With Rosh Hashanah approaching, Jewish cooks everywhere are cutting and chopping, searing and sautéing. And towering over our festive holiday spread stands the majestic spiral challah, the centerpiece of our Yom Tov celebration.
“The round challah represents the cycle of life and the cycle of the year,” said Maggie Glezer, author of the award-winning cookbook, “A Blessing of Bread: Recipes and Rituals, Memories and Mitzvahs” (Artisan, $35) by phone from her Atlanta home. “In Yiddish it’s called ‘faigele’ or ‘little bird.’ My hypothesis is that it originally came from the Ukrainian round bread baked with a bird’s head shaped in the center. Perhaps it became simplified and they lost the bird. The bird represents the quote from Isaiah: ‘As birds hovering, so will the Lord of Hosts protect Jerusalem.’ The symbolism always harks back to something holy, so that we keep G-d in our sight at all times.”
For the Yom Kippur Break-the-Fast meal, some actually shape the dough into birds of prayer, as explained by Phyllis Glazer, author with her sister Miriyam Glazer of “The Essential Book of Jewish Festival Cooking” (HarperCollins, $29.95), emailing from her home in Israel. “Though the process of creating the little birds may seem complicated at first,” she cautioned, “once you get the hang of it, you’ll be able to hatch them out in minutes, if you carefully follow the directions,” (which you can find on our website: www.ocjewishlife.com.) “Perched on a nest of bay leaves, they almost seem as if they’re resting just before carrying our prayers up to the heavens.”
On Rosh Hashanah, which begins at sundown September 24, we create grand spirals to dip in honey. “Since Rosh Hashanah also celebrates the creation of the world, the round challah is a symbol of the holiness of life and of the life cycle, the endlessness of life,” explained Miriyam. “We add raisins for the same reason that we dip apples in honey, to enjoy a sweet new year.”
To shape the spiral—or any shape using strands of dough—Maggie Glezer offers an amazing tip to eliminate air pockets and produce even strands.
“At the American Institute of Baking they have a machine that takes the blobs of dough and sheets them out to a couple millimeters thick for an incredibly fine texture,” she explained. “I thought, why couldn’t you do that at home.”
For the Rosh Hashanah spiral, roll each portion of dough as thinly as possible into an approximate circle. Then roll the thin sheet tightly into a strand with your palms. “To lengthen the strand, don’t pull,” she warned. “Push down, not out, letting the dough extend itself.” Braid the strands and join them to form a circle for the holiday. Braid loosely for the most defined shape.
“Bread is the most important food in the Jewish diet,” she noted. “The ancient Israelites took the majority of their calories from bread. In the Torah, the Hebrew word lechem is synonymous with food. A meal is not a meal unless you’re eating bread. Otherwise it is just a snack.”
Traditionally, even at the most formal feast, bread is torn, rather than cut. “Knives are a weapon of war, and you don’t want a weapon of war on your table,” she explained.
The Classic Challah recipe from “Kosher Revolution” (Kyle Books) by Geila Hocherman and Arthur Boehm produces a golden, moist loaf with a beautifully layered crumb. You’ll find the full recipe on our website, www.ocjewishlife.com. The chocolate version included here can be dairy or pareve, depending on the kind of chocolate you use.
Leftover challah (should you have any) makes awesome French toast. As with so many dishes, the origins of French toast, which some say is neither French nor toast, are buried in legend. As one story goes, in 1724 Joseph French, the owner of a roadside tavern near Albany, New York, named the dish after himself. Others claim the dish has at least Belgian, if not French, roots. But what’s in a name? The version offered here from the son of a friend is flipped over to reveal the luscious, gooey, oozy caramel topping. Serve it warm to keep the lava flowing.
Instructions are for challah loaves. For a round challah, join braided strands to form a circle.
Makes two 1-pound loaves
One 1/4-ounce packet active dried yeast (2 1/4 teaspoons)
3 1/2-4 cups bread flour, as needed
1 tablespoon plus 1/3 cup sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
3 large eggs
1/2 cup canola oil
1. In 1-cup measuring cup, combine yeast with 1 tablespoon sugar and 3/4 cup warm (about 105°F) water. Stir and let sit until about 1inch of foam has formed, about 10 minutes.
2. Meanwhile, in bowl of stand mixer fitted with flat beater attachment, combine
3 1/2 cups flour, sugar and salt, and stir on low speed. Make a well in center ofmixture.
3. In small bowl, combine 2 eggs and oil, mix, and pour into the well. Expand the well, then pour in yeast mixture. Mix briefly on low speed. Remove flat beater, insert dough hook, sprinkle mixture with 1/4 cup flour, and knead on low speed 1 minute. If dough is still sticky, add flour by 1/4 cups to achieve soft, unsticky dough. Kneada total of 5 minutes. Alternatively, to form dough by hand, put dry ingredients in
large bowl, make a well in it, fill with egg and yeast mixtures and, with clean hands, gradually incorporate dry ingredients into wet until thoroughly combined. Add 1/4 cup more flour and knead, adding more flour as necessary, until dough is formed. Transfer dough to work surface and knead 5 minutes.
4. Oil a medium bowl with canola oil. Form a ball with dough and place in bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and allow dough to rise until doubled, 2–3 hours. Knock back dough, cover and leave rest 10 minutes. Oil two 8 1/2 x 4 1/2-inch loaf pans.
5. To form the challah, divide half the dough into 4 equal parts. Rolling with even pressure from the middle to the ends, roll the dough into ropes of equal size. Take all four ropes and pinch them together at the top. Think of the far right strand as no. 1, next as no. 2, then no. 3 and the far left as 4. Move rope 1 between 2 and 3. Pick up 3 and move it where 1 was. Now reverse the count, counting the ropes from the left, 1, 2, 3 and 4. Pick up rope 1 on the left, and move it between the new 2 and 3. Pick up the new rope 3 and move it to where the left rope 1 was. Return to the right and count from the right, as above. Continue braiding by switching back and forth between left and right. Keep braiding until you get to the end. Pinch the ends together and tuck them under the braid. Tuck the top also, if needed. Repeat to braid the remaining half dough. Cover the loaves with cling film and allow to rise until tripled in bulk, about 2 hours. When the loaves have risen sufficiently, the dough will not spring back when poked with a finger.
6. Preheat oven to 350°F. Place empty cookie sheet on bottom oven rack.
7. In small bowl, mix remaining egg with 2 tablespoons water. Brush tops of loaves with egg glaze, making sure you cover crevices. Place tins in oven and immediately pour about 1 cup hot water onto empty sheet to create steam. Close oven door immediately and bake until loaves are golden and make a hollow sound when tapped, about 30 minutes. Turn out onto a rack and cool.
Source: “Kosher Revolution” by Geila Hocherman and Arthur Boehm
Makes two 1-pound loaves
Similar to babka but moister, this tempting loaf is delicious for French toast or on its own. Find the Classic Challah recipe referred to at www.ocjewishlife.com.
4 ounces dark chocolate
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 cup sugar
1 large egg
1 Prepare challah according to the Classic Challah recipe up to Step 4.
2 Grease two 8 x 4-inch loaf pans. Combine chocolate, cinnamon and sugar in mini food processor and chop very finely.
3 Halve the dough, and roll one half into an 18 x 9 inch rectangle. Sprinkle half the chocolate mixture evenly over dough and, starting from nearest long end, roll dough like a Swiss roll. Bend roll to form a U shape with two ends nearest to you. Hold the middle and twist to form a braid with four bumpy sections. Place in one of the prepared tins and, using tip of sharp knife, slit each section on the diagonal so chocolate can be seen. Repeat with remaining dough half and filling. Cover loaves with plastic wrap and allow them to rise until tripled in bulk (about 2 hours).
4 In small bowl, combine egg with 2 tablespoons water. Brush risen loaves with egg glaze and proceed to bake following basic Classic Challah recipe.
Eric Silverberg’s Caramel French Toast Casserole
Lovely for brunch, because it is prepared the night before.
5 tablespoons butter, plus extra for greasing pan
1 cup (packed) light or dark brown sugar
2 tablespoons light corn syrup
2 tablespoons molasses
1 loaf (1 pound) challah, brioche, or other rich bread, thickly sliced
5 large eggs
1 1/2 cups whole milk
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 Butter a 13 × 9-inch baking pan.
2 Combine butter, brown sugar, corn syrup and molasses in medium-size saucepan over medium heat and heat until bubbly. Pour mixture into prepared baking pan. Arrange bread slices over syrupy mixture in two layers, breaking bread apart if necessary to fill all the spaces. (You may not need to use all the bread).
3 Beat eggs, milk, and vanilla together in a bowl, and pour mixture over bread. Cover pan with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.
4 When you are ready to bake casserole, preheat oven to 350°F.
5 Bake, uncovered, until puffy and golden brown (about 45 minutes). When it is removed from oven, top will settle down.
6 To serve, loosen sides well with spatula or knife, invert large platter over baking dish and flip the two over together. The top, which was the bottom, will be caramelized. Spoon any hot caramel remaining in pan over casserole, and serve immediately. Casserole can be kept in preheated 200°F. oven for up to 15 minutes before serving.
Source: “Cooking Jewish” by Judy Bart Kancigor