Photograph by Rose Eichenbaum
Last December, on my way to teach at the Limmud Jewish learning conference in England, I took a side trip to Prague for an encounter with the Jewish community that has existed through intermittent periods of tolerance and extreme anti-Semitism for 1,000+ years.
That Friday night, my husband Richard and I trekked through the snowy streets of this fairy tale city to an old stone building, where we entered an unmarked door, walked down a dimly lit staircase, and entered a sparsely decorated brick-lined room with vaulted ceilings. A six-foot table displayed a challah, candlesticks, and a few cookies for an oneg . Thirty chairs—enough to accommodate regular worshipers as well as a visiting group from Germany, a woman from California, her college-aged daughter, and ourselves—were arranged in rows facing the portable ark and lectern.
We had arrived at Bejt Simcha, a growing Progressive (Reform) synagogue community founded in 1991, and now 150 members strong.
Katka Weberova, the congregation’s administrator, welcomed us enthusiastically and brought us to our reserved seats in the front facing the congregation. (Note: during our email correspondence prior to the visit, Katka said she knew who I was because she gets Reform Judaism magazine and often translates some of the articles, including mine, into Czech for the members.)
The rabbi proceeded to chant prayers and the participants sang songs…many familiar. Imagine singing the Freelander-Klepper rendition of Shalom Rav in this remote Jewish outpost! Richard and I got all choked up, realizing that this wonderful song of peace had created a sense of community and belonging among Jews around the world.
During the oneg I spoke on the historical basis of Jewish cooking and enlisted assistance in learning about their Jewish food heritage. Sylvie Wittmann, who founded Bejt Simcha, hastened my Czech culinary education by bringing a spicy carrot dish for all to sample. It was a wonderful Shabbat!
Two days later, Bejt Simcha member Zuzana Schreiberova and I walked to the old Jewish quarter, Josefov, to buy bread in Prague’s only kosher bakery (which, to my disappointment, was closed); rode by bus to the farmer’s market for fresh produce; and bought a quart of milk from a machine that looked like the water dispenser on my refrigerator door. From there we headed back to Zuzana’s apartment to cook traditional Czech dishes adapted to conform to kashrut .
Zuzana, who is a breakfast chef by morning, office worker in the day, and food blogger at night, grew up in Prague at a time when religious practice was deemed subversive by the ruling Communists. She told me that only one of the city’s six historical synagogues was kept open, and agents of the Secret Service would write down the names of anyone who attended its services. In fear, most Jews refrained from practicing Judaism or did so secretly; as a result, a number of Czech Jewish traditions, including its culinary
heritage, were lost.
Like many of her generation, Zuzana does not have a strong Jewish foundation, but she passionately loves to practice her faith and culture at her synagogue and home. Her return to a living Judaism is both poignant and ironic; she is the direct descendant of Rabbi Moshe Schreiber, one of the leading Orthodox rabbis in Europe in the early 19th century and one of the most outspoken opponents of Reform Judaism.
Zuzana inspired the two Rosh Hashanah treats presented here. Enjoy!
Using an iconic Rosh Hashanah ingredient—the apple—as a base, the following sauce will add a Yom Tov kick to your gefilte fish or roasted meats. Horseradish is a classic Czech condiment.
2 Tablespoons fresh lemon juice (about 1 lemon’s worth)
1⁄4 teaspoon Kosher salt, or to taste
2 teaspoons sugar, or to taste
2 Gala or Fuji Apples
1 piece of horseradish, 1" wide and 2" long
- Place the lemon juice, salt, and sugar in a 1-quart bowl.
- Peel the apples and grate on a coarse grater directly into the bowl. Wash and peel the horseradish. Grate coarsely directly into the apple mixture. Note: The grating steps may be done in a processor, using the fine grating disk for the apple and the metal blade for the horseradish.
- Stir to combine, adjusting seasonings if necessary.
- Store in a well sealed jar.
Yield: About 11⁄4 cups/20 servings.
- To make grating horseradish easier, peel the portion of the root you’ll be using incrementally and hold on for as long as possible to the non-peeled portion. Use a knife to mark the needed amount; stop grating when you get to it.
- Grate horseradish in a well ventilated room to prevent lung irritation from its fumes.
Ceske’ Buchty or Czech Apple-Filled Yeast Cake
Yeast dough is the basis for many desserts in the Czech Republic, among them buchty, stuffed buns; bohemian tarts, little pizza-like confections with filling placed in hollowed centers on top; and moravian tarts, which are prepared like buchty, but then flattened like bohemian tarts and the depression filled in
the same way.
Zuzana fills her buchty with sweet cheese. Here, I combine Czech culture with Jewish tradition, placing the symbolic holiday apple inside the traditional Czech dough and making it into a ring to symbolize a year of never-ending good.
4–41⁄4 cups all purpose flour
1 package rapid rise yeast
3⁄4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup milk (skim or 2% is fine)
1⁄2 cup sugar
1⁄2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
1 teaspoon salt
1⁄8 teaspoon nutmeg
1 Tablespoon oil
1 egg combined with 1 Tablespoon of water (egg wash)
1⁄4 cup sugar mixed with 1 teaspoon cinnamon (topping)
- Place 3 cups of flour and the yeast in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a dough hook (or place in a 4-quart bowl if mixing by hand). Combine for 10 seconds, making sure the yeast is incorporated with the flour. Set aside.
- Lightly beat the eggs and the vanilla in a small bowl. Set aside.
- Combine the milk, sugar, butter, salt, and nutmeg in a 1-quart saucepan. Over moderate heat, stir occasionally until the sugar and butter dissolve and the mixture is hot to the touch, but not simmering (about 120ºF).
- With the mixer turned on low speed, or while you are stirring, carefully add the hot liquid to the flour mixture. Immediately pour in the egg mixture, stirring until well combined.
- Gradually add the remaining flour, again on low speed or by hand. Knead the dough for approximately 7 minutes, until it is smooth and not very sticky.
- Rub a 3-quart bowl with the oil. Place the dough in the bowl and turn it over to fully coat with oil. Cover with plastic wrap and place in a draft-free area such as a turned-off oven. Let the dough
rise for about 1–3 hours until it is double in size. To have the dough rise slowly, place it in
the refrigerator overnight.
- While the dough rises, make the Fresh Apple Spice Filling (on right).
- When the dough has risen, punch it down. Roll the dough on a flat surface lightly dusted with confectioner’s sugar or flour. If making rings, divide the dough in half and roll out into 8" x 14" rectangles of about ¼-inch thickness. If making stuffed buchty, cut the rolled dough into
2 or 3-inch circles.
- For large rings, spread half of the filling onto each rectangle, leaving a l-inch border on the top and ends, then roll up from the long side. Join the ends together to form a ring and pinch to seal them. Place the seam side down on a parchment-lined, low-sided cookie sheet. Let the dough rise for about another 30-45 minutes, until it’s doubled in size. Brush with egg wash and sprinkle with cinnamon and sugar. Bake at 350ºF for 35–40 minutes or until the rings are golden brown and hollow sounding when thumped with your fingers. Cool for at least 30 minutes before cutting and serving. Yield: 2 9-inch rings, about 24 servings.
- For individual buchty, place 1 heaping teaspoon of filling in the center of each dough circle. Fold up the sides to seal the filling and create a round ball. Place on a parchment-lined, low-sided cookie sheet. Let it rise for about another ½ hour, until doubled in size. Brush with egg wash and sprinkle with cinnamon and sugar. Bake at 350ºF for 20–30 minutes, until the buchty are golden brown and hollow sounding when thumped with your fingers. Serve warm or room temperature. Yield: about 2 dozen fruit-filled dumplings or 24 servings.
Fresh Apple Spice Filling
1⁄2 cup raisins
2 teaspoons dark rum
2 apples (Jonagold or Gala preferred)
2 Tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons cornstarch or 2 Tablespoons honey cake crumbs
- Combine the raisins and rum in a small custard cup. Set aside.
- Peel, core, and dice the apples into 1⁄2-inch chunks. Place in a bowl and combine with the soaked raisins and remaining ingredients. Cover. Set aside until needed. Yield: enough for 2 rings
or 24 buchty.
Tina D. Wasserman, a member of Temple Emanu-El in Dallas, is the author of the URJ Press book, Entree to Judaism. She also teaches at her own cooking school, writes a kosher cooking newsletter on the Internet, and serves as a culinary scholar-in-residence throughout the U.S. and Europe.
- If you let your dough rise in the refrigerator, bring it to room temperature for 15–30 minutes before you roll out and shape it. It will roll out much more easily; you’ll be glad you waited.