Feast on these after the Yom Kippur fast
Photo: Tina Wasserman
Moroccan Challah Spirals with Saffron

By Tina Wasserman

Yom Kippur is approaching and that means you are thinking about fasting and non-fasting. Many years ago, I gave up hosting Break Fast because I hated thinking about food during the service and worried that I wouldn’t make it home to set everything out for my hungry guests. By now you know which kugel you will make and have ordered the bagels or meat platters (depending on how you feast after fasting). But this year I want to provide you with some recipes that are different.

Right now, I am in the throes of planning the Harvest Celebration commencing an 18-month celebration of Temple Emanu-El’s 150th anniversary. Food, as I often say, is inextricably connected to memory, and our goal is to connect to our roots in the Jewish Diaspora as well as our roots to previous generations in our community. Our recipes are stories and our stories are recipes.

Here are three recipes that are traditionally linked to the High Holidays through their shape and/or ingredients. May they bring back some of your own remembrances and, at the same time, create new memories for you and your family.

Round Algerian Challah

Jews have lived in Algeria since as far back as 2500 years ago! Actually, at that time Jews lived in all the countries around the Mediterranean Sea. When the Moors conquered the region in the late seventh century, most of the time Jews were allowed to live freely and succeed in commerce and trade. However, by the time the Nazis came to power in Europe and after Israel won its independence and Algeria won its independence from France, the Arabs in the region started to persecute the Jews, confiscating businesses, damaging synagogues and making it dangerous for Algerian Jews to live there. Many Jews immigrated to Israel, and many others went to France or the United States. There are few Jews living in Algeria today.

Shaped in a loaf, a braid, or a round spiral, this egg-free challah is delicious all year long. This is a great addition to your Break Fast meal!

  • 8 cups bread flour or all-purpose flour (or a combination)
  • 2 packages rapid-rise yeast
  • 1½ teaspoons kosher salt
  • 2 cups water
  • ¾ cup corn oil
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • Zest of ½ medium orange, finely grated or chopped
  • 1½ teaspoons orange blossom water
  • 1 egg yolk plus 1 teaspoon water
  • ¼ cup sesame seeds  

1. Combine 7 cups of the flour, yeast and salt in the large bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a dough hook.

2. Place the water, oil, sugar and orange zest in a 4-cup glass measuring cup and microwave for 1½ minutes. Stir to dissolve sugar and then microwave on high for another 30 seconds until water is very warm (130 degrees). Remove from the microwave and test with your finger to make sure it is hot but not hot enough to hurt. Add the orange blossom water.

3. With the machine running on 2 (or medium), immediately add the warm water/oil mix to the mixing bowl. If necessary, stop the machine after a minute and scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula to incorporate all the flour.

4. Gradually add most or all of the remaining flour to the bowl and keep mixing for another 7 minutes. If you want, you can knead the dough by hand for 7-10 minutes on a lightly floured surface until the flour is all incorporated and the dough is satiny smooth. Oiling your hands might help when kneading the dough.

5. Turn your oven on for 1 minute (doesn’t matter what temperature as it will barely heat). Turn the oven off.

6. Oil a 4-quart bowl and place the dough in the bowl, turning it around once to coat with oil. Cover with plastic wrap. Place the bowl of dough in the TURNED-OFF (but slightly warm) oven. Let the dough rise for 1½ hours or until dough has risen to the top of the bowl.

7. When dough has risen, remove plastic wrap, punch down the dough and place on a flat surface. Cut the dough into 4 equal pieces.

8. Shape each piece into a thick rope about 2 inches thick and 12 inches long. Coil the dough around itself and tuck the end under to make a large, slightly domed spiral of dough. Place shaped loaf on a parchment-lined cookie sheet and return to the turned-off oven. Let the dough rise for 45 minutes to an hour.

9. Remove loaves of bread from the oven.

10. If you have two ovens, preheat both to 350 degrees. If not, make sure you place the shelves so that there is enough room for the loaves on the bottom to rise.

11. Beat the egg yolk in a small glass dish with 1 teaspoon water. Brush this egg wash over the loaves of bread and then sprinkle each loaf with a tablespoon of sesame seeds.

12. Bake the loaves of bread for 25 minutes or until bread sounds hollow when tapped with your finger. Remove from oven and immediately cover the loaves with a kitchen towel. When cool, wrap tightly with plastic wrap or foil.

Makes 4 loaves.

Tina’s Tidbits:

• The water should be uncomfortably hot when you dip a finger into the mixture but not hot enough to hurt or burn. It is best to use an instant-read thermometer if you have one.

• If you truly need to make this bread egg-free, mix 1 teaspoon honey into 2 tablespoons water and brush that on top of the bread before sprinkling with sesame seeds.

• Orange blossom water gives a subtle flavor to the bread. If you don’t have it, add ½ teaspoon orange extract or vanilla to the dough instead.

Moroccan Challah Spirals with Saffron

Jews have lived in Morocco since ancient times and there was a large influx of inhabitants who crossed the straits of Gibraltar during the Spanish expulsion in 1492. Life was hard under the Vichy government, and when the state of Israel was established it became harder for Jewish residents who were persecuted by some of their Arab neighbors. Today the government is much more tolerant of their Jewish neighbors although the population has decreased significantly, with many inhabitants migrating to Israel, France and North America.

This recipe is not hard but it takes more rising time than usual. However, the end result is a very moist, light bread that actually stays fresh for days so you can make it in advance and don’t have to freeze it.

There is no question that this bread is different from what you are used to and the aniseed, along with my favorite coriander seed, adds a very distinctive taste that is delicious. 

  • ½ cup golden raisins, soaked in warm water 30 minutes to plump
  • ¼ cup sesame seeds
  • 1 tablespoon coriander seed
  • 1 tablespoon aniseed
  • 1 envelope or ½ tablespoon active dry yeast
  • 1 scant teaspoon saffron threads, crushed with your fingers or scraped with a knife and then soaked in ¼ cup warm water
  • 5 cups bread flour, plus extra for dusting work surface
  • ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra for oiling bowl and pans
  • ¼ cup honey
  • 3 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • Semolina or cornmeal, for dusting
  • 2 egg yolks, for egg wash

1. In a small skillet, toast 2 tablespoons of the sesame seeds, the coriander and aniseed over moderate heat until fragrant and lightly smoking, 3 minutes, shaking often. Transfer to a plate and cool.

2. In a small bowl, combine yeast with 2 tablespoons warm water (you can use the soaking water from the raisins). Let stand until thoroughly moistened, about 5 minutes.

3. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook, combine flour with olive oil, honey, eggs, saffron and its soaking liquid plus ¾ cup warm water.

4. Mix at low speed until a soft dough forms that comes away from the sides of the bowl. Add salt, yeast mixture and toasted seeds and mix at medium-low speed until the dough is smooth and elastic, 10 minutes. Mix in raisins and mix again to combine.

5. Using oiled hands, transfer the dough to a large oiled bowl. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let stand in a draft-free spot or in a turned-off oven until the dough is doubled in size, about 2 hours. A warming drawer or setting on your oven is perfect for this. 

6. Cover 1 very large baking sheet or 2 small ones with parchment paper and dust them with some semolina or corn meal.

7. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and gently punch down to deflate. Cut the dough in half and let rest for 5 minutes.

8. Roll each piece into an 18-inch-long rope and let rest for 10 minutes, then roll and stretch each rope into a 36-inch rope.

9. Take one of the ropes and twist from one end to the other like a candy cane. Starting from one end and following the same direction as the twist, form the rope into a tight coil, tucking the ends under the completed coil. Repeat with the remaining rope.

10. Transfer each coil to a baking sheet and cover with a large inverted bowl, or lightly cover with plastic wrap or a fine tea towel. Let stand for 1½ hours, until the loaves have nearly doubled in bulk.

11. Heat oven to 400 degrees. In a bowl, whisk egg yolks with 1 tablespoon water. Brush the egg wash over the loaves and let stand uncovered for 30 minutes. Brush with the egg wash again and sprinkle with the remaining 2 tablespoons sesame seeds.

12. Bake the loaves side-by-side in the center of the oven for 20 minutes. Switch positions of the tray(s) if you are not baking in a convection oven so the breads bake evenly. Reduce heat to 350 degrees and bake 10 minutes longer or until the breads are golden and sound hollow when tapped on the bottom. Transfer the loaves to racks and let cool before serving or slicing.

Yield: 2 round loaves

Tina’s Tidbits:

• It is traditional in Middle Eastern and East Asian countries to toast spices and whole seeds to bring out their flavor and natural oils. Never let them burn! Many recipes use powdered spices but these cannot be toasted, so the flavor is good but not as complex.

• The recipe calls for toasting only half of the sesame seeds. The untoasted seeds will get a chance to brown when they are coating the breads. If toasted beforehand, the sesame seeds will burn on the tops and be bitter.

• Bread should always be allowed to cool before slicing or dough will pinch together.

• It is best to make this bread days or hours before serving so that the spice flavors have time to develop.

Applesauce Honey Cake

Jo-Sandra Greenberg 2022

As I said in my introduction, we are exploring recipes from the past to write about and to serve at our Food Tasting Shuk program this fall as part of the TE150 celebration. Jo-Sandra Greenberg is one of our stalwart baking volunteers all year, not just for this particular event. As she is known to be a great baker, we asked her to participate; she provided us with this recipe and we will be sampling it at our event. With her permission, I am including this recipe for your holiday table; it’s another way to include apples and honey in the start of the new year.

The following was her description of the cake and the format is exactly as it was given to her. I chose not to format it in my usual way since I thought the recipe was clear and also chronicled the formats often used in the mid-20th century. Enjoy the walk down memory lane as well as a great cake. Here is Jo-Sandra’s own description of her famous treat:

“When I was much younger, during the 1950s, Bessie Horowitz was the maven of cakes and snacks for the ladies who played canasta and mah jongg at her home near Park Lane and Marsh Lane. One of my favorite cakes was her applesauce cake, straight from a Wesson oil recipe. Bundt cake pans were unknown, so she used an angel food pan. Somehow, I got the original recipe and, years later, decided to create my own honey cake for Rosh Hashanah. While this cake has gluten, it is pareve. This is the first time I’ve shared this proprietary recipe for a dense, moist honey cake. It’s time. 

“Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray a tube pan or Bundt pan (10-cup) generously with Baker’s Joy. You may use 3 8-inch loaf pans or 4 7-inch loaf pans. Prepare the same way with Baker’s Joy.”

1. In a 3-quart bowl, stir together 3½ cups sifted all-purpose flour with:

  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon (less if using Vietnamese cinnamon)
  • 1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • Set dry ingredients aside.

2. In another bowl, mix 2 cups chopped pecans (optional) with 2 cups light and dark raisins along with 1 to 2 tablespoons of the flour mixture above. This keeps the nuts and raisins from sinking to the bottom of the pan while baking. Set aside.

3. Spray a 2-cup measuring cup with vegetable spray and fill with 2 cups of honey.

4. In a 1-cup glass measuring cup, mix 1 tablespoon of instant coffee with ½ cup of water until dissolved. I use decaffeinated granules. Alternatively, brew very strong coffee and let it get cold.

5. In a 4- or 5- quart bowl, stir 15-16 ounces applesauce with 2 teaspoons of baking soda. Mixture will fizz and turn light. Keep stirring.

6. Continue stirring and add ¾ cup vegetable oil (I have switched to canola oil).

7. Then add honey and combine well.

8. Add flour mixture in thirds. Include the nuts and raisins with the last third of flour mix. Dough is stiff.

9. Add 2 tablespoons strong coffee and combine.

10. Pour into prepared baking pan(s). For the Bundt pan, bake 35-40 minutes at 350 degrees and then reduce oven to 325 degrees. Bake until tester comes out clean, which may take another 15-20 minutes. If cake browns too much, place a foil tent over the cake.

11. Allow to cool about 15 minutes before removing from pan. Let cake get cold before slicing.

Serves 16-20. Freezes well.

Note: Many honey cakes use sweet wine, but this cake, with honey instead of sugar, benefits from the coffee.

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