Whether your menu for Rosh Hashanah is traditional—heavy on the brisket and tsimmes—or more innovative, one universal element dominates the table: the challah, that majestic spiral, symbol of the cycle of life, sweetened with raisins and our wish for a sweet new year.
Making challah at home need not be daunting. For tips and encouragement I consulted Duff Goldman, author of “Duff Bakes” (William Morrow) and ten-year veteran of Food Network’s “Ace of Cakes.” The ebullient baker of gravity-defying, laser-shooting, super-realistic cakes has now brought his act to Los Angeles with his new series “Cake Masters,” taped at Charm City Cakes West on Melrose (and, yes, he is happy to come to Orange County for your celebration). Surprised? Why talk to the cake guy about bread? This spring I caught Goldman at the Cooking Stage of the LA Times Festival of Books held at USC, where he demonstrated his recipe for pita bread. When an audience member asked: “If you could bake only one thing for the rest of your life, what would it be?” his answer was “bread.”
Behind all the shtick is a serious baker who was a philosophy major in college. “I think a lot. It appealed to me,” he said. “Baking is a lot different than cooking. You kill a cow in July or December and you get the same steak. Bread is alive. It changes with the heat, humidity, altitude, the kind of flour you’re using. Yeast is like sea monkeys. It’s dry and weird, and you add water and it’s alive.”
Of course, this “nice Jewish boy,” as he calls himself, had to include a challah recipe in his cookbook. “But my inclusion of it is less than godly,” he writes. “See, when I was in college, I used to bake challah in the communal kitchen in the dorms. Let’s just say, it never failed to make me popular with the ladies.”
Later when we spoke on the phone he offered a tip. “You want to make sure when you’re braiding challah to braid it loose,” he said. “Leave a little bit of space, because bread rises. You don’t want to put too much pressure on the surface. Then it stretches and tears. Also, make sure the middle of each strand is a little bit fatter than the end. You want the ends slightly tapered.” For Rosh Hashanah he likes to add raisins. “But put the raisins in relatively late,” he cautioned. “If you add the raisins before you knead the dough, then the raisins get all mashed up.”
Goldman has fond memories of watching his great grandma making strudel. “She made the filo dough from scratch,” he noted. “To this day I have absolutely zero patience for it. Watching her take that level of care taught me a lot, that mindfulness and care translates into everything you do. If she is going to take the time to make filo dough from scratch, then you can take the time to cut your onions straight.”
Watching Goldman create his over-the-top, crazy cakes on “Cake Masters” might intimidate the home baker. “My biggest tip is to have fun and relax,” he advised. “Do something cute and cool, and don’t get all twisted that it doesn’t look like a cake from TV. People would much rather have a cake made at home with love than a fancy cake bought at a store.
“We make one thing, ridiculous cakes. I love what I do. It is science and chemistry and physics, but you don’t have to know that. We perpetuate the myth. You do have to measure, but that’s it.”
Makes 2 large loaves. For a round Rosh Hashanah loaf, roll the dough into two long single strands. Beginning at one end, wind each rope from the center of the spiral outward, keeping the center slightly elevated like a turban, and tuck the end under.
2 (1/4-ounce) envelopes active dry yeast
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup honey
1/3 cup olive oil
2 extra-large eggs plus 3 egg yolks
2 tablespoons kosher salt
3 cups bread flour
6 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 extra-large eggs
2 tablespoons sugar
1 Dough: In big bowl, mix yeast, sugar, honey, and 3 cups warm water; let yeast bloom about 7 minutes.
2 Add oil, eggs, yolks, and salt and mix well. Add flours; mix until sticky. Dough should be nice creamy yellow color.
3 Turn dough out onto floured surface (get all dough out of bowl or you’ll have to wash it) and knead 12 to 15 minutes, or until smooth. Oil bowl, place dough in bowl, cover tight with plastic wrap, and let rise in warm place about 1 1/2 hours, or until doubled.
4 Punch dough down, cover, and let rise another 45 minutes. Punch down again and cut into six equal pieces. Let rest about 10 minutes; roll into snakes about 14 inches long that taper at each end. On oiled baking sheet, braid three snakes loosely—you want to give them space to grow. Fold ends under. Repeat for second loaf on second baking sheet. Oil loaves lightly, cover with plastic wrap, and let rise until they look good and poofy, about 25 minutes.
5 Preheat oven to 375˚F.
6 Whisk egg wash ingredients lightly in small bowl. Gently brush loaves with egg wash, taking care not to deflate them.
7 Bake until loaves are beautiful golden color, about 45 minutes. Tap on bottom of loaf: if it sounds hollow, it’s done. Let cool completely before slicing. This is a very tender bread, and if you slice it too warm, it will grab the knife and mush.
Options: If you want to sprinkle on poppy seeds or sesame seeds, go to town, but remember that you’ll be making French toast with leftovers.
Apples and honey, that iconic Rosh Hashanah combination. Here is a crisp that combines both. “Crisp is that blurry line between cobbler and streusel, and apple crisp may be one of the most delicious things on the whole planet,” Goldman writes. “It’s good year-round, solo, or with some ice cream. As a professional pastry chef, it’s one of those go-to things that I know I can bake and make three hundred people real happy. This recipe calls for apples, but don’t be shy—think about pears, berries, peaches, and so on.”
Makes one 9 x 13-inch pan or eight 6-ounce ramekins
7 to 8 apples, peeled and chopped (I prefer Fujis, Granny Smiths, or Honeycrisps)
1 cup golden raisins
1/3 cup canned crushed pineapple, drained
1 cup chopped pecans
1/2 cup honey
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 cups all-purpose flour
11/2 cups granulated or light brown sugar
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
Big pinch of kosher salt
2 extra-large eggs
1/2 stick (1/4 cup) butter, melted
1 Preheat oven to 375˚F.
2 Filling: In big bowl, combine fruit, nuts, and honey. Let sit a few minutes to get juicy, then stir in flour.
3 Topping: In another bowl, combine dry ingredients. Mix in eggs until smooth, but don’t overbeat. When mixture is smooth, mix in butter.
4 Spray 9 x 13-inch pan (or eight 6-ounce ramekins) lightly with cooking spray. Spoon in fruit mixture, then spread crisp topping on top. The more surface area that gets baked, the crispier it’ll be.
5 Bake until bubbling or golden brown, about 30 minutes (22 to 25 minutes for ramekins). You want fruit to boil so flour is cooked off and thick. It can look a little messy!
Source: “Duff Bakes” (William Morrow) by Duff Goldman and Sara Gonzales.
Jlife food Editor Judy Bart Kancigor is the author of “Cooking Jewish” (Workman) and “The Perfect Passover Cookbook” (an e-book short from Workman), a columnist and feature writer for the Orange County Register and other publications and can be found on the web at www.cookingjewish.com.