WW Secret Recipe: Black Walnut Cinnamon Challah — The Wondersmith (2024)

Black Walnut Cinnamon Challah and Shabbat

I am absolutely fascinated by the way humankind has transfused meaning into life, and the ways in which we do so. The rituals, the stories, the prayers, the celebrations! They are as much a part of humanity as the DNA in our veins. I particularly loved Sasha Sagan’s perspective on her Jewish upbringing in For Small Creatures Such as We:

Through my secular lens, I see a different meaning in [Non-Secular Jewish] traditions. In a way, it’s really science that’s been inspiring rituals all along. Beneath the specifics of all our beliefs, sacred texts, origin stories, and dogmas, we humans have been celebrating the same two things since the dawn of time: astronomy and biology. The changing of the seasons, the long summer days, the harvest, the endless winter nights, and the blossoming spring are all by-produts of how the Earth orbits the sun. The phases of the moon, which have dictated the timing of rituals since the dawn of civilization, are the result of how the moon orbits us. Birth, puberty, reproduction, and death are the biological processes of being human. Throughout the history of our species, these have been the miracles, for lack of a better word, that have given us meaning. They are the real, tangible events upon which countless celebrations have been built, mirroring one another even among societies who had no contact.” - p 13/14

A Jewish friend of mine named Nemmie recently invited me to virtually partake in Shabbat, a weekly ritual marking the Jewish Sabbath. As she and her partner performed this ritual and explained it to me, I could feel my eyes fill with tears. Just realizing that this weekly ritual connects her so strongly to her heritage and has been part of her culture for centuries made my heart swell with wonder for the threads of her ancestry I saw braided into the breads in front of us. I loved seeing the pride she took in her culture and hearing the stories tucked in here and there about childhood memories of this deeply-ingrained ritual.

She explained to me that everything is in pairs; one candle for the week that’s passed, one candle for the week to come. Giving thanks for light, for wine, for bread, the food of the people, the stuff of life. Coming together as a family and intentionally partaking in this weekly ritual together, then intentionally stopping all work for the evening and next day. And the two loaves of bread? There are various views on this: some say that the two loaves represent the bounty of the past week and one to hope for sweetness in the week to come too. Others say it’s to have an extra loaf to share with guests at the table. Others look back to the story of the manna that fell from the sky to the children of Israel during their Exodus from Egypt. This gift or blessing sustained them on their long journey, and it is said that they received an extra portion while traveling on the Shabbat.

Often Challah is sprinkled with seeds, as both seeds and bread represent the manna as well.

Nemmie told me with glittering eyes about how, before the pandemic, her “found family” (a mixture of blood relations and Jewish friends) would always gather for Shabbat. She also told me that the various subgroups of Jews have different rituals and different traditions, but the one that is universal amongst all of them is the Shabbat. The songs may differ slightly and the prayers may be worded differently, but the idea is always the same. I think that is extraordinarily beautiful, that this can instantly be a point of connection

Challah bread is an important part of the Shabbat. This enriched dough is traditionally braided, with each type of braid holding its own symbolism. At Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, it’s plaited into a braided circle to represent the endless cycles of bounty. It’s typically sweetened and sometimes contains raisins to ensure that the coming year is a sweet one.

Not all braided breads are challah; nor is all enriched bread. Not even all enriched braided breads are challah! In fact, according to MyJewishLearning.com,

“The name challah was given to a bread in South Germany in the Middle Ages, when it was adopted by Jews for the Sabbath. It was the traditional local Sunday loaf, and its various shapes and designs were in the local tradition of decorative breads.”

Decorative enriched breads with other traditions and religious associations can be found all over Northern and Eastern Europe, but Challah is certainly one of the most culturally significant breads. It’s also delicious! The texture is flaky and soft, and it tears apart beautifully. All you need to enjoy it is maybe a little butter to dip it in (or save some for the best French toast ever!)

My version of Challah would be particularly appropriate for Rosh Hashanah, since it is a sweeter version with a delicious cinnamon and toasted black walnut filling. Also, it’s purple, because why not? This recipe makes two medium loaves, and you can find it on the Wondercrew Page right here!

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WW Secret Recipe: Black Walnut Cinnamon Challah  — The Wondersmith (2024)


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