In my next life, I will be Jewish. My own spirituality has been most alive when I am engaged in Talmudic-method argument about matters of faith and ritual; to me, the Jewish tradition stands at the crossroads of faith and reason.
And the food! Growing up without a strong food tradition, I attached myself, duckling-style, to the first food that truly stirred my soul. Matzo ball soup. Long-braised brisket. Latkes. And loaves of pillowy challah, rich with eggs and symbolism.
But perhaps the strongest argument for my reincarnate conversion is the celebration of a new year in the fall. My inner clock, perhaps influenced by the American school calendar, absolutely understands fall as the moment of fresh start in the year. While most northern hemisphere cultures are celebrating the harvest, it is Jews alone who acknowledge the new energy that a chill can bring. The trees put on their best outfits. The squirrels and farmers are energetically stockpiling. My family moves in lockstep, basking in the not-yet-disrupted order of routine. It is a new year. L’shanah tovah!
Honey Apple Challah
adapted from The Shiksa in the Kitchen
Makes 2 round challah loaves: one for your family, one as a gift.
1 1/2 cups lukewarm water, divided
2 1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast (or 1 packet)
1/4 cup plus 1 teaspoon sugar
2 eggs, divided
3 egg yolks
3/4 cup honey
2 tablespoons canola oil
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 tablespoon kosher salt
6 to 7 cups flour
3 medium granny smith apples
2 tbsp turbinado sugar (optional)
Combine 1/2 cup water with the yeast and 1 teaspoon sugar in a large mixing bowl, and set aside to proof. While the yeast bubbles, whisk together remaining 1 cup water, 1 whole egg, egg yolks, honey, canola oil, vanilla, and salt. Add to proofed yeast mixture and stir to combine, then begin adding flour, one cup at a time, until you have a soft dough that is sticky but still workable. Turn out dough onto a well-floured countertop and knead until smooth and velvety, about 5 minutes. Transfer dough to a clean oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and set aside to rise. After about 1 hour, gently deflate dough, fold in thirds like a business letter, and allow to rise again.
While the dough rises, peel, core, and chop the apples. Toss with the remaining 1/4 cup sugar and a pinch of salt and set aside.
After the second rise, gently move dough back onto a floured counter top and divide in two. Working with one half at a time, divide dough into 4 even portions. Roll or pat into a rough 12″ x 3 ” rectangle. Scatter a handful of apples (about 1/8th of the mixture) over the rectangle, then pull edges together over the apples and pinch shut to form a 12″ apple-filled rope. Repeat until you have 4 filled ropes, then brain into a round challah. Please look at Tori’s excellent photo tutorial on shaping for more information on these steps; they aren’t hard, but the visual helps.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Transfer the shaped challah to a parchment-lined baking sheet. Whisk together the remaining egg with 2 tablespoons water and a pinch of salt, then generously brush the challah with egg wash. Sprinkle with a tablespoon of turbinado sugar, if using, to add a crunchy holiday sparkle to the loaf. Set aside to rise one last time for at least 45 minutes, until dough has doubled (poke dough gently; the impression of your finger should remain). Shape second portion of dough in the same way while the first one rises.
Bake challah in the preheated oven 40-45 minutes, rotating pan at least once during baking to ensure even browning. Cool completely on a wire rack before slicing.