For as many years as I can remember, my family and I have performed weekly Shabbat (Sabbath) rituals in our home on Friday nights. We don't keep kosher, or cease surfing the web or texting on Saturdays. But once a week we try to come together over a home-cooked meal, light candles and drink Manischewitz (the wine only a Jew could love), and break open a loaf of challah.
Challah is one of my favorite traditional Jewish foods. A braided loaf of eggy white bread, sometimes topped with sesame or poppy seeds, makes an appearance at most special meals. The typical loaf has three ropes braided together; sometimes for the most important holidays, a circular raisin-studded loaf is prepared.
Growing up in New York City, I've come across countless bakeries that prepare or stock fresh challah. But finding a great loaf is not easy. A perfect challah has, in my opinion, the following characteristics: a crackly outer shell, with a deep mahogany color. Its interior has a great pull: it doesn't break apart, so you must yank one delicious strand of eggy goodness from the next. The flavor is sweet but not too strong— the bread should accentuate a great meal, rather than overpower your grandma's kugel. Put all these parts together, and you've got yourself an ace Friday night treat.
So I set out in search of some great challot (the Hebrew pluralization of challah) around New York. Here's what I found.
Loaves We Loved?
Venerable Upper East Side bakery W. M. Greenberg Desserts turned out a fine challah, to no one's surprise, soft and tasty even a few days later; the challah from Gotta Getta Bagel in Queens, my own family favorite, is deeply flavored and flakes apart into luscious layers. Of the packaged challot, Zomick's stands out in the twist-tied pack; even with little crust to speak of, the extremely eggy loaf is simply delicious. And while we never expected to find a fine loaf of challah in Penn Station, Hot & Crusty made our Top 5, too.
But the best loaf we found...
Best Overall: Silver Moon Bakery
Usually when you pick up a challah with a great, solid crust, the interior reveals itself to be disappointingly dry and overbaked. This challah, though, was an exception. Its firm crust broke through to a moist interior, with pale dough that had great resistance. Once you have a hunk in your hand, you can peel off tasty layers of the interior as well as take a hearty bite through the crust. Great textural balance, lovely flavor. The best loaf we tried.
What About You?
Tell us, Serious Eaters: where do you get your favorite loaf of challah?