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Friday, September 3, 2010

S.F. Rising: Three Challot for a Friday

Posted By on Fri, Sep 3, 2010 at 2:18 PM

Moscow and Tbilisi's challah (non-Kosher). - JONATHAN KAUFFMAN
  • Jonathan Kauffman
  • Moscow and Tbilisi's challah (non-Kosher).
A weekly survey of bread in San Francisco ― the baked and the fried, the

artisan and the novelty.

Challah #1

Source: Moscow and Tbilisi Bakery, 5540 Geary (at 20th Ave.) 668-6959.
Price: $4 for a large, $0.85 for a small
Kosher? No

Toast-appropriateness: 6/10, if you cut it to size

The photo doesn't do this loaf justice: Moscow and Tbilisi's challah could double as Divine's beehive in the original Hairspray. It could plug a manhole. It could feed a family of 10. If you're holding a two-person Sabbath dinner, you'd be better off picking up a mini challah, which is the size of a man's hand. (However, the bakery is not kosher.)

Mini challah, 85 cents. - JONATHAN KAUFFMAN
  • Jonathan Kauffman
  • Mini challah, 85 cents.
The weight of the braided loaf belies its size: Take an extra-large knife and slice into the challah, and you find a yolk-yellowed crumb with the texture of a cello sponge. The bubbles swirl and crest, following the braiding of the dough. It squishes the moment you touch it. If you can slice the loaf in thirds to fit into your toaster, the kitchen quickly fills with the smell of omelets. Bringing out the egginess cures the bread from tasting anodyne, too much like any other white bread.

Grand Bakery's challah. - JONATHAN KAUFFMAN
  • Jonathan Kauffman
  • Grand Bakery's challah.
Challah #2

Source: Grand Bakery, purchased at Tel Aviv Kosher Meats, Deli and Restaurant, 2495 Irving (at 26th Ave.), 661-7588. 
Price: $5
Kosher? Yes

Toast-appropriateness: 7/10

Grand Bakery, the long-running kosher bakery in Oakland's Grand Lake neighborhood, produces a compact, golden-topped, traditionally shaped challah speckled with poppy seeds. Not as eggy as the Moscow and Tbilisi, the challah takes on the slightly dusky flavor of the poppy seeds scattered on top. It's a fine loaf, but it wants to be dredged through a fruity olive oil.

Irving's Premium Challah. - JONATHAN KAUFFMAN
  • Jonathan Kauffman
  • Irving's Premium Challah.
Challah #3
Source: Irving's Premium Challah, purchased at Dayenu Judaica, 3220 California (at Presidio), 564-6563. 
Price: $4.99
Kosher? Yes

Toast-appropriateness: 4/10 (good, but why would you want to?)

Irving Greisman may no longer bake each loaf by hand, but his Irving's Premium Challah still carries the aura of handmade. He's a local software engineer who turned a knack for baking challah into a business about a decade ago. Irving's challah is glossy, pillowy, seemingly fragile; walking out of the Jewish Community Center store, you find yourself cradling the bread in your arms, almost as much for yourself as the bread. The challah seems engineered for tearing up instead of slicing, each tug pulling away a hunk with long strands that resembles a comet with a tail. Less eggy than Moscow and Tbilisi's, the bread has a whispery sweetness to it. If you're not saving the challah for dinner tonight, you may find yourself returning to the table where you've left it, pulling off just a bite or two, until you find it's long past lunch time and you have forgotten to eat a proper meal.

Follow us on Twitter: @sfoodie. Follow me at @JonKauffman.

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