When every day's a challah-day

Local baker and artist Anya Viner creates “anything you can think of” from challah

smileychallah image
Anya Viner with a happy face emoji challah. Photo credit: Sari P. Photography.

For local baker Anya Viner, inspiration for her creative challahs can come from anywhere.

Her yeasty creations include everything from Elmo and Pac-Man to Air Jordan shoes, a Model A car, and luxury handbags based on Chanel, Yves Saint Laurent, and Hermes. She has made challah versions of her favorite Birkenstock shoes, a black poodle who served as the maid of honor at a wedding, and "stop" and "slow" signs for road workers.

But it all started when she was inspired by the story of Joseph's dreamcoat at a Kaddish service for her father. She crafted the shape; added nuts, sage, and dried fruits; and baked her way to a new passion that has been entertaining hundreds in Chicago and on Instagram ever since.

Viner's baking journey started when she attended Cooking & Hospitality Institute of Chicago between her Northwestern University undergraduate degree and MBA. "Baking is my passion," she said. "If people ask what I do, I'm a baker. That's my love." Initially, she baked at night and on the weekends, when she moved to the suburbs with her family.

It was difficult to fit challah-making into the busy life of a mom of three, but five years ago, Viner started doing challah bakes at North Suburban Synagogue Beth El in Highland Park--and she listened to her friends and family who urged her to share her challahs with a wider audience. After conducting a teaching demo of a "challah-kiah" for JUF as a Chanukah program, she had a revelation: "I didn't realize I have so much control over the dough. I can make anything!"

Viner started expanding the ingredients of challahs she made for family and friends. Candy, food coloring, colored sugar, and more made it into her designs and before long, she expanded her passion for "uncommon challahs," as she calls them. She created an Instagram page, "Tigertail Bakery," featuring over 200 challah designs and nearly 900 followers. She also teaches challah-making workshops for synagogue events, birthday parties, bridal showers, and individuals looking to hone their skills.

Each of Viner's challahs are made fresh the day she will deliver them. "I will wake up at two in the morning if necessary," she said, and as her hobby grew into more of a business, she has enjoyed watching more people become invested in her baking. "It made me feel so good, during the pandemic especially, that I was putting smiles on people's faces. That kept me going. For a while, I even did one a day."

Some of Viner's favorite challahs include Bernie Sanders' mittens, the Very Hungry Caterpillar tribute to late children's book author Eric Carle, a rooster for a wedding party, a cancer awareness ribbon--and, of course, the dreamcoat that started it all.

Viner greatly enjoys making challahs based on Jewish stories and holidays. She dressed her son as Moses with two challah tablets for Shavuot, created a version of Noah's Ark complete with animals, and showed off her sense of humor by making a Passover seder plate made out of bread. "I don't think of myself as a funny person, but my humor is able to come out in this," she said.

For any aspiring challah bakers in Chicago, Viner advises to read the recipe several times in advance and plan ahead. Her favorite tip is to "practice, practice, practice! The more you do it, the easier it gets, the more comfortable you are--and you'll have great-tasting results."

For more information, or to commission a challah, visit tigertailbakery.com or check out @tigertailbakery on Instagram.


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