New York has long been known for its spread of traditional Jewish eats, be it bagels and lox from Russ & Daughters or pastrami on rye from Katz’s Deli -- and the enormous loaves of fresh challah from Breads Bakery in Union Square are no different. Designed to sit as the centerpiece of a classic Jewish feast, the braided pastries are large enough to feed a full table’s worth of guests. “It’s a share-and-tear bread,” says Jeremy Jan, head bread baker at the iconic bakery, “so everybody you know at the table takes a piece.”
In order to make the oversized challah, Jan and his team prepare the dough for three separate loaves before braiding them all together. The finished form is set out while the yeast sets in, allowing the dough to rise into its full challah shape (this is called “proofing”). Once it’s ready, the bakers inlay a series of ceramic bowls directly into the dough. These can be filled with anything from salt and butter, to fresh honey, so guests can tear off pieces of bread and dip them directly into the toppings. “It has to be a small batch -- as fresh as possible,” Jan explains, “we have people manning the proofers and our ovens all day long to deliver that.”
In addition the challah, Breads Bakery is also known for its babka (a traditional sweet yeast cake). According to Edan Leshnick, the pastry chef behind the babka, the secret to the delicacy is a laminated dough, which is what creates the cake’s flaky croissant-like texture: “It basically involves a lot of butter, and I love butter” he says. Once the dough is ready, the bakers add a helping of either chocolate and Nutella, or fresh apples and cinnamon to the mix. “You get some of that old-school nostalgic flavor,” Jan says of the extra additives, “but with a very innovative kind of approach to it.”
Watch the video above to learn more about these famous Jewish desserts.