Rosh Hashanah is here!
For those of you that aren’t familiar, Judaism follows its own calendar, which differs greatly from the “Roman” calendar that we follow day-to-day. And, since it is a lunar calendar, the Jewish holidays end up moving around a little bit, since the calendar naturally falls out of sync with the solar year, requiring some fancy month-adding from time to time to keep things generally in season! This year Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year (which lasts for two days), falls on the early side, in the first full week of September, beginning at sundown on September 8th, and ending at sundown on September 10th.
Probably the biggest theme during Rosh Hashanah is trying to ensure a sweet and happy New Year. Since it is a religious holiday, of course prayer plays a major role. However, as with most Jewish holidays, food is a major component with some serious symbolism. The culinary buzzwords for Rosh Hashanah are “sweet” and “round” – the first is pretty straightforward for the “Sweet New Year” theme, but the “round” probably requires a little explanation. You eat round foods specifically to symbolize the cyclical nature of the calendar, and the holiday begins a new circle. Apples and pomegranates are traditional fruits eaten on the holiday for this reason.
One of my favorite traditions for the holiday is making my Mom’s special Rosh Hashanah Challah. Challah is a traditional Jewish egg-bread, and usually is braided into loaves. On Rosh Hashanah, however, we forgo the braiding in favor of a round loaf. To make it extra special (and extra sweet), raisins are added, and in my house we make a version with cinnamon sugar swirls.
You can easily modify your favorite Challah recipe to make this delicious holiday version. I basically follow the directions below, a modification of a pretty basic recipe my Mom found in a cookbook, which I make in an electric stand-mixer. However, I have made this recipe by hand with no mixer, so those of you without a KitchenAid have no fear!
1 package dry yeast
Scant 5 cups all-purpose flour
2 Tbs. sugar
1 1/2 teas. salt
1/3 cup butter, room temp.
1 cup hot tap water
1 pinch saffron
3 eggs and 1 egg white, room temp. (reserve yolk from 4th egg for eggwash)
Mix yeast, 2 cups flour, sugar, salt and butter together in mixer. Slowly add hot water and beat at medium speed of electric mixer for about 2 min. Add saffron, 3 eggs and 1 egg white. Mix in the rest of the flour, about 1 cup at a time. The dough will still be quite sticky, but don’t add more flour, in my experience it makes the bread heavy and kills some of the taste.
Knead the dough – about 5-7 minutes with a dough hook on the mixer, otherwise about 10 by hand.
Place the dough in a bowl lightly oiled, and turn it until it is oiled all over. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and let rise until it has about doubled in size (takes about an hour with this recipe.)
After mixing your dough and setting it aside to rise for the first time (follow your recipe for timing as it can vary, in my recipe its about an hour), soak a cup of raisins (for this feature we used golden, but regular work excellently too) in sweet wine (like Manischewitz). They will absorb the flavor of the wine, but also become more tender, which provides better texture for the bread.
After the first rising, split the dough in half (most recipes are sized to make the traditional two loaves eaten on the Sabbath). Working with one half at a time, use a rolling pin to shape the dough into a rectangle.
Brush the surface of the rectangle with a little milk, and sprinkle with cinnamon sugar (I like plenty, but how much is up to your palate!).
Drain the raisins, and sprinkle half over the surface of the dough.
Roll the dough into a log, pinching the seam together so you don’t lose the filling.
On a baking sheet lined with parchment paper, roll the log into a tight spiral, and tuck the end underneath so it will hold its shape while it’s baking.
Repeat with the other half of the dough, and let both loaves rise (again, follow your recipe for time, with mine again it is about an hour).
Brush the loaves with an egg wash before baking to get a beautiful golden brown shine on the surface. Bake as you would a normal Challah (my recipe is 400 degrees F, about 25-30 minutes– you know it’s done when you get a hollow sound tapping the bottom of the loaf.) If it starts to get too dark, cover the loaves with foil, and they will continue to bake without getting a burnt crust.
Serve with honey for dipping for a traditional Jewish holiday experience! And, as a bonus, the leftovers make FABULOUS French toast!
Shana Tovah Umetukah (A Good and Sweet New Year) to all of Paul’s readers, and don’t forget to keep checking in with The Basics and follow along on Facebook!
by Morgan Condell