once — be slightly self-promotional about cooking. But I have a point! I swear! Please stick with me.

Let’s get the annoying part out of the way: Check out these pictures of the challot I made! Two are cinnamon raisin, the other is banana chocolate chip.

Cinnamon Raisin ChallahBanana Chocolate Chip Challah

That wasn’t so bad, right? Okay, now let’s move on to why I made these scrumptious loaves of bread.

A few of weeks ago, I volunteered some time with my college campus’ chapter of Challah for Hunger, a national organization that mixes baking challah with charity and social justice. The student-run organization bakes the bread in the kosher kitchen at Illini Hillel, and I got to help fill the bread with its flavor of the week and then braid it into form.

By “got to help,” I mean I tried my hardest but royally embarrassed the challah-baking industry. The challot I filled and braided stood out from the rest because they were terrible. Just terrible. They were so bad that they fell apart during the transfer from the countertop to the tray. I’m sorry, bubbes; I tried.

After that first experience attempting to make the delicious Shabbat-staple that is challah, I was inspired to give it another go. Clearly I still need quite a bit of work on the braiding front (I’m much better with braiding hair than dough. Anyone looking for a fishtail?); I guess I’ll have to volunteer again for more practice.

Anyhow, the University of Illinois’ chapter sells the challah for $4-$5, depending on the ingredients. All of the profits made by challah sales are donated to charity — 50 percent to the national Challah for Hunger cause of the year, 50 percent to the chapter’s charity of choice. This year, the national cause is the American Jewish World Service’s Sudan Relief and Advocacy Fund. The University of Illinois’ chapter is supporting the Eastern Illinois Foodbank.

Allie Bahcall, a junior studying Recreation, Sports and Tourism at the University of Illinois, is president of the local chapter. She described the organization as an innovative approach to promoting hunger awareness in the Jewish community by braiding and baking challot each week and selling them on campus.

Bahcall originally got involved with the organization per the encouragement of a friend, and she finds the experience to be both fun and educational. She said she learns a lot of “fun facts” about Judaism while the group is baking, because all of the challot baked by her organization are kosher. The baking process is overseen by a mashgiach, and she appreciates the opportunity to learn more about her religion.

For those interested in making challot just like the ones pictured above, I’ve provided links to the recipes below.

Cinnamon Raisin Challah, courtesy of The Novice Chef

Banana Chocolate Chip Challah, courtesy of The Challah Blog

Now let’s get the conversation going:

What’s your favorite challah flavor or recipe?

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