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Learning How to Make Challah at Rosenfeld’s Bagels

By Lan Lam Published

Our morning at this beloved Newton, Massachusetts, bakery was filled with old cookbooks, buckets of eggs, and insight into large-scale bread production.

In addition to combing through cookbooks, watching video tutorials, calculating baker’s percentages, and comparing mixing methods, I made a trip to Rosenfeld’s Bagels in Newton, Massachusetts, to learn how to make challah. There, I spent the morning with owner Michael Lombardo and his team, learning how they turn out their glossy, rich, and tender braided loaves. By the end of it, I had a deep appreciation for his knowledge of the bread and the pace, rhythm, and muscle memory that go into bakery-scale production; I even came away with a new braiding technique that I applied to my own recipe. Check out the highlight reel below.

Rosenfeld’s Bagels, which opened in 1973, operates out of a subterranean storefront in Newton Centre. Their menu is classic and straightforward: New York–style bagels in more than 20 flavors, bialys, Jewish pastries, smoked fish, cream cheese spreads, and challah.

Lombardo’s vast collection of cookbooks, manuals, and recipes (some of which date back nearly 100 years) shows the depth of research he has done to inform his own baking formulas. This particular “cookbook” from General Mills is a box of recipe cards—like a Rolodex of bread and pastry formulas.

The Rosenfeld’s kitchen is crowded with hulking, hard-working equipment. Lombardo favors an Italian-made spiral mixer that has a 225-pound capacity. Ingredients are weighed by the bucketful before they are added to the mixer, which turns out 150-pound batches of challah dough in just 12 minutes (see the mixing process above).

The Rosenfeld’s team members chuck 3.5-ounce lumps of challah dough into the hopper of a bread moulder. In seconds, it rolls the lumps into 8- to 9-inch long ropes that are ready for braiding (top photo, left). The staff gathers around a metal table and turns out 4- and 6-strand braids, along with a few other shapes (middle photo, left). Each baker has a slightly different braiding style, and Lombardo has no trouble identifying the baker who braided each loaf.

The shaped loaves are brushed with egg wash, loaded onto rolling racks, and moved to a proofing box to rise (bottom photo, left). Proofed loaves bake in deck ovens that stretch down one side of the narrow bakery.

Freshly baked loaves are cooled and then bagged up for sale. The challah is most popular during Rosh Hashanah—the one time of year that it outsells the bagels. In fact, the bakery allows customers to preorder their challah for the holiday week so that they can have a fresh loaf on a particular day, but it always has to cap the orders a week or so before the holiday because it runs out of oven space.

Recipe Easy-Braid Challah

Ritual and muscle memory have carried this soft, rich Jewish loaf through generations. A change in technique made the dough perfect for novice bread bakers.

Recipe Braided Round Challah

Ritual and muscle memory have carried this soft, rich Jewish loaf through generations. A change in technique made the dough perfect for novice bread bakers.

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JC
JOHN C.
16 days

Absolutely the best chicken ever, even the breast meat was moist! It's the only way I'll cook a whole chicken again. Simple, easy, quick, no mess - perfect every time. I've used both stainless steel and cast iron pans. great and easy technique for “roasted” chicken. I will say there were no pan juices, just fat in the skillet. Will add to the recipe rotation. Good for family and company dinners too. I've done this using a rimmed sheet pan instead of a skillet and put veggies and potatoes around the chicken for a one-pan meal. Broccoli gets nicely browned and yummy!

Absolutely the best chicken ever, even the breast meat was moist! It's the only way I'll cook a whole chicken again. Simple, easy, quick, no mess - perfect every time. I've used both stainless steel and cast iron pans. great and easy technique for “roasted” chicken. I will say there were no pan juices, just fat in the skillet. Will add to the recipe rotation. Good for family and company dinners too.

MD
MILES D.
JOHN C.
9 days

Amazed this recipe works out as well as it does. Would not have thought that the amount of time under the broiler would have produced a very juicy and favorable chicken with a very crispy crust. Used my 12" Lodge Cast Iron skillet (which can withstand 1000 degree temps to respond to those who wondered if it would work) and it turned out great. A "make again" as my family rates things. This is a great recipe, and I will definitely make it again. My butcher gladly butterflied the chicken for me, therefore I found it to be a fast and easy prep. I used my cast iron skillet- marvellous!

CM
CHARLES M.
11 days

John, wasn't it just amazing chicken? So much better than your typical oven baked chicken and on par if not better than gas or even charcoal grilled. It gets that smokey charcoal tasted and overnight koshering definitely helps, something I do when time permits. First-time I've pierced a whole chicken minus the times I make jerk chicken on the grill. Yup, the cast iron was not an issue.