A New Year Begins, An Old Favorite Returns
The High Holidays began Sunday night in Jewish homes around the world, ushered in with a feast to mark Rosh Hashanah, the “head of the year,” in the Judaic calendar. As I buzzed around that afternoon gathering the requisite honey and apples, choosing wine, baking a special round-shaped challah, and cooking dinner, I was reminded once again how essential food is to Jewish ritual. At every holiday, the dining table becomes a kind of altar and each cook a virtual priest who creates the spirit of the holiday through symbolic the foods. Sanctity is homemade.
For Rosh Hashanah, naturally sweet foods (especially those apples and honey...) embody the hope that the new year unfolding will be a really sweet one. A round challah, rather than a braided one, is a metaphor for the cycle of life and the seasons. After years of trying various challah recipes, I finally hit upon an adapted version that I consider my best. It was a hit Sunday night in our house, especially with the Hudson Valley camembert I served—next to the apples and honey, of course. (And there’s just enough left over Challah for some heavenly grilled cheese sandwiches this week.) Here’s my tried-and-true recipe; it can be yours too. Even if you’re not Jewish:
In a medium bowl, mix the warm water and 2 teaspoons sugar. Stir in the yeast to dissolve and set aside 5 to 10 minutes until a raft of foam appears on the surface.
Meanwhile, in a large mixing bowl, mix the oil, ½ cup sugar, the honey, whole eggs, and egg yolks. Beat in the cup of hot water until well blended. Add 3 cups flour and the yeast mixture and beat with a dough hook or wooden spoon 5 minutes.
Stir in the salt and 3 more cups flour until well combined. Knead with a dough hook in an electric mixer for 8 to 10 minutes, adding enough of the remaining flour to make the dough smooth, moist, and satiny but not sticky. Return the dough to your large mixing bowl, cover it with a clean cloth and let rise for 2 hours.
Punch down the dough again, cover, and let it rise for another two hours (or longer if you want to stick it in the refrigerator for several hours). Divide the dough in half (or into six pieces if you want to make braided challah loaves); shape each half into a loaf as desired, place on an oiled baking sheet, cover and let rise until doubled in size.
Heat the oven to 350F. Make the Glaze. Gently brush the glaze on the risen loaves and bake 30 to 40 minutes until challah is dark golden in color; when fully baked the loaves should have a hollow sound when gently tapped. Cool before serving.