Rosh Hashanah begins this Wednesday at sundown so in preparation for the holiday I decided to experiment with my recipe for Honey-Vanilla Challah. The result? Apple-Honey Challah, spiced with cinnamon and freshly grated nutmeg. The modifications to my original recipe weren’t extreme but they were enough to make this loaf particularly suited for Rosh Hashanah, which is a two day Jewish holiday that marks the creation of the world. Often described as the “Jewish New Year,” the literal translation of the Hebrew is “head of the year” – but there are some similarities between the American conception of a “New Year” and the Jewish one. Just as many Americans use the New Year as a time to make “new year’s resolutions” in order to plan for a better life, likewise Rosh Hashanah is a time to reflect upon the mistakes we’ve made during the past year and to think about ways to improve our lives in the future. Yom Kippur comes after Rosh Hashanah, and the ten days in between are known as the “Days of Awe” (Yamim Noraim). It is believed the during these days the fate of everyone is determined for the coming year.
Food plays an important role in Rosh Hashanah, acting as a symbolic representation of our hopes for the new year. For instance, during a ritual called “tashlikh,” which means “casting off,” many Jews put pieces of bread in their pockets and walk to a river or other natural source of flowing water. They toss the bits of bread into the water, thereby ‘casting off’ their sins. Another popular tradition involves eating apples and honey, which represent our desire for a ‘sweet new year.’ I couldn’t resist combining this latter custom with my favorite hobby: baking bread. Apples? Honey? Bread? Yes please. Can you blame a gal for neglecting her Hebrew homework in pursuit of such a scrumptious creation?
Challah is usually baked into braids made with three, four or six strands of dough, the resulting spiral symbolizing the ascent to heaven. But on Rosh Hashanah challah is shaped into round loaves of bread whose circular form represents the continuity of life. Other festival shapes include crowns (symbolizing God’s place as ruler of the universe), ladders (recalling Jacob’s dream in Genesis 28:10), keys (symbolizing the gates of heaven) and on Yom Kippur, a bird shape (symbolizing the forgiveness of sins and that one’s prayers soar to heaven.) (Source) Below I’ve included instructions for making round loaves of challah, woven loaves and the traditional braid. I was tempted to write out directions for other shapes, but then I saw how long the instructions were getting and stopped myself. Enough already Ari! I can get a little carried away sometimes.
In the days leading up to and during Rosh Hashanah it’s customary to say to people, “Shana Tova Umetukah,” which means “May you have a good and sweet New Year.” So if you are celebrating Rosh Hashanah, shana tova umetukah, and if you’re not celebrating the holiday I hope you’re inspired to bake a loaf of apple-honey challah anyways. This bread slices exceptionally well and is perfect for making french toast, bread pudding, or simply enjoying on its own. As you can see from the first photo in this post, I added a dollop of fruit butter to mine. Blueberry peach butter, apple butter, pumpkin butter… its all good. And when paired with a giant cup of steaming coffee? Perfection. I’ll definitely be making another loaf of this challah on Wednesday morning for Rosh Hashanah dinner.
Other Baking and Books recipes for Rosh Hashanah:
Apple-Honey Challah (My Recipe)
Ingredients: Makes 1 Loaf
- 1/2 tablespoon active dry yeast
- 4 tablespoons granulated sugar
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 tsp cinnamon
- 1/8 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
- 4 1/4 to 4 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 cup of warm milk (whole is best, low-fat is ok too)
- 2 eggs + 1 for the glaze
- 4 tablespoons of olive oil + 1 teaspoon for greasing the bowl and another for the glaze
- 3/4 tablespoon dark wildflower honey
- 1/2 cup diced organic dry apples
In a large bowl using a whisk combine the yeast, sugar, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg and 1 cup of the flour. Add the warm milk, 2 eggs, 4 tablespoons of olive oil, then the honey. (Add the olive oil first, then use the same measuring spoon to add the honey – residual oil on the spoon will make the honey slide right out.) Vigorously mix the ingredients until smooth, scraping the sides of the bowl halfway through, about 3 minutes. Add the remaining flour 1/2 cup at a time, alternating with the apples, which should be added in handfuls. Switch to a wooden spoon when the dough becomes too thick for the whisk. Continue mixing the dough until it is too stiff to stir.
Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead until soft and springy, about 4 minutes. If the dough is sticky, dust with flour 1 tablespoon at a time – just enough to prevent it from sticking to the surface. The dough is done when it’s smooth and small air bubbles show under the skin. If you press your thumb into it the impression should bounce back. This is a slightly firm dough, which is exactly what you want for easy braiding later on.
Place the dough in a deep container greased with 1 tsp of olive oil. Turn the dough once to coat the top and cover with plastic wrap. Allow it to rise at room temperature until doubled in bulk, about 1 1/2 to 2 hours.
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or lightly grease it with non-stick spray. Gently deflate the dough by pressing your fingers into it, then turn it out onto a lightly floured surface.
Braiding: There are several ways to braid your dough, using anywhere from 3 to 6 strands (or more!). It’s traditional for Rosh Hashanah loaves to be round, but challah is delicious regardless of shape so go with whatever shape feels right to you.
- Three strand braided challah. Divide the dough into 3 equal portions, and roll each portion out into a smooth, thick strip about 20 inches long, with the ends slightly thinner than the middle. Lay these ropes side-by-side, not quite touching. Beginning in the middle and working towards you, braid the lower half of the three ropes. To braid, alternately move the outside ropes over the one in the center – left over, right over, left over – until you come to the end. Now go to the other side of your working space and braid the other half, this time moving the outside ropes under the center one. Braid tightly – you don’t want any gaps. When you finish braiding each side crimp the tapered ends together, then tuck them under.Once you have braided your dough in this fashion you can bake it as is, or twist the braid around itself, pinwheel fashion, thereby achieving the round challah look. Tuck the tail end of the braid underneath the coil and gently pinch the dough together to seal it closed. Another 3 braid option is to place the braided dough in a 9 x 12 inch loaf pan so that your bread has a rectangular bottom and a braided top.
- Woven round challah, which is what I did to the bread pictured in this post. To achieve this look divide your dough into 4 equal portions, then roll each out into smooth, thick strips about 15 inches long, with the ends slightly thinner than the middle. Arrange these ropes into a tic-tac-toe shape, with one pair of ropes perpendicular to the second pair. (You should have two ropes of dough running directly away from you, and two ropes running parallel to you.) Instead of just laying the top ropes on the bottom ones, weave them under/over: with the ropes running parallel to you, take the rope farthest away from you and weave it under the leftmost vertical rope, then over the rightmost vertical rope; take the parallel rope closest to you and weave it over the leftmost vertical rope, then under the rightmost vertical rope. Push the ropes together so that there isn’t any open space in the middle of your beginning weave.Now take the bottom of the rightmost vertical rope (probably the one directly in front of your right hand) and weave it over the rope next to it on the right (counter clockwise). Take the rope that was just woven over, and weave it over the rope next to it. Continue until you reach the first rope, then reverse the process and weave the ropes left, in a clockwise fashion. If you have enough dough, weave the ropes one more time right, counter clockwise. By this time you should have short stumps of dough sticking out – one by one, pull them clockwise and gently pinch them against the larger mass of already woven dough. Finally, using both hands, gently grab your woven dough and slowly flip it over. You’ve just created a woven challah. Yay!Helpful link: There is a useful tutorial on how to weave a round challah here.
- You can also bypass the entire braiding process by cutting your dough into four or five large chunks and stacking them side-by-side in a large loaf or bundt pan. This simple method also produces a beautiful loaf of bread!
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F and place the braided dough on your baking sheet, cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rise until almost doubled in bulk, 30 to 40 minutes. If you are using a loaf pan, likewise loosely cover your dough with plastic wrap and let rise until almost doubled in bulk, 30 to 40 minutes.
Just before the rising time has finished whisk together 1 egg and 1 teaspoon of olive oil, this is going to be the glaze for your bread. Gently brush the dough with a thick layer of it. Place the dough in the oven and bake for 30 to 35 minutes, or until the bread is a deep golden brown and sounds hollow when you thump it on the bottom. If you are using a loaf pan you can test your bread by covering the pan with a clean kitchen towel then, while wearing oven mitts, flipping the pan over so that the bread falls into the towel. Thump the bottom. If it does not sound hollow place the pan back on the bread, flip it over, and put it back in the oven for another 5 minutes or so.
When your bread is done transfer it to a baking rack to cool. Allow to cool completely before slicing – or at least wait until it’s warm, not hot – then enjoy!
A woven round challah