Studded with raisins, dusted with cinnamon sugar and smeared with honey, challah just tastes sweeter this time of year.
The traditional Jewish bread that's normally savory and braided for the Sabbath is twisted into a big, round bun and candied just once a year for Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish new year.
Making challah from scratch seems like a messy and overwhelming process -- often requiring an entire bag of flour, yeast and a whole lot of precious patience and time.
Three local Jewish moms graciously welcomed Daily Voice into their homes to teach us their recipes, breaking them down into a simple, step-by-step format for anyone to make ahead of the two-day high holiday, beginning at sundown on Sunday, Sept. 29.
Their stories will run throughout the week.
The word challah translates from Hebrew as "loaf of bread," explained Rabbi Shlomo Yaffe, Dean of Institute of American and Talmudic Law and rabbi of Congregation B'nai Torah in Springfield, Mass.
"In Jewish tradition as in many traditions, bread is the fundamental and basic food," Yaffe said.
"On the Sabbath and the high holidays, we remember the 40 years when the Jewish people were in the desert and were miraculously supported by the manna -- the miracle food that fell from heaven."
Before the Sabbath and holidays, a double portion fell.
"Therefore, in recognition of that gift from God in the formative years of the Jewish people, we take two portions of a nice beautiful bread to remind us of our appreciation for the gift of life and that we have food," the rabbi explained.
Rosh Hashanah is the one time during the year that challah is made round and sweet, as opposed being braided and dipped in salt.
"On Rosh Hashanah, it is traditional to show our hope and aspiration for a good year with sweetness, which is synonymous with goodness," Yaffe said.
"Many people traditionally make the challah round to represent of the cycle of the year."
Raisins have long been used to sweeten Rosh Hashanah challahs as sweetener was only commercialized in the 17th and 18th centuries, Yaffe said.
Raisins, however, have been exported for thousands of years and start as grapes, the "prince of all Israeli fruits," according to the rabbi.
They don't need refrigeration and have long been easily accessible.
"We want a good, pleasant happy year," Yaffe explained, "and that is symbolized by sweetness."
Check back this week for recipes from Shterna Kaminker of Hackensack, Daniela Pomerantz of New Milford and Rivky Goldin of Teaneck.
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