When it comes to Jewish holidays, almost every food has a deeper meaning.
There’s Hanukkah, where everything is dripping in the oil that miraculously lasted the Maccabees eight days: fried potato pancakes, fried dough. There’s Passover, when Jews eat only unleavened bread, to recognize the struggle of ancestral slaves escaping Egypt.
And Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, is no exception. For this holiday, we eat sweet.
“A sweet new year, that’s what it’s all about,” said my Grammy, keeper of my family’s Jewish recipes.
Starting Sept. 9 Jews around the world and in Jackson Hole celebrate Rosh Hashanah, one of the holiest days of the year and a welcoming of the year 5779.
Apples and honey are a signature Rosh Hashanah food. Raizy Mendelsohn, rebbetzin (rabbi’s wife) with Chabad, said the combination is a staple at her new year’s table.
“An apple is sweet and a little bit sour at times. We take that and we dip it in the honey,” Mendelsohn said. “Even the challenges, the downs of our year should all be coated with sweetness.”
Other traditional sweet foods to welcome the new year include pomegranates, which symbolize an abundance of sweetness, honey cake, and sweetened carrots.
Yet another is the sacred bread Jewish people bless and eat weekly on the Sabbath and on other special holidays — the challah.
Challah is typically braided into a strip. But on Rosh Hashanah the challah is round.
“The reason why we do something round is to represent the idea that the world goes around and around, the year goes around and around, don’t lose hope,” Mendelsohn said.
Grammy added that sometimes raisins or extra honey are added to the Rosh Hashanah challah for more sweetness. In her youth, she said, she saw challahs with a “crown” of extra dough on top for the High Holidays.
“I think it’s just to elevate it to another level of importance for the new year,” she said. “It’s special.”
While challah may seem different from other yeast breads because of the addition of eggs and extra sweetener, it comes together like any other kneaded yeast dough.
For shaping, you can either do a simple braid or the special circular loaf. The braid is explained in the recipe below, but if you’d like to try a circle braid I recommend checking out a YouTube tutorial.
After the bread is shaped you’ll also want to go through the step of egg washing to give the challah its telltale glossy brown crust. Also feel free to top the challah with sesame or poppy seeds, or for a modern twist, everything bagel seasoning.
Whatever you do, don’t forget to save some challah to get stale to cook up some delicious challah french toast for breakfast the next day. ￼