William Greenberg Desserts’ Challah, Round for Rosh Hashanah. Photograph by Liza Schoenfein
An email landed in my inbox this week from William Greenberg Desserts, a tiny kosher bakery on Madison Avenue — and with it came a flood of memories. My grandparents lived practically around the corner from Greenberg’s (we lived nearby too), and my grandmother would sometimes take me there on Friday afternoons after school to pick up one of the lovely braided challahs flecked with raisins, so eggy and sweet they were more like cake than bread.
We’d walk into the cool white space and I’d be hit with the scent of sweet butter, of cookies and babkas and all manner of delicious treats. As Nana ordered, an aproned woman behind the counter would catch my eye, pull out a bin of cookies, and hand me one with a sly smile. It happened every time. My favorite was a thin, crisp butter cookie topped with slivered almonds, which both my grandmother and my mom would pick up for special occasions. I loved the white cardboard box they arranged the cookies in, and the red bakery string, descending from above, that they tied around it.William Greenberg’s challah is my quintessential holiday bread, the one I measure all others by.
Inspired by that email and the upcoming holidays, I tromped across the park this morning and paid a long-overdue visit to William Greenberg’s. The shop smelled exactly as it always had, and it has a similar feel, but it’s been renovated by owner Carol Becker, who bought the place seven years ago. It’s cheerful and bustling, and on this beautiful Friday it was packed with customers.
As I chatted with Carol, sharing my childhood recollections and asking about the store, she pulled on a pair of thin rubber gloves, reached into a huge plastic container of almond cookies, put a few into a little white paper bag and handed it to me. It was a gift straight out of the past, happily unchanged.
Not to get all madeleine about it, because that’s so cliché, but I am always struck, particularly at the holidays, by the way foods can trigger memories and connect us to family who are no longer here.
William Greenberg Desserts delivers by messenger throughout Manhattan and by mail anywhere in the U.S.
Liza Schoenfein is the new food editor of the Forward. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Baker on the Rise: Most employees graduate to jobs at other bakeries. Courtesy of Hot Bread Kitchen Staff.
The week before Rosh Hashanah, inside a low-slung East Harlem building under elevated rail tracks, a crew of women will quietly mix, knead, shape and bake challahs in an immaculate kitchen.
Their dough will yield thousands of challahs — traditional, dark whole-wheat and sweet honey-raisin — along with a holiday loaf infused with caraway and anise and swirled into an elegant turban.
There’s another delicious twist: All of the women are immigrants. Almost none of them had professional baking experience before joining the bakery. And every loaf they produce will fund their own English-language instruction, tutoring in business skills — and economic security.
Welcome to Hot Bread Kitchen, the only bakery in New York where the workers rise along with the dough.
Hot Bread Kitchen’s Sephardic Challah. Courtesy of Hot Bread Kitchen Staff.
Active time: 25 minutes
Total time: 3 hours 45 minutes, plus cooling
Yields: 2 round loaves
3 tablespoons sesame seeds
1½ tablespoons caraway seeds
1½ tablespoons anise seeds
1 envelope active dry yeast
2 cups lukewarm water
5 cups bread flour
2½ tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons honey
1 tablespoon kosher salt
Cornmeal for dusting
2 large egg yolks
1) In a skillet, toast the sesame, caraway and anise seeds over moderate heat until fragment, 2 minutes; transfer to a plate and let cool. In a small bowl, combine the yeast with 2 tablespoons of water and let stand until thoroughly moistened, about 5 minutes.
2) In the bowl of a standing electric mixer fitted with the dough hook, combine the flour with olive oil, the honey and the remaining water and mix at low speed until a very soft dough forms. Add the kosher salt, yeast mixture and all but 1 tablespoon of the seeds and mix at medium-low speed until the dough is supple and smooth, 10 minutes. Using oiled hands, transfer the dough to a large oiled bowl. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let stand in a draft-free spot until the dough is risen, 1 hour.
3) Lightly oil two small cookie sheets and dust them with cornmeal. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and press to deflate. Roll each piece into an 18-inch-long rope and let rest for 5 minutes longer, then roll each rope into a 32-inch rope. Beginning at the center and working outward, form each rope into a coil; tuck the ends under the coils.
4) Transfer each coil to a baking sheet and cover each loaf with a large, inverted bowl. Let stand for 1 hour, until the loaves have nearly doubled in bulk.
5) Preheat the oven to 400˚F. In a bowl, whisk the egg yolks with 1 tablespoon of water. Brush the egg wash over the loaves and let stand uncovered for 30 minutes. Brush with the egg wash once more and sprinkle with the reserved 1 tablespoon of seeds. Bake the loaves side-by-side in the center of the oven for 30 minutes, until they’re golden and sound hollow when tapped on the bottom. Transfer the loaves to racks and let cool completely before slicing.
My new year’s resolution was not to eat bread that I didn’t make. Between December 31st and January 1st, this already proved too difficult, so I scaled it back to not purchasing bread. In other words, if I wanted bread, I’d have to make it.
I’ve already mastered my classic challah recipe (which is actually not classic because it’s vegan). What used to take me hours and hours of anxious waiting and careful kneading, I have now turned into a quick and easy Thursday night dough making, and a pre-Shabbat braiding that takes less than an hour including 30 minutes in the oven. And every time, people can’t believe that I actually made my own bread.
As a college student in New York, potluck Shabbat meals were a weekly occurrence. Of course, not everyone could cook, or even had time to, so those guests were assigned the shopping jobs — drinks, fruit, and challah. As a rule, anyone assigned to bring challah really only had one choice — Bagel City. Anything other than the sweet, doughy loaf was unacceptable.
There are quite a few local challah companies in the Chicago area, though in the store-bought challah category, none inspire my taste buds quite like Bagel City. Native Chicagoans seem to prefer Breadsmith, a Skokie-based bakery with franchises across the Midwest and Texas, but many feel there aren’t enough good options. A quick Facebook poll resulted in multiple commendations of Whole Food’s challah, what many would deem a non-traditional source. Others recommended Mindy’s Homemade, but unfortunately only whole wheat loaves were available, so in the interest of consistency, I left it out of the line up.
Scroll down to read descriptions of some egg challot available in Chicago grocery stores:
I got to sit down with Stephanie Botvin, winner of the 2013 Challah Contest at the Rocky Mountain Food Festival, who was already convinced from the start that she made the best challah in Denver. After having tasted her challah, it was no surprise why she won.
With a unique cake-like consistency, the use of honey, tofu (replacing eggs), and whole-wheat flour, this challah definitely sets itself apart from the rest. Stephanie told me how her challah baking brings her into the Shabbat spirit, how her participation in the food festival helped her shed new light on Jewish food issues, and how her transition to Denver from the East Coast inspired her to make this award-winning challah in the first place. She generously gave me a loaf to take home, which was finished off that afternoon.
Don’t live in New York, or in need an easy fix? We’ve got you covered. Below are three brands available in supermarkets across the country.
The Challah Fairy Sesame Challah
The problem with tasting store-bought challah right after a freshly baked loaf is that you instantly taste the difference. Thoughts like “This is a crust? Really?” and “Nice bread, barely recognizable as challah,” overshadowed the great texture.
Zomick’s Egg Challah
Maybe it was the lingering taste of failed health inspections, or the nagging fear that a bug would suddenly appear, but this challah got a resounding “No” from all tasters. The neon yellow color stood out among the surrounding white loaves, and though the crust was acceptable, “looks don’t make up for ugly insides.” When a challah is described as “nightmarish,” it’s best to stay clear.
Trader Joe’s Egg Challah
While this was the best out of the tested supermarket challahs, participants found the texture clumpy and too much like white bread. “On the scale of dry vs. moist, I prefer my challah moist, but this is too much,” one taster wrote. A perfectly browned and glazed crust was this challah’s salvation.
The San Francisco Bay Area has one of the largest Jewish populations in North America. But unlike communities in places like New York, Chicago, Los Angeles and Toronto, it has no identifiably Jewish neighborhoods filled with Jewish bakeries, butchers, delis and food shops.
The lucky few who live near one of the local Jewish bakeries can stop by to pick up their bread. But for everyone else, supermarkets and even the front desks of Jewish community centers and synagogue nursery schools are the way to get the good stuff, thanks to challah distribution networks around the city.
With the High Holidays fast approaching, store shelves (and those front desks) will soon be stocked with round challahs with raisins and other treats. Here is a taste of five different plain loaves popular with Jewish residents of the Bay Area. Prices range from $2.99 to $6.75 per challah.
For bakery fiends in Israel, choosing the perfect combination of fluffy, soft, delicately sweet and lightly crispy challah for Rosh Hashanah can be a real challenge with all of the wonderful bread options available. Trying to avoid the larger, older and more industrial bakeries such as Tzvi and Viznitz bakeries in Bnei Brak or Angel in Jerusalem, we’ve compiled a list of boutique bakeries that literally take the cake. Find out where to get addicting, uniquely braided and perfectly doughy challah for this Jewish New Year.
Teler Bakery Yerushalmim (Jerusalem residents) are quick to name Teler Bread as their ultimate favorite place to buy fresh challah on a weekly basis. Avishai Teler moved his bakery from the industrial center right into the heart of Mahaneh Yehudah market on chaotic Agripas street where he also opened up a neighboring coffee shop. The store sells dozens of yeasty varieties daily and uses leavened sourdough and old-school, more traditional baking methods. Preparing its breads in a brick oven, it has already become the “house-bread” of the King David Hotel and many other top-tier hotels and restaurants.
For Rosh Hashanah, the bakery prepares round whole wheat, white and raisin challahs to keep up with the holiday spirit. The bakery boasts a rich, cakey and sweet dough. Avishai Teller, a humble and sweet man says his challahs are made to last longer, an especially important fact on long holidays. Avishai promises his challahs won’t dry up and will taste fresh throughout the long weekend. And we trust him. Prices stay between 12-15 NIS and don’t sky rocket just because of the holiday.
New Yorkers no longer have to go to Tel Aviv for Uri Scheft’s extraordinary bread, his shop has come to Union Square. [Grub Street]
Apparently, an addiction to hummus is a thing — and Kate Moss is suffering from it. Sorry, Kate. [Grub Street]
Three months after Sandy, Eater stops by several restaurants that were hit by the storm to see how they’re doing. [Eater]
Max Sussman has left the building! One half of our favorite brotherly cooking duo has left his post at Brooklyn pizzeria Roberta’s. Where will he go next? [Grub Street]
As cookbook author Melissa Clark says, “Thanksgiving is just one big excuse to eat lots of stuffing.” For me, stuffing is simply a better way to experience the practice of dunking a piece of bread into a bowl of chicken soup. You get more doughy bready goodness, less of a mess, and in my experience, tons more flavor.
Such is the principal behind the following recipe.
This challah and pastrami stuffing is slightly inspired by one memorable midnight trip to Katz’s Deli where I sat happy as a clam and drunk as a sorority girl, dunking my pastrami sandwich into my friend’s matzo ball soup and making a massive and delicious mess. If only I just had a bowl of this stuffing, there might have been one less sloppy drunk girl on the Lower East Side that night.
The pastrami in this recipe is balanced by the sweetness of honey and dried currants. It is truly a delicious mix of flavors, and I hope it will give you something to be thankful for.
The smell of savory challahs permeates the kitchen with sweet hints of cinnamon and raisin. We knead, stretch, sweat and grunt as we shape the dough with our fingers into elaborate braids, rolls and twists. Our hands have been inherited from a long line of women empowered by a sacred undertaking: the making of challah.
This year, I will hold a challah workshop in my home the day before Yom Kippur where female friends will gather in my kitchen to celebrate Jewish woman hood and the magic of femininity. We will take turns kneading the dough as each one of us, immersed into a state of harmony and spirituality shares prayers of healing, comfort, finding love, looking for a job and other requests.
She delivers freshly-baked challahs to customers’ doorsteps (or their doormen), but she doesn’t use wings to get there… she drives a Honda Pilot.
The Challah Fairy, a.k.a. Chanalee Fischer Schlisser, sees her business almost as a calling, hoping her tasty challahs will encourage more Jews to enjoy Shabbat.
“People have a much better experience of Shabbos if they have a special challah and not some gross supermarket challah,” Schlisser said.
Schlisser’s challahs have garnered a following in the New York area, specifically specialty flavors like cinnamon and chocolate. Her “best-ever” chocolate babka is also popular.
A good challah can make a Jewish meal. Here are seven excellent ones in Los Angeles. [Serious Eats]
Rosh Hashanah now has it’s own cupcake. New York’s Magnolia Bakery is now serving up Honey Cupcakes made with walnuts and a touch of citrus zest. [Magnolia Bakery]
If you’re never braided a round challah, it can be a bit tricky. Here’s a video to help. Haaretz
The tweet that shocked the food world this week: “I’m stepping down as restaurant critic to be the national editor of The Times. #checkplease. @Samsifton
A New York Whole Foods store opened a mini in-store pickle shop this week, carrying a wide variety of artisanal pickles. Grubstreet
In Israel, Friday night dinner is an institution. Israelis of all backgrounds, from observant Jews of Jerusalem’s Mea Shearim neighborhood to members of the artsy Mitzpe Ramon community in the south, celebrate the Shabbat meal with a homemade festive dinner. Strong Jewish tradition, a deep national spirit and the geography of this small country ensure that Shabbat dinner is mandatory for all. And so, every Friday night, families gather at the homes of the elders of the tribe. Siblings update each other on their love lives, children sing songs and aunts and uncles debate political views until everyone unites at the table to eat an honest home-cooked meal. This time, all across the nation, becomes holy.
Growing up in the most secular environment in Israel, the Kibbutz — Friday night dinner played a major role in the scenery of my childhood. These dinners were our only outlet of festiveness and connection with Shabbat. For me, that connection was symbolized by the food.
Empire Kosher Poultry, the largest kosher chicken company in the country, claims “it produces a healthier, cleaner, more reliably kosher chicken than available anywhere else in America — and in a socially and environmentally responsible way,” according to JTA.
Multi-colored Carrots are coming to farmers’ markets this month! Yes, we have a soft spot for our namesake veggie.
A deli plate would be naked without a pickle, but the preserved cucumber wasn’t always so beloved. Jane Ziegelman writes that the pickle was once viewed as a stimulant and consumption was frowned upon.
The title of Mark Bittman’s Opinionator piece this week, “Can Big Food Regulate Itself? Fat Chance,” says it all.
Early in my marriage, I would alternate Shabbat dinners between my parents and in-laws, who were both from Syria. They continued the custom of setting the Shabbat dinner table with loaves of Khubz ‘Adi, a Syrian flatbread to symbolize to the twelve loaves of shewbread that were the centerpiece of the altar in the Jewish Temple.
Years later when my children went to yeshiva, challah replaced the Khubz ‘Adi on our Shabbat table. However, as a couple of decades passed, I returned to my roots. I decided to prepare Khubz ‘Adi, just as my ancestors had baked for Shabbat centuries before me. In my heart I knew that food defines who we are and that I was preserving a culinary legacy for my family, and strengthening the heritage of my community.
This morning I was making challah for the Sabbath. The water I mixed with the yeast came straight from the tap. Thankfully, today my water is clean and free of chemical contaminants. But I’m worried that this may change.
My water comes from upstate New York, where gas companies are eager to begin drilling for natural gas to power the energy needs of a growing population. New York City’s watershed lies over the Marcellus Shale, a geological formation that stretches from New York, through Pennsylvania and Ohio, to West Virginia. Until recently, gas companies did not have the technology to extract the gas in the Marcellus shale, because it is trapped in small pockets in layers of rock. But now a new and dangerous process called hydraulic fracturing, or hydrofracking or fracking, has made it possible to release gas. The state is expected to lift its ban on fracking in certain areas of the state, according to The New York Times today.
Masquerades, double identities, and hidden truths are the very essence of Purim, the story, the parties, the carnivals, and as it turns out the food too. Traditionally, across the Jewish landscape, food was as integral to Purim celebrations as it was to Passover or Rosh Hashana. In addition to gifts of food, there is the mandatory celebratory meal, the Purim Se’udah or feast. The menu of this meal historically varied by community with local tastes and traditions. But common across the landscape were “hidden foods,” which looked like one thing on the outside, but like the story of Ester revealed secrets below the surface. Folding, rolling, stuffing and cramming away from rabbinic view, Jewish women through the generations created culinary complements to hidden motifs of the Purim story.
How and when this tradition developed is shrouded in mystery, as the evidence was eaten and not recorded, but recipes passed through the generations and diverse communities, with very different culinary traditions, all found hidden foods tucked into their Purim menus. Persian Jews who laid special claim to the holiday — given that the story of Purim story is set in ancient Persia — have a tradition of eating gondi a meatball with the surprising filling of raisins and nuts, in a sweet and sour sauce. From the Greek Island of Rhodes there is a custom of sticky honey cookies called travadicos which are filled with nuts. The Jewish community of Italy added spinach ravioli and manicotti to the mix. The legacy of Eastern Europe takes shape with kreplach, delicate dumplings filled with meat and challahs stuffed with onions and poppy seeds.