Sometimes life as a food writer and cooking and baking instructor lead to new and unusual offers. Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish new year, begins in mere minutes as I write this, and my friend Amy, Mount Zion’s Teen and Young Adult Activities Director, leads a teen service every year and thought it would be awesome to have fresh made challah baked by some of the teens and other members, and asked me if I could lead it. “Sure!” I said, not altogether certain of what I had signed up for, but fairly confident that I could make it happen. I make challah almost every week, and I teach two baking classes — so there should be nothing surprising about baking bread with the teens this time.
…Except that it was SIXTEEN LOAVES and no industrial mixer. I’m talking two of the double-deep chaffing dishes filled with yeasty, doughy goodness, all mixed by hand by yours truly.
In the end, only one kid showed up, which was mildly disappointing (I wanted to see my kids!), but I understand that it was their first day back at school after summer vacation and having a program from 4-7 p.m. conflicts with, well, just about everything. So Amy, Allison, and I scurried around cutting, rolling, braiding, and glazing the bread in preparation for tomorrow’s celebrations.
Aren’t they just stunning?
We could have gone a lot of ways with the bread’s shape — round items, including challah, are traditional for Rosh Hashanah, signifying our wishes for a year unbroken, filled with joy, as well as symbolizing that we have come, once again, full circle through the year’s cycle.
In the end, we opted for three variations: a simple spiral, made with one rope of dough; a round braided knot made with four strands; and a beautiful crown made by stacking three three-strand braids (like Amy’s Nana used to make) in increasing size — although many of the strands are covered, you’re should be able to tell they are there when you pull them apart.
I learn something new every time I’m in the kitchen. Yesterday, I learned that I can, in fact, make 16 loaves of bread in one day, as intimidating as it sounded. This is helpful to know. Next year — 32 (heck, let’s make it 36 and call it a day)!
L’Shanah Tovah! A happy and sweet new year to you!