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.