Yom Kippur (which begins at sundown Friday this year) is the last and holiest day of the Jewish High Holy Days that began with Rosh Hashana. It is the culmination of this period devoted to prayer and atonement for one's sins.
To concentrate on prayer, all but the young, sick or pregnant fast for 24 hours. When the holiday ends at sundown (Saturday this year), you feel spiritually uplifted, celebratory and very hungry.
The situation can work to your advantage: You never see so many people eager to help serve the food as you do at a Break Fast.
Tradition requires that the menu include certain elements:
* Apples and honey represent a fruitful and sweet new year.
* Round challah, or egg bread, represents a year of never-ending joy.
* The menu also includes salted or smoked fish, because "you poor thing, you lost so much water fasting!"
How these foods are incorporated into your menu is up to you.
The apples for apples and honey should be sliced just before guests arrive. This eliminates the need to treat the apples with lemon juice to prevent browning. Juicy McIntosh apples pair well with native wildflower honey.
Make-ahead elements of the suggested menu include a fruit kugel and honey cakes.
To make Caesar salad, wash and tear romaine lettuce in advance; wrap it in paper towels and store in the refrigerator drawer. To assemble the salad, toss the lettuce with fresh Parmesan cheese, croutons and your favorite dressing.
Grocery stores and restaurants also can help with time-consuming elements of the menu.
Think about buying a fruit or vegetable platter from your local supermarket or deli. Ask if the store will blanch the vegetables. Cooking vegetables in boiling salted water for a minute or two keeps them "raw" but intensifies their color and sweetens their taste. Some larger supermarkets will poach your salmon, too.
Many delis will slice bagels for a small charge, saving you a lot of time. Besides, I wouldn't want to watch someone who had just fasted slice all those bagels.
When you plan your menu, make a note by each item indicating whether it will be prepared in advance or at the last minute or bought ready-made. That way you can start working on your Break Fast early, not be stressed all week - and concentrate on more important things when you're in synagogue.
You can easily serve 12 to 50 people with an assortment of dishes including challah; apples and honey for dipping; poached salmon; egg salad; bagels with cream-cheese spreads, lox, tomato and onion slices; fruit kugel, Caesar salad; pickled herring; teiglach; honey cake; fruit platter; orange juice, coffee and wine.
Recipes are given below for Deluxe Fruit Kugel, Pickled Herring in Cream Sauce and Honey Cake.
DELUXE FRUIT KUGEL
1/2 pound medium-width noodles
1 pound cream cheese
1/2 pound plus 2 tablespoons butter
1 pint sour cream
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 1/3 cups sugar
1 can (11 ounces) mandarin oranges, drained
1 can (8 ounces) crushed pineapple, drained
4 ounces walnuts
1 teaspoon cinnamon
Cook noodles according to package directions. Drain and place in a 4-quart bowl.
Add the cream cheese, the 1/2 pound butter and half the sour cream to the food processor work bowl; blend until smooth. Scrape down sides of work bowl. Add the remaining sour cream, vanilla, 1 cup sugar and eggs; process until combined. Gently combine with the noodles.
Stir the oranges and pineapple in by hand and pour mixture into a buttered 9-by-13-inch ovenproof dish. The mixture will almost overflow. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.
When ready to bake, place in a preheated 350-degree oven for 50 minutes.
Combine the walnuts with remaining 1/3 cup sugar and the cinnamon; sprinkle mixture on top of the kugel. Dot with remaining 2 tablespoons butter and bake for 20 minutes more. Serve warm or at room temperature. Makes 18 servings.
Note: The kugel can be made totally in advance, but it won't be as light.
PICKLED HERRING IN CREAM SAUCE
1 jar (12 ounces) pickled herring bits in wine sauce, drained (save some liquid)
1 medium Bermuda or Spanish onion
1 cup fresh sour cream
Place herring directly into non-reactive bowl that you will use for serving. (Believe it or not, I put mine right into my Waterford bowl.)
Thinly slice the onion into rings and add to the herring along with enough sour cream to be thick but still slightly runny. Refrigerate for a day or longer and add additional sour cream or reserved juice if needed. Makes eight servings.
2 cups wildflower or dark honey
1 cup strong coffee or 2 teaspoons instant coffee mixed with 1 cup water
2 tablespoons brandy
2 tablespoons oil
3/4 cup sugar
3 1/2 cups flour
Generous pinch of salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon allspice
1 1/4 teaspoons cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
2/3 cup raisins (optional)
Whole blanched almonds for garnish (optional)
Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Grease loaf pan, Bundt pan or three disposable aluminum loaf pans and line the bottoms of the loaf pans with parchment paper that has also been greased. If using mini-muffin pans, use paper liners.
Bring honey to a gentle boil. Cool. Add the coffee and brandy. Set aside.
Beat the eggs until light and lemon-colored. Add the oil; gradually beat in the sugar until the oil is thoroughly incorporated.
Combine the flour, salt, baking soda, baking powder, allspice, cinnamon and ginger in a small bowl and then add alternately with the honey mixture to the egg-sugar mixture, starting and ending with the dry ingredients mixture.
If you are using raisins, dust with a little flour and fold into the mixture. Pour into the prepared pan or pans, filling about two-thirds full.
Decorate the top of the cake with a line or pattern of almonds. Bake 45 minutes to an hour, or until done; the time will depend on the size of your pan. Mini muffins will bake in 15 to 18 minutes. Unmold while very warm.
Although the cakes are good warm, allow them to sit a day or so, wrapped, to intensify flavor. Makes 25 servings.
Note: When served as a large cake, honey cake often gets overlooked. For buffets, I make the recipe in miniature muffin tins. One recipe will make 48 mini-muffins and 1 small loaf. Serve leftover cake warm with orange cream- cheese spread for delicious tea sandwiches.