|Tu Bishvat, Challah, & Babka|
by Guest Columnist Leah Hadad
Sitting in Washington, DC, at the end of this past cold, gray December, it is hard to imagine that what symbolizes a sunny, new beginning of spring in Israel, Tu Bishvat, is only a month away. There is a tendency to reminisce during holidays and times when we celebrate or commemorate a personal or communal event. It was just about this time of the year (five years ago), that I formally registered Tribes-A-Dozen as a legal entity. As part of the process, I had to describe what we do. While we were not doing much yet, I did have an idea of what we intended to do.
In the beginning, all I had was a seed of an idea: it would be great to have a hallah mix. While I had only a vague idea about what I wanted to accomplish, I knew that I wanted my mix to be kosher, made in the USA, and that it would be comprised of wholesome ingredients that I would be willing to feed to my family. Just like writing a book, ideas preceded words, concepts followed, and -- Voilà! -- the branding materialized as a tangible product.
The idea of connecting with and renewing tradition through the ancient art of baking bread allowed us to describe the product, what it meant to us, and what it would mean to consumers.
Many of the ideas were in place early on. One thing came to me a bit later, as the original idea was turning out to be a line of three Voilà! Hallah Egg Bread Mixes – Traditional, Simply Spelt, and Wholey Wheat. In another Voilà! moment, I realized that my mixes are quite versatile. They do not bake only into traditional hallah loaves. With minor tweaking, I now turn them into a plethora of baked goods, especially around the holidays – apple babka for Rosh Hashanah, Thanksgiving cranberry hallah, sufganiyot, Tu Bishvat Babka, and hamantashen, to name a few. I am still learning about my products and about my audience. But the most important goal remains the same: enabling people to connect with baking traditions.
When I think about Tu Bishvat, I am awash with memories of the almond tree’s delicate pink blossom and the ‘tishbahat batsalahat’, a plate of dried fruits and nuts we shared after dinner when I was growing up in Israel. Dried fruits, nuts, and seeds are a traditional fare for Yemenite Jews, especially on Shabbat and holidays. But tishbahat batsalahat (literally, the finest of the fruit of the earth on the plate) is an Israeli Tu Bishvat custom. These days other seasonal goodies are also eaten, such as the candied pomela peel which I sampled several years ago while visiting my niece's preschool class on an Israeli kibbutz.
Planting young saplings is another Israeli custom, as the holiday is Rosh Hashana La’ilanot (New Year to the trees). By planting, we are actively transforming and repairing the world for future generations and us, very much like when humans moved from gathering seeds in the wild, to cultivating them and turning them into bread. Tu Bishvat is a time of renewal; it is a good time for planting all kinds of seeds, actual and metaphorical. It is a time for exalting creation and for creativity.
In honor of Tu Bishvat, I created a babka that could be named "tishbahat ba’babka," or the finest of the earth’s fruit in the babka. You can substitute any flavor marmalade or dried fruit. The dough is made from the versatile Voilà! Hallah Egg Bread Mix. I am partial to the dairy version, but the parve version is just as scrumptious. It can be baked as a loaf, but I prefer the roses babka because it reminds me of blossoms in spring.
About the Author
Leah Hadad is Founder & President of Tribes-A-Dozen. She resides with her family in Washington, D.C, where she also practiced as attorney at law before founding Tribes. A self–taught baker and cook, she delights friends and family at gatherings and dinner parties with her traditional recipes skillfully and lovingly adapted for the modern day home cook. She believes that baking bread is a spiritual experience that defines our humanity.
January 14, 2013