The New Challahs on the Block
With Rosh Hashanah comes the eternal question: Which challah can do justice to your holiday table?
Living in New York, one has no lack of options. In fact, there may be too many choices. There are, of course, the beautiful, glossy loaves from traditional bakeries that have stood the test of time, but there are an increasing number of new generation bakeries preparing artisan challahs, too. Do these new bakeries on the block stand up to the classics?
To help you find the best challah this holiday — and to satisfy our own curiosity — the Forward staff hosted a challah taste test, with special guests Andrew Coe, bread columnist at Serious Eats; Forward ingredients columnist Leah Koenig, and The Gefilteria co-founder Jeffrey Yoskowitz. We sampled six challahs from new-generation bakeries, taking into account texture, flavor and crust. Read on to find out which challah was crowned king.
When it comes to presentation, the first outpost in the United States of the famed Israeli bakery Lechamim delivers with its stunning wreath-shaped challah. Beautifully laid out on a paper doily and shielded in a box, this is the perfect hostess gift. The fluffy, pillowy texture and slightly sweet flavor of the loaf are balanced out with the crisp taste of seven different types of seeds, including poppy, pumpkin and nigella, that cover the crust. But, as Coe pointed out, the distinct flavor of the seeds tended to overwhelm the crust, making it virtually nonexistent.
Though most of us were enchanted by the variety of seeds, some were not so impressed. “This challah is having an identity crisis,” one taster commented. “Does it want to be an everything bagel?”
If you’re looking for traditional French bread like sourdough miche or baguette, or for an assortment of perfectly executed pastries, Bien Cuit is the place to go. If you’re looking for challah, this is one stop you can probably skip. We had high hopes for this loaf, but the dry, sticky texture and tough, almost burnt crust had us reaching for water. Though the inside had a “nice eggy flavor,” it was taken over by the dark, overbaked crust.
Classic challah lovers, listen up. This is our favorite loaf. If you want the result of French baking precision without being too showy or straying too far from a classic challah recipe, Eric Kayser’s petite loaf is the one for you. Slightly sweet and eggy, with a lovely pull-apart texture and a golden, glossy crust, this is, as one taster put it, “the Goldilocks ‘just right’ challah.” Perfect for a weekly Shabbat dinner or a holiday meal.
This challah, sold at Hot Bread Kitchen stands at farmers markets across the city, got mixed reviews. Some marveled at the soft, chewy texture and slightly sweet flavor, while others labeled the challah dry and bland. Though the crust was nicely glazed and a “gorgeous mahogany color,” the odd, half-moon — almost collapsed — shape spoiled the presentation.
Uptown New Yorkers take Silver Moon’s reputation of producing the best challah in New York very seriously — but our tasters were disappointed. Blame it on a bad batch, but the slightly dry texture and bland flavor didn’t leave us wanting more. No one should settle for an “okay crust” — though this challah would make excellent French toast.
Did that unreliable guest fail to bring the cake? No problem. This challah can double as dessert. With a texture that’s tender and moist, almost like brioche, and a crust sprinkled with pearl sugar, this one is for lovers of all things sweet. A resounding “yum” from our tasters.