Beyond Challah and Honey | The Jewish Week | Food & Wine

Beyond Challah and Honey


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Orange Flavored Boulou (Rabbi Deborah Prinz)

Sweet Rosh Hashanah breads from around the world

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When you want fall colors and tantalizing spice mixes for your High Holiday table, prepare these loaves from Ethiopian, North African, and Sephardi traditions. As we celebrate the creation of the world at Rosh Hashanah and consider our place in the cosmos, these expose our palates to the customs of worldwide Jewish communities. The recipes for these sweet rounds are somewhat obscure, though pumpkin challah has appeared in a few cookbooks. Laden with honey, pumpkin, or orange, these challah loaves don’t even need braiding. Plus, they make lovely gifts.

(Rabbi Deborah Prinz)

1. From Ethiopia: Spiced Honey Bread or Yemarina Yewotet Dabo (dairy)

Mix honey into this delicious bread and drench the slices with honey, too. Initially baked in a clay covered pot lined with banana leaves over embers, this dabo bread is enriched with butter and milk as reflected in its Amharic name: yemar is honey; yewotet is milk; dabo is bread. Some Ethiopian beliefs suggest that bee honey was one of the many gifts that the Queen of Sheba may have brought to King Solomon.

This focus on honey is not surprising given that Ethiopia is the among the largest producers of honey in the world. One of the most valued is a white honey derived from sage plants in the region of Tigray. Ethiopian honey manifests regional subtleties due to local biodiversity. Not only is honey used in baking, it forms the basis of the national fermented honey drink, tej, and its honey water called, briz.

(Rabbi Deborah Prinz)

2. Pumpkin Challah or Pan de Calabaza (pareve/no dairy)

Pumpkin is a popular ingredient in Sephardi dishes, according to food writer, Emily Paster. Leah Koenig, author of the newly released book, The Jewish Cookbook, argues that Jews “helped normalize” New World foods such as pumpkin that had been unfamiliar to the European menus. In his Encyclopedia of Jewish Food, Gil Marks notes that in Italy, pumpkin came to be associated with Jews. Pumpkin made early appearances in Mediterranean foods via Sephardim in Syria, Turkey, Greece, Italy, Libya, Morocco, India, and Bukhara. Award-winning chef and cookbook author Joyce Goldstein suggests that Sephardim may have embraced pumpkin because they thought that texture resembles meat and it could be used for dairy and meat meals.

Pumpkin also had seasonal appeal at the High Holidays. As Gilda Angel, an expert in Sephardi foods notes, “Food made with pumpkin is served to express the hope that as this vegetable has been protected by a thick covering, God will protect us and gird us with strength.” In addition, one Hebrew word for pumpkin or squash, qara, provides the pun for “tear or rip,” that any evil decree of the new year should be torn up. The word also sounds like the Hebrew for “called out.” That is, good deeds will be called out and recognized as in “yikaru lefanekha z'khuyoteinu," May our good deeds be called out before God at the time of judgment. Since a pumpkin contains many seeds, it had come to symbolize fruitfulness and fertility.

(Rabbi Deborah Prinz)

3. North Africa: Orange Flavored Boulou (pareve/no dairy)

 Throughout the Hebrew month of the High Holidays known as Tishri, Jews from North Africa have enjoyed this orange scented boulou bread. Libyan Jews have made it with yeast and Tunisian Jews with baking powder. Little known outside of those communities, Gil Marks does not even mention it in his Encyclopedia of Jewish Foods. Though sadly overlooked, boulou is a citrusy and colorful addition to the fall holiday menu.

Oranges, native to China, have been known in North Africa since around the thirteenth century. They are available throughout the year, yet primarily in season from October through June.

The venerable Jewish population of Libya, having lived there since the third century, now mostly resides in Israel and in North America. We can note that distinguished past through this fragrant bread.

5780 brings the opportunity to reclaim these diverse, fall infused baked goods from legendary and resilient Jewish communities. They will taste amazing alongside the perhaps more familiar, raisin studded, round Ashkenazi challah.

Rabbi Deborah R. Prinz lectures about chocolate and Judaism around the world based on her book, “On the Chocolate Trail: A Delicious Adventure Connecting Jews, Religions, History, Travel, Rituals and Recipes to the Magic of Cacao” (second edition, Jewish Lights). She co-curated the exhibit “Semi[te] Sweet: On Jews and Chocolate” for Temple Emanu-El’s Herbert and Eileen Bernard Museum, New York City, now available to travel to your community. Most recently she has launched the #chocolatebabkaproject, an exploration of celebratory breads.

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