Even though we’re all about rustic European breads here at Bread & Cie, it’s kind of funny that one of our most popular items is challah.
Challah is a soft, sweet braided bread traditionally used for Jewish Sabbath dinners. As a Jewish person who has consumed plenty of challah over the years, I can wholeheartedly say that, yes, ours is the best. (I’m only sorry that it’s not Kosher because I can’t share it with my religious friends.)
Recently, Charles mentioned that the challah recipe was his grandmother’s. I was about to get all sentimental about it, but he stopped me. Apparently Millie Kaufman wasn’t really all that grandmotherly. She cursed. She ate raw food. She lived in Manhattan. She was no warm, fuzzy sitcom kind of grandma.
But those things sounded pretty awesome to me, so I asked Charles to tell us more about the woman responsible for the San Diego’s best challah.
1. Millie Kaufman, food pioneer
Back in the 1950s, before people worried about eating vegan and growing their own vegetables, Grammy Kaufman was buying organic and baking bread from scratch. She also followed the teachings of Scott Nearing, who (Wikipedia says) was a political activist and advocate of simple living. Millie went to Nearing retreats in Vermont, where they’d spend four hours working in the field, four hours doing something intellectual and four hours engaged in something spiritual. I think I may try to adopt this lifestyle one day.
2. Millie Kaufman, socialist
Charles was about five-years-old when he’d go to Grammy Kaufman’s apartment in Manhattan’s Upper West Side. Apparently, Charles’ father was supposed to be visiting with her once a week, but instead he’d drop off his three kids and he’d go off and do his own thing in the city from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Millie had newspapers everywhere and would go on rants about politicians like Richard Nixon and Dwight D. Eisenhower. The Kaufman siblings knew more about Karl Marx before they got out of elementary school than most people know about the socialist philosopher in their lifetime.
3. Millie Kaufman, baker
In her neighborhood, which, at the time was an extension of Harlem, Millie was known as the “old lady in tennis sneakers.” She was loud and cantankerous and everyone on 103rd Street recognized her. But what temporarily calmed Millie down was feeding her grandkids. She was worried about pesticides and only served them organic meals. And along with baking fresh challah, she’s also responsible for Bread & Cie’s Seedy Multigrain.
4. Charles Kaufman, traditionalist
Grammy Kaufman passed away when Charles was 8-years-old, but she left behind her recipes. And once Charles got into the bread business, he experimented with the challah. Instead of making it with three braids, for instance, he made it with six. He added poppy and sesame seeds. But everything else he kept exactly the same and that’s the challah (and brioche) that we’ve all come to love.
I asked Charles what he his grandmother might say if she knew he was selling her bread all over town.
“She’d take a taste and ask how much I was charging. And after I’d tell her she’d say ,’What, do you want to be the richest man in the cemetery?”