This year Rosh HaShannah, the Jewish New Year falls on Wednesday night, September 8. This is a two day holiday which both celebrates the new year (5771-according to the traditional count) and brings in a period of reflection and introspection that lasts until Yom Kippur (September 18). There are many, many, traditional foods associated with these holidays depending on the regional backgrounds of various groups world-wide. However, one theme is common among all groups. This is the universal symbol of the circle as a metaphor for life. This concept, of life as a continuous circle (cycle?) of events, without beginning or end, is not unique to Judaism but is actually quite a common theme in the Far East, especially in countries where Buddhism is practised. I make no claim to be an expert on either Judaism or Buddhism. Still, when you look around you, at the many, many circles that make up our lives, you can't help but be in wonder at the intricacy of it all. Years, of course. But also periods much longer including entire lifetimes. And much shorter like days continue quite undisturbed by the deeds of humankind. A delicate balance we should be careful not to upset and to treat with respect.
In Jewish tradition, foods associated with the holidays are round, reflecting the cyclical nature of life itself. So, too, with bread made especially for the holidays. In a previous post I presented my challah recipe, justly famous IMHO. It is not quite a brioche but, surprisingly, has little oil or sugar. Normally, during the year I make it as a braided loaf (usually 3 strands). For Rosh HaShannah it is made as a boule, a round ball reflecting the season. In the Balkans, breads and other baked goods for the holidays are made in a snail-like format, rolled into a 'snake', then coiled up into a round shape. Whatever your preference, it is wise, I think, to take the time, at least once a year, for serious reflection on how we can make ourselves better people, and how we can make our world a better place.
Here is a special challah recipe for the holiday. It is adapted from a recipe from a wonderful cookbook A Blessing of Bread: The Many Rich Traditions of Jewish Bread Baking Around the World. It uses apples, for two reasons at least. One. they are delicious and paired with the bread make a real winning combination. And, they are, of course, round.
Here's what you'll need:
14g (about 2 Tbs) instant yeast
5 cups (675g) bread flour
1 cup (225g) warm water
3 large eggs
1/3 cup (85g) vegetable oil
2 1/2 tsp. (13g) salt
1/2 cup (100g) granulated sugar
3 large or 4 medium baking apples (sweetish apples like Golden or Red Delicious, not tart ones) (about 1125g) for 4 1/2 cups (660g) of cut up apples
Here's what you'll need to do:
1. Mix together the yeast with one cup of the flour and the warm water to make a slurry. Let it stand for 20-30 minutes until it begins to ferment and get bubbly.
2. Mix into the is fermented slurry the eggs, oil, salt and sugar until it is all mixed well and the salt and sugar are completely dissolved.
3. Now add all the remaining flour all at once and mix into a ragged ball of dough. Then remove it from the bowl to a lightly floured surface and knead it until it becomes nice and smooth, about 10 minutes or so. The dough should be only slightly sticky, almost tacky. If it is too 'dry' add water 1 Tbs. at a time to the dough while kneading. If it is too 'slack', then add flour the same way.
4. Place the dough in a lightly oiled bowl and cover for the first rise. Let it rise and ferment for about 1 hour. It will be only slightly puffed at this stage. In the meantime...
5. Prepare the apples. Peel, core and cut the apples into largish, squarish chunks. No exact measurements here, so don't worry if they are rounded instead of squared. They will still be delicious. Measure about 4 1/2 cups of cut-up apples. If the apples are too sweet, they may over-brown. So if this is a concern, you can toss them with a little lemon juice, otherwise leave it out.
6. Remove the dough from the bowl, cut into 2 equal pieces and cover one piece while you work with the other. Roll out the dough to about 16 inch square (41cm) and 1/8 inch (3mm) thick.
7. Pour about 1 cup of apples over the center third of the dough, then fold the left side over the apples to cover. Try to press the dough into the apples to try to seal them into the dough. Then pour another cup of apples over the sealed portion of the dough and fold the remaining third over the second batch of apples. Try to seal this over the apples as best you can. You now have a 'letter-fold' of dough and apples. Starting from the short side, roll this up into a rough ball and place into a lightly oiled bowl, cover and let it rise for at least an hour. (The longer the better-up to 24 hours in the refrigerator to enhance the flavor).
8. Repeat with the second piece of dough, placing it in a second oiled bowl to rise and ferment.
9. Oil two round 8in (20cm) cake pans or two loaf pans. Using dusting flour, if you need, roughly shape each piece of dough into a round (or loaf) shape deflating as much as possible . You won't be able to deflate much because of the apples. Let the loaves rise, covered until they rise just past the edges of the pans (about 30 minutes or 1 1/2 hours if refrigerated).
10. About 30 minutes before baking preheat the oven to 350F (175C). Just before baking, brush each loaf with oil and then sprinkle sugar (or sugar and cinnamon) over each loaf for a sugary crust. Bake for 45 to 55 minutes until richly brown.
11. Let the bread cool completely on a rack.
These are exceptional loaves of bread for celebrations. Enjoy them all year for special occasions. Yum!