Let the challenge begin--nothing quite like Rosh Hashanah and Shabbat falling right on top of each other to ensure that my first "Challah-it-Forward" week was full of baking opportunities. While I had spent a little more than a month tinkering with regular recipes and attempting to successfully sculpt "the braid," here was brand new territory: a Rosh Hashanah challah recipe that was round!
For the high holiday version, I decided to go with a honey and apple-infused (yes, real apple chunks folded into a honey-dough base) challah that was featured in Jeff Hertzberg and Zoe Francois's "Healthy Bread in Five Minutes a Day: 100 New Recipes Featuring Whole Grains, Fruits, Vegetable, and Gluten-Free Ingredients." While I haven't worked out permissions questions with regard to posting recipes that I'm using on this blog, here is a related recipe from the same authors that definitely can be shared. For the challah shape, I was inspired by this video clip featuring Israeli-born baker Uri Scheft. For this version, you actually place an oven-safe ramekin in the center of a braided circle, and as the challah bakes, it nests the ramekin as it puffs up around it. You then of course fill the holder with honey at serving time, and receive plenty of "oohs" and "ahhs" when it is placed on the holiday table!
During the days leading up to baking, I began talking with my daughter about how this week's challah was going to taste and look different; we were getting ready to celebrate the Jewish New Year and the birthday of the world. Apples would be woven into the dough itself, and the challah shape would provide a space to hold honey, both signifying the sweetness of the new year. And instead of the traditional braid, the challah would be round, like the earth itself. "But why is the earth round, Abba?" Aviva asked. "Because the force of gravity pulls everything with equal strength toward the center, a round shape is created," I answered, and realized it was time to check out some science books from the library, stat!
How truly sweet it was a day later when my partner informed me that Aviva had made up an original song while they were walking home from preschool that day:
If ever we needed proof that our kids really are listening to what we're saying, that was Exhibit A. Exhibit B was provided by Aviva's preschool director informing me that a favorite activity of late includes Aviva making pretend challah in the sandbox (with lots and lots and lots of honey)!
Back to the bread, the challah recipe I used this week actually provided enough dough for five generous challahs. So after preparing the dough with Aviva on Tuesday evening and letting it rise once, I refrigerated it and took off one-pound slabs for each loaf I baked over the coming days. Erev Rosh Hashanah, the loaf was shared with friends attending a beautiful outdoor service. On Thursday, challah was enjoyed at a formal Rosh Hashanah lunch hosted at local relatives, followed by an evening meal at close friends. On Friday, one loaf was donated to a women's drop-in day-center right near our local tot park in the morning. In the afternoon, we gave the final challah to an eldercare nursing facility we had visited last month as well. After leading some shabbat songs with community residents, we said the motzi all together, and then Aviva helped pass out slices dipped in honey to those assembled. The smiles on their faces and the heartfelt thank-yous, coupled with all the other smiles from those who came into contact with us over the previous days, have stayed with me through Shabbat and into the new week.
How could something as simple as flour, water, chopped apples, and honey be transformed so simply into something that nourishes both the body and the soul. I honestly don't know; it's sort of a mystery, and it doesn't really matter that much. But it certainly makes the thought of doing it again this week not an unwanted burden, but rather an exciting invitation. Until then...