If you’ve never had one of the Rosh Hashana desserts, it’s time to familiarise yourself. Rosh Hashana is the official name for the Jewish New Year, which follows the Hebrew lunar calendar and aligns with the agricultural cycle. Also known as the Day of Remembrance or the Day of Blowing the Shofar, this year it falls on Saturday, September 19th. It’s a time to consider the year to come. And like many other holidays, it’s a time to eat special meals with your family. Looking at some of the customs, we begin with the much loved challah bread.
A Biblical word in origin, the popular braided loaf symbolizes the continuity of life and the upward spiral of progress. Rich and slightly sweet in taste, the shiny, golden crust of the eggy challah bread conceals a soft and fluffy interior. The challah is usually parve too, which means it contains no dairy or meat.
Before we move on to other Rosh Hashana desserts, a couple of important notes. Straight challah bread is typically eaten during weekly Shabbat dinners. But as Rosh Hashana is a special occasion, it calls for a specially shaped round loaf. Raisins can decorate this loaf and it can be served with or dipped in honey. This tradition is based on the belief that apples have healing properties and that honey represents a sweet year ahead. This is certainly a flavour combination we can get behind.
Speaking of honey, the Rosh Hashana honey cake is another regular feature in Rosh Hashana celebrations. Baked in either a bundt dish or a bread pan, it generally contains spices like cinnamon, cloves, and all spice. Other times, the honey cake contains flavours of nutmeg, cardamom, and ground ginger. Of course, the star ingredient is honey. However, people will sometimes add coffee, tea, or orange juice to balance out the sweetness from the honey. Apple sauce or shredded apples are also very welcome ingredients, which add further moisture to the honey cake.
The last element we’ll touch on as a part of the Rosh Hashana celebration is the beautifully dark red pomegranate. Conveniently, it comes into season as fall approaches. The abundance of seeds is a reminder of the 613 Commandments in the Torah and symbolic of fertility and fruitfulness. It symbolizes our wish for a year full of mitzvot and good deeds. The expression, “May we be full of merits like the pomegranate (is full of seeds)” normally accompanies its consumption. Many use the seeds to decorate mains and desserts. But, if you know where to look, you can find some wonderful pomegranate desserts like these.
So, no excuses for your Rosh Hashana desserts. We expect to see your tables filled with beautifully round challah breads, spicy and moist honey cakes, and perhaps a pomegranate dessert or two… Shanah Tovah Umetukah to everybody – this translates to “(have a) Good and Sweet Year!”