Break Your Yom Kippur Fast the Traditional Way: Slowly and Sweetly

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Almond cream babka.
Almond-cream babka.Credit: Vered Guttman

The tradition of breaking the Yom Kippur fast with a sweet cup of tea and a slice of babka is supported by nutritionists who recommend starting slowly, even when you feel like you could swallow the whole table.

It seems like our ancestors from all over the diaspora knew that all along, so Jewish heritage is filled with simple pastries from around the globe, including the Sephardi boyikos (little cheesy rolls), Tunisian bollo and Moroccan rifa, dry fennel seed cookies, as well the Iraqi baba and the Lybian magrood, both date-filled cookies. There is of course also the Ashkenazi lekach cake (originally a honey-cake, which in Israel became synonymous with angel cake), and babka.

As for drinks, most people would traditionally rely on sweetened tea to break the fast, some will add mint, tree wormwood or other herbs. Iraqi Jews make an almond drink called hariri, while Sephardim from Rhodes, Turkey and Greece prepare a similar drink from dried ground melon seeds, called pepitada. In both versions, the seeds or almonds are ground and soaked in water, usually in a cheesecloth, then squeezed to extract the flavor. Sugar is sometimes added, although it is not necessary and the drinks may be flavored with a little rose water.

Almond milk, hariri.Credit: Vered Guttman

Here are two recipes, for almond-cream babka and almond drink, that will help you break the fast both traditionally and reasonably. You can make the almond babka today and freeze it as soon as it cools down, then take it out of the freezer before the fast. It will be ready in time to break it. The almond drink should be made at least a day ahead as well and kept in the fridge. Iraqi Jews used to drink it in order to strengthen the weak and heal the sick, and I’m sure you‘ll appreciate it too.

Almond-cream babka

The almond cream babka reminds me of a delicious almond croissant. It can be frozen after baking and thawed overnight at room temperature.

Yields 2 x 10” long babkas

For the dough:
2 oz water
½ cup sugar
¼ oz. active dry yeast (one pack)
1 lb. all purpose flour, plus more for dusting
12 tablespoons soft unsalted butter
3 egg yolks, at room temperature
3 oz. milk, warm
1 teaspoon kosher salt

For the filling:
12 tablespoons soft unsalted butter
6 oz. almond flour or ground almonds
6 oz. sugar
2 eggs, divided
2 teaspoon almond extract (optional)
Zest of 2 lemons
¼ cup sliced almonds, optional


Warm the water to 115 Fahrenheit. Pour the milk into a small bowl, add ½ teaspoon sugar and the dry yeast, stir until the yeast dissolves completely and let stand at room temperature for 10 to 15 minutes until it foams.

Put the flour and sugar in a stand mixer bowl with the dough hook and mix briefly. Add the yeast mixture and mix slowly. With the mixer running slow add butter, egg yolks, milk and end with the salt. Stop the mixer and scrape the side until all the ingredients are incorporated into the dough. Run the mixer for 5 minutes on low, then increase to medium-high speed and mix for another 2 minutes. Spray a large bowl with oil and put the dough in. Cover the bowl with a damp towel and keep at room temperature until it doubles in volume, about 2-3 hours.

To make the filling, cream the butter, almond flour and sugar using a stand mixer with the wire whip. Add only one egg, mix briefly, then add almond extract and lemon zest.

Butter two 10” long loaf pans and line with parchment paper.

Divide the dough into two. Generously dust a large working surface with flour and roll one half of the dough into a rectangle of about 3/16” thick. The size of the rectangle will be about 11” x 13”. Spread half the filling thinly on the surface and roll the rectangle starting from the 11” side like a roulade. (You will get an 11” long roulade.)

Using a knife cut the roulade to its length almost until the end and make a braid by overlapping and wrapping one side over the other. Carefully transfer the babka into the loaf pan and repeat with the other half of the dough and filling.

Cover the two babkas with a damp towel and let them stand for another hour.

Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Lightly beat an egg and brush it over the babkas.

Sprinkle with almond slices, if using.

Bake the babkas for 45-50 minutes. Cool on a rack.

Almond milk

Let the milk cool overnight (and up to a couple of days) in the fridge. Stir well before drinking.

Serves 6

1½ cups ground almonds
3 cups boiling water
2-3 tablespoons sugar
½ teaspoon rose water or orange blossom water


Place the ground almond in a bowl and pour the boiling water on them. Let stand for 2 hours at room temperature.

Place several layers of cheesecloth over a colander that sits fully in a bowl and strain the almond milk. Squeeze the almond pulp in the cheesecloth to make sure you extract all the flavor into the bowl.

Add sugar and rose water, cover and cool in the fridge overnight.

This article was originally published in September of 2013

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