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The Challah Chronicles

January 16, 2015

Gluten is good. I don’t care what anyone says. Carbs make life worth living. Bread is essential. Pasta in all its shapes and forms is simply glorious. Pastry is poetry on a plate.

Bread is something I take seriously. Not baking it, mind you. I have simply no patience for that. But the hunt for the loaves of my dreams takes plenty of time and more mental energy than you might imagine. Still, I’m okay with that. It’s the cost for making sure I eat really really good bread.

Without a doubt, there is one bread I care about the most. And while baguettes are beloved, and miche is marvelous, the loaf at the top of the pile is my weekly challah. This is driven as much by its cultural and religious significance as it is by the deliciousness of a sweet, tender, eggy challah slathered with a full-flavored high-fat butter, and a generous sprinkling of crunchy salt crystals.

Getting a good one has been a struggle, but I think I’m finally out of the woods.

It has been a series of near continuous debacles with my regular Friday afternoon grocery run for a challah and a roast chicken, that has really sunk my relationship with our local Whole Foods. You can read the full saga here. But they no longer even carry the Zomick’s challah anymore. The one that’s baked in store is fine, but it doesn’t hit all those rich, tender notes of a good Zomick’s challah.

The best challah, are the ones that are slightly under cooked. Little Miss Fussy is now an expert at picking out the best challah from a display. She looks at them very carefully for color. She’s examining their bottoms, their edges, and the spaces where the strands of the braid come together, to see which one is less done. Light yellow is good. Burnished brown is bad.

Anyhow, I heard tale that Price Chopper’s Kosher Chopper brought in Zomick’s challah too. That’s even less convenient, but I did drive out there once to find all the loaves were sold out early in the day. So that turned out to be an unreliable source too.

For a spell, I have been relying on Hannaford. They keep “fresh” challah in their freezer and remove a few bags whenever the display runs low. But those bags can sit out for a while. And if it’s not consumed on the day it’s packed, it just isn’t as good. Yes, I abhor waste. But I also won’t buy day old challah. The bakery staff has been amazing at humoring this crazy man and his daughter, as we asked them to check if there were any slightly lighter colored challah in the freezer.

Seriously, I cannot even tell you how much I appreciate the added effort. But even picking out the best Hannaford challah is a hollow victory, because a frozen challah can never really be as great as a fresh one.

The best local version of the form comes from New Mt. Pleasant Bakery in Schenectady. But that’s way too far to drive. However, I recently remembered that the bakery is affiliated with a pizza parlor in Albany. And if you call a day or two in advance, you can place an order and pick up the region’s best challah at a relatively central and convenient location.

Huzah!

Of course, not all loves of New Mt. Pleasant are created equal. Some weeks they knock it out of the park. Other weeks it tastes like someone just switched over to autopilot. But at least I’ve found a reliable source for a great weekly loaf.

Maybe now that this search is over, I can go back to Whole Foods and put the past in the past. I’m sure it will be better if the things I’m looking to buy are actually items they regularly keep in stock.

6 Comments leave one →
  1. January 16, 2015 11:43 am

    I probably should note that the mysterious pizza parlor with the mysterious connection to New Mt. Pleasant Bakery is… http://goo.gl/Zw6UXo

  2. Jessica R W permalink
    January 16, 2015 3:09 pm

    In regards to good bread, the next time you are at the Cookie Factory, get a loaf of their rye bread. It’s soooo good.
    I also also the bread they sell at The Grocery in Troy. It’s from that bakery in Hudson with the stove brought over from France, if I recall correctly.

  3. January 17, 2015 10:24 am

    Last night, I was in the Albany Whole Foods and they once again had the Zomick’s Challah rolls. Not the bread, mind you – but . . . in a pinch, the rolls work. And the rolls make great breakfast sandwiches if you cut them open and toast them in a buttered pan (yep . . I said that . . .more butter on Challah!).

  4. mattVSmatthew permalink
    January 18, 2015 6:19 pm

    Sorry to run off topic, but I just wanted to say – I’ve returned to the blog after a life-induced hiatus, and I’m enjoying the heck out of it. Good work, profusser!

  5. Jenny permalink
    January 22, 2015 10:12 am

    Now that you have a relationship with the mysterious pizza parlor mentioned above, maybe you can convince them to bring the challah and some of the other Mt. Pleasant breads back to the neighborhood, even if it is just once a week.

    15 plus years ago when I moved to the neighborhood, that pizza place actually WAS a bakery, and while I don’t specifically remember anything about challah, they did have a nice rye bread that I liked to purchase. When it changed hands (or maybe just focus), the bread disappeared. I have a myriad of choices, here between SUNY Albany and St. Rose, of pizza places. It would be great to have a place close by to purchase good bread.

  6. January 22, 2015 11:17 am

    DB – Why is it better if it’s slightly underbaked? Is it more “eggy?” I love “Jewish” food so much, including challah, and I really love to make it. Will make a batch and try the underdone version.

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