I’m not Jewish, but whenever I research Jewish food traditions I kind of wish I were. When I read about the foods on the Passover Seder plate (each item tells a piece of the story of the Jews’ exodus from Egypt), or when I read about the layered meanings of Matzoh (it can symbolize freedom, humility, or salvation), I’m in awe that the foods have such a rich and important history within Jewish culture. It’s not that I don’t like my own secular food traditions. I do. But is there a similarly potent symbolism behind, say, candy canes? Or chocolate Easter eggs? Sigh. It’s not the same.
This Friday, September 18, Jews will celebrate Rosh Hashanah, also known as the “Jewish New Year.” Rosh Hashanah starts the High Holidays, a ten day period of prayer, repentance, and introspection, as Jews spiritually prepare for the new year. Traditionally, Jews celebrate Rosh Hashanah by eating foods that symbolize the type of year they wish to have. Apples dipped in honey are a traditional Rosh Hashanah dish, and represent the wish for a “sweet” new year.
It’s no wonder that there is a plethora of Rosh Hashanah recipes for apple honey cake – in fact, the apple honey Hanukkah cupcakes I made in December would be a perfect (non-kosher) Rosh Hashanah dessert. But I decided to go a different route, and made challah with apples and honey, using a recipe I found on the King Arthur Flour Web site. Challah also plays a symbolic role in the holiday – it is traditional for Jews to eat challah dipped in honey at Rosh Hashanah – and I liked the idea of a recipe that combined all the symbolic elements in one.
Plus, it looked pretty delicious. The challah dough is rolled with seasoned apples, and then sliced into rounds that are placed into a cake pan to bake. To serve, simply pull off one of the rolls and drizzle with honey.
But while the recipe was perfect in theory, in practice it needed a little work. First of all, the challah is pareve (dairy free) and uses vegetable oil, rather than butter, to moisten the dough. While this means the challah can be served with meat, the bread itself was a little bland and dry for my taste. The texture was also denser and coarser than I like my challah to be, and I think the dough was too weighted down with the apples to rise properly.
Were I to make this again, I’d use the pareve challah recipe from Rose Levy Beranbaum’s The Bread Bible, which I’ve made many times before and absolutely adore. Beranbaum uses honey and corn oil to moisten the dough, and I think her proportion of fat to liquid to flour works better for me.
Still, this recipe is easy to follow and the results were tasty, regardless of its imperfections. I brought most of this loaf into the Moment office and it was a hit. To serve, you absolutely must drizzle with a little honey – it helps moisten the bread, and really brings the honey, apple, and challah symbolism home. It will be a lovely addition to your Rosh Hashanah table.
Get the recipe over at the King Arthur Flour Web site.