Restaurant developer/Honey Salt owner Elizabeth Blau has fond memories of the Rosh Hashanas of her youth.
The Jewish new year, which starts today at sundown, is early this year, Blau said, but it always represents the end of the languid days of summer, when school’s out and families like to travel.
“Rosh Hashana is the first Jewish holiday after summer, so it’s a big deal,” Blau said. “Rosh Hashana is not only a family time but it’s the new year, so it’s a happy celebration. For us, the food symbolism and things were just all about good times.”
And the symbolism reflects the best foods autumn has to offer.
“It’s our new year, but it also traditionally comes at harvest time,” Blau said.
As a child, Blau, who grew up in Connecticut, remembers picking apples for the making of Rosh Hashana treats.
“Not only for the tradition of cutting up the apples and dipping them in honey,” she said, “but making some kind of dessert, like a kuchen — a cobbler-y dessert — or an apple tarte tatin. The honey or the caramel, something with sugar, dates, things like that.”
Rabbi Yocheved Mintz of Congregation P’nai Tikvah explains the happy symbolism.
“Dipping apples in honey is a way of wishing everybody a shanah m’tukah, a sweet new year,” she said.
But apples and honey are far from the only foods traditionally linked to Rosh Hashana.
“Pomegranates are traditional at this time of year, too,” Mintz said, “that the future may be filled with potential just as the pomegranate is filled with seeds.”
The pomegranate is a favorite of Blau as well.
“The other thing I remember as a kid, and later learning in Hebrew school, is the biblical apple was probably more like a pomegranate,” she said. “Pomegranate has always been a very popular part of the holiday.”
But one cannot live by fruit alone, so let’s not forget the bread.
“It’s a great challah holiday,” Mintz said. She recently hosted Challah-Day, which involved about a dozen bakers, at her home.
“Some of the things that came out were absolutely artistic creations,” Mintz said. “Beautifully done.”
They included standard spiral challah, shaped like a crown. Plus challah in the shape of a fish, an ancient Roman coin and the chamsah, a five-fingered amulet.
“We had one challah that is the word ‘shalom’ totally done in Hebrew,” Mintz said. “And another challah that somebody made that looks like the walls of Jerusalem. She says she put a secret message in it.”
Blau points out that there’s considerable crossover between the traditional Rosh Hashana foods and those of other cultures.
“So many ethnicities have an egg bread,” she said. ”There’s Polish egg bread, and the French all grew up on brioche. It’s all the same kind of dough; it’s just a rich egg-based bread.”
In fact, when Blau was looking for challah for a Jewish holiday not long ago, she approached the baker at Patisserie Manon on West Charleston Boulevard. It’s near her home, she said, and she admired his brioche and croissants. After a little bit of pantomiming, a check of a French dictionary and braiding her hair, she got her point across.
“It was the best challah ever,” Blau said. “He used brioche and braided it for me. I keep trying to tell him he should make them, but then I forget to give him advance notice for the Jewish holidays.”
The pomegranate stars on the menu at Honey Salt, where Blau’s husband, Kim Canteenwalla, is chef/owner, and created My Wife’s Favorite Salad.
“That salad was inspired by something that was very Rosh Hashana,” Blau said. “The duck and the pomegranate seed, that’s where the inspiration for those two came from. My husband took it to a whole new level.”
At Due Forni, chef/partner Carlos Buscaglia likes to use apples and honey together, and not because of Rosh Hashana.
“The biggest reason,” he said, “is because apples sometimes have a little bit of acid, and the honey cuts that down. Some apples are sweet, some are a little tart. If I’m using honey, I’ll use an apple that’s a little more tart, like a green apple, just to balance out the dish.”
A favorite of Buscaglia’s is an appetizer that starts with a layer of apples, topped with a round of goat cheese.
“And then when it comes out nice and hot, we drizzle organic honey on it,” he said.
Honeycake, Mintz said, is another Rosh Hashana tradition, symbolizing a wish for a sweet new year. And like the rest of the food, it reflects a happy time, looking forward.
“You’ll see two challot on every sabbath table on Friday nights,” Mintz said. “On Rosh Hashana and during the high holidays they get much more fanciful, and decorative and festive.”
4 cups all-purpose flour, plus up to ¾ cup more for kneading
2 tablespoons sugar
2¼ teaspoons rapid rise yeast (¼-ounce package)
1 cup warm water, about 110 degrees
13 cup honey
2 whole large eggs
3 large egg yolks
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon poppy seeds (optional)
Whisk the flour, sugar and yeast together in a large bowl and make a well in the center.
Whisk the water and honey with 1 whole egg, all of the yolks, olive oil and salt in a small bowl and pour into the well. Stir the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients with a wooden spoon to make a soft, shaggy, moist dough. Turn the dough out on a lightly floured surface and knead by hand, adding up to ¾ cup more flour as needed, until the dough is soft and supple, about 8 minutes. Shape the dough into a ball.
Brush a large bowl with oil and turn dough around in bowl to coat lightly. Cover bowl with a clean kitchen towel and set aside until dough doubles in size, about 1 hour. Turn dough onto a lightly floured surface; knead briefly to release excess air, re-shape into a ball and return to the bowl. Cover and set aside until doubled in size, about 1 hour.
Line two baking sheet pans with parchment paper. Divide the dough in half. Lightly dust hands with flour and roll each portion of dough into a 30-inch-long log. (If dough resists, then cover and let rest for 5 or 10 minutes before shaping). Spiral each length of dough around itself to form a coiled round loaf on the prepared pans. Lightly stretch the end of the coil and moisten it with water; gently press the end into the side of the round to seal the coil into a loaf. Press down on the loaves gently, cover with a kitchen towel and set aside until doubled, about 1 hour.
Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 450 degrees F. Beat the remaining egg with a tablespoon of water and brush loaves evenly with it; sprinkle with poppy seeds if desired. Put the loaves in the oven and immediately turn the oven down to 400 degrees, and bake until golden brown and an instant-read thermometer inserted into the center of the crown registers 190 degrees F, about 30 to 35 minutes.
Makes two round loaves (12 to 16 servings).
— Recipe from the Food Network
4 ounces (1 stick) unsalted butter or nondairy margarine, plus more for bowl, pan, and plastic
3½ cups unbleached bread flour, plus more for surface
¾ cup warm water (100 degrees)
2/3 cup honey
2 large eggs plus 3 large egg yolks
2 teaspoons active dry yeast (from one ¼-ounce envelope)
2 teaspoons coarse salt
1½ tart green apples, preferably Granny Smith, peeled and cut into ¼-inch-thick slices (about 1¾ cups)
Butter a large bowl and melt 4 tablespoons butter in a saucepan over medium-low heat; let cool. Combine 2 tablespoons melted butter, the flour, water, 1/3 cup honey, the eggs and yolks, yeast and salt in a large bowl. Mix until dough forms. Turn dough out onto a floured surface and knead until smooth, about 10 minutes.
Transfer dough to buttered bowl, and brush with 1 tablespoon melted butter. Cover with plastic. Let rise in a warm place until dough almost double in volume, about 1½ hours.
Turn dough out onto a floured surface. Pat into an 8½-by-14-inch rectangle. Top with apples; knead to incorporate. Return to bowl. Brush with remaining tablespoon melted butter; cover. Let rise again in a warm place until dough almost doubles in volume, about 1 hour more.
Preheat oven to 375 degrees, with rack in lowest position. Butter a 9-inch round cake pan. Roll dough into a rope (about 24 inches) on a floured surface. Coil into a circle and transfer to pan. Butter plastic wrap and cover dough. Let rise again until dough almost doubles in volume, about 45 minutes more.
Heat remaining 4 tablespoons butter and 1/3 cup honey in a saucepan over medium-low heat until butter melts. Brush dough with half the honey-butter. Bake until golden brown and firm, about 35 minutes.
Brush challah with the remaining honey-butter. Let cool in pan on a wire rack for 30 minutes. Turn out loaf from pan, and let cool.
Makes one 9-inch loaf.
— Recipe from Martha Stewart Living
6 extra-large eggs
1½ cups half-and-half or milk
1 teaspoon grated orange zest
½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 tablespoon good honey
½ teaspoon kosher salt
1 large loaf challah or brioche bread
Pure maple syrup
Good raspberry preserves (optional)
Sifted confectioners’ sugar (optional)
Preheat the oven to 250 degrees.
In a large shallow bowl, whisk together the eggs, half-and-half, orange zest, vanilla, honey and salt. Slice the challah in ¾-inch-thick slices. Soak as many slices in the egg mixture as possible for 5 minutes, turning once.
Heat 1 tablespoon butter and 1 tablespoon oil in a very large saute pan over medium heat. Add the soaked bread and cook 2 to 3 minutes on each side, until nicely browned. Place the cooked French toast on a sheet pan and keep it warm in the oven. Fry the remaining soaked bread slices, adding butter and oil as needed, until it’s all cooked. Serve hot with maple syrup, raspberry preserves and/or confectioners’ sugar.
Makes 8 large slices.
— Recipe from the Barefoot Contessa
Contact reporter Heidi Knapp Rinella at email@example.com or 702-383-0474.