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This New Year, give new life to your challah
August 31st, 2012
This Rosh HaShanah as we gather in our homes and the homes of our dearest family and friends, many of us will dip our challah and apples in honey and will then say, “Y’hi ratzon mi-l’fanekha Hashem elokeinu velohei avoteinu she-t’chaddeish aleinu shanah tovah u-m’tukah. May it be Your will, Hashem our God, and God of our ancestors, to renew for us a new, sweet, and good year.”
Photo of two round challahs by Amanda Ruppenthal Stein.
Rosh HaShanah is filled with new beginnings. We might wear new clothing or enjoy a “new fruit” on the second night. On both nights, we light candles and say the Shehecheyanu, thanking God for sustaining us and allowing us to reach this new moment together.
The High Holy Days coincide with the beginning of the school year — this year, I will be beginning doctoral studies at Northwestern University, while several of our friends’ four-year-olds will start junior kindergarten at the Milwaukee Jewish Day School. New learning, unexpected challenges, and joyous times of discovery overlap throughout our lives in fall.
Yet, within all of these new beginnings, the Days of Awe are also filled with traditions. We may take out our grandparents’ china, polish our families’ heirloom candlesticks, or make that delicious brisket recipe that everyone looks forward to all year long.
In my own home, as I listen to my husband, Hazzan Jeremy Stein of Congregation Beth Israel, prepare for leading services throughout the holidays, the melodies are familiar and comforting.
At our Rosh HaShanah table, though, there is one star of the show that blends the newness of the new year with traditional — the challah.
In the early months of our marriage, my husband did all the challah baking. After conquering a fear that my challah would never turn out as well as I wanted, we began baking together and experimenting.
Emboldened by the success of a challah filled with Nutella (the perfect accompaniment for a dairy Shabbat), I started recording my weekly adventures in the baking on my website, The Challah Blog (www.thechallahblog.com).
Beyond meeting other bakers online and experimenting with the best ingredients on the market, a weekly exploration into the bounds of challah creativity has given me a new understanding of hiddur mitzvah — the beautification of a mitzvah.
With any special sweet additions or seasonally-appropriate shapes (we’ve made challah in the shape of the parting of the Sea of Reeds, trees for Tu Bishvat, even turkeys for the Shabbat following Thanksgiving), challah is a mitzvah and challah is perfect just as it is.
As we eat challah every Shabbat, we connect ourselves back to those wandering in the desert with Moshe who ate the manna from heaven, to our ancestors, and to future generations. However, we can also give a familiar favorite new life through new flavors and sweet additions.
The subtitle of The Challah Blog is “Adventures in a Mitzvah.” Both in our community of Milwaukee and more broadly through bonds formed online, I’ve hear countless women and men tell me “I’m afraid to bake challah” or “I’m not talented in the kitchen.”
This Rosh HaShanah, cast away your fears and take on this adventure of a mitzvah.
A year ago, I first added apples and cinnamon to one Rosh HaShanah challah and pumpkin pie filling to a second. Each was a sloppy, gooey mess, but an adventure and an experiment in making this mitzvah my own.
An elderly member of my congregation suggested a way to fix my Honey Apple Challah so the apples wouldn’t sweat the dough so much (flour them before mixing in) and a rabbi friend from across the country perfected the spice blend in Pumpkin Challah, using her small children as taste testers.
Tradition combined with newness and the bonds of friendship joined together to make a mitzvah even more beautiful… and a truly sweet new year.
Note: This recipe may not be large enough to satisfy your community’s requirements for the mitzvah of taking challah. Contact your rabbinic authority for clarification on the laws of challah.
Mix together water, yeast, and honey. Let rest 10 minutes or until yeast is foamy. Add the oil and 3 eggs and mix with a wooden spoon. Add the flour and salt, kneading by hand or with a stand mixer until ball forms and the dough holds together. Place in oiled bowl and let rest, covered, for 1 ½ to 2 hours, until doubled in size.
When the dough is about ready, peel the apple and dice to about half-inch pieces. Add the cinnamon, sugar, and a touch of flour. Punch down the dough to remove all air pockets. Either knead in the apple mixture throughout the dough, adding flour as necessary, or roll out the dough into a long rectangle, and coil around the apples. Top with beaten egg and honey. Let rest additional 30 minutes. Bake at 350 degrees for 25-30 minutes, rotating pan halfway through baking. Yield: Two large or four medium loaves.
Detailed photos, braiding instructions, and other recipes including Pumpkin and Nutella Challahs can be found online at www.thechallahblog.com.
Amanda Ruppenthal Stein is a Ph.D. student at Northwestern University and the Day School Grant Allocation Coordinator for the Milwaukee Jewish Federation.