If people chose religions based on bread products alone, I’m pretty sure the Jews would have it every time. Challah is debatably the most delicious bread on the planet. (The Jews also have the bagel on lock, so they are hashtagwinning.) Like, no offense, Catholics, but hot cross buns need to step up their game if you ever hope to see me in a pew. And are the Buddhists even trying? Challah is also super fun to say, and there are endless puns to be made. “Challah atcha girl,” for one example. “If I had a challah for every time I made an amazing bread recipe…” for another.
I know I’m too late for Rosh Hashanah, but that’s okay, because I’m not religious and challah is delicious 100% of the time. I was invited to a Jewish friend’s dinner party last week, however, and in a stunning feat of arrogance (chutzpah, if you will), I decided I would make homemade challah. Not only have I never made challah before, but my bread-making skills in general are severely underdeveloped. I have made sweet rolls exactly three times in my life, and that was as far as my experience with yeast went before this. So as far as ballsiness goes, this is pretty high up there.
I turned to my favorite Jewish baker (and possibly my favorite baker of all time, really), Deb Perelman of Smitten Kitchen, for my recipe. Deb had an Apple & Honey Challah recipe that looked killer-diller (shhh, it’s the ’50s). And in her recipe note she was all, “I didn’t add cinnamon because I wanted the apples to stand out on their own.” And then I was all, “Apples, I think you need a helping hand. Please bathe in all of these apple pie spices, plz.”
That’s not to say I don’t trust Deb. In fact, if Deb Perelman told me that I would be delicious battered and deep fried, I would probably jump head first into a vat of oil. That’s how much faith I have in her. But I just love apple pie spices, and I wanted to give you an alternative to plain apples. I think the spices make it more of a fall recipe. I don’t buy commercial apple pie spice, because I keep all of the necessary components in my pantry already. But if you prefer, feel free to substitute 2 teaspoons of apple pie spice in lieu of all of the spices.
I made this bread twice; once for the dinner party (those are the raw dough pics) and once the day after (the finished bread photos). I didn’t want to slice into the challah for photos just before the dinner party, especially because you are traditionally supposed to rip the challah apart. Which we did! Like ravenous animals. The dinner party was also a testing-ground for me to see what I wanted to tweak in the recipe.
I decided that in my next batch I wanted to up the sweetness so it was more of a dessert bread, which meant adding more honey and also more flour (to make up for the added liquid from the honey). The McIntoshes that Deb suggested did exactly what she said they would… “bake down into almost sauce-like puddles.” But I prefer apple chunks, not puddles, so when I went apple picking this weekend, I picked some Jonagold apples (a cross between Golden Delicious and Jonathan apples, so I’m guessing either of those varieties would do if you can’t find Jonagolds.) The higher acid content in these apples makes the pectin stronger, which means they hold up better while baking. Consider that your science lesson of the day.
My second weaving wasn’t as pretty as the first, because it was late and the apples were going rogue and I was like “Enough is enough.” It still tastes delicious and I have no regrets. Like Deb, I chose to top my bread with pearl sugar, which I have been dying to use since my mom bought it for me on a whim while we were in Miami this spring. It looks so beautiful against the glossy brown of the challah. (My dinner party co-guests thought maybe it was pretzel salt, but I assured them otherwise.) This adventure into bread making has been so successful, I foresee a lot of yeasty sweet rolls in our future, guys.
- 2¼ teaspoons active dry yeast
- ⅔ cup (225 grams) plus 1 teaspoon honey
- ⅓ cup (70 grams) canola or vegetable oil, plus more for greasing bowl
- 2 large eggs
- 1 large egg yolk
- 1½ teaspoons sea salt
- 5¼ cups (675 grams) bread flour, plus more for your work surface
- 2 cups (260 grams) of peeled apple chunks, about ½-inch in size (I used Jonagold apples)
- ½ tablespoon lemon juice
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- ¼ teaspoon allspice
- ⅛ teaspoon nutmeg
- ⅛ teaspoon ginger
- pinch of cardamom (optional)
- 1 large egg (for egg wash)
- 1-2 teaspoons coarse or pearl sugar (optional)
- In a liquid measuring cup, whisk together ⅔ cup warm water (between 110-115°F), yeast, and 1 teaspoon of honey. Set aside for ten minutes so that it foams up and the yeast is activated.
- In the bowl of a stand mixer, whisk together yeast mixture, remaining ⅔ cup of honey, oil, eggs, and egg yolk. Place bowl onto the mixer and fit it with the dough hook. Add flour and salt to the bowl, then turn the mixer on to moderate speed (Speed 4 on a KitchenAid) and mix until a shaggy dough has formed. Turn the mixer speed down to low (Speed 2 on a KitchenAid) for 5 minutes, until the dough is smooth and has mostly pulled away from the sides of the bowl. It will be a little sticky and will stay anchored to the bottom of the bowl.
- Coat a large mixing bowl with oil and transfer the dough to the oil-coated bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and place in a warm spot to rise for about an hour, until nearly doubled in size.
- With 10 minutes of rise time left, get your apples cored, peeled, and cut into chunks. Toss with lemon juice and spices until evenly coated.
- When the dough has risen, turn it out onto a lightly floured surface and pat the dough out into a rectangular shape, about 12-14 inches long and 8 inches wide (it doesn't need to be exact or pretty). Spread 2/3 of the apple chunks across the top half of the dough. Fold the bottom half up over the apples and press down to seal them in. Spread the remaining 1/3 of the apple chunks on the right half of the dough. Fold the left half over and press down to seal. The packet you've created will somewhat resemble a square. Tuck the corners under a bit so it looks more like a circle. Turn your mixing bowl upside-down over the dough (creating a dome around the dough) and let it rise for 30 minutes.
- Cut the dough ball into quadrants. Roll each quadrant into a rope about 12 inches long. This gets a little messy because the moisture from the apples might make things gummy, or the apples start to pop out of the dough. Just shove them back into the rope if they pop out and try not to get too hung up on if the ropes look perfect.
- Now you have to weave the ropes, so pay attention.* It's not difficult, just wordy! Place two of the ropes side by side vertically. Lay the other two ropes side by side horizontally across the vertical ropes. Weave the top horizontal rope under the left vertical rope and over the right. Weave the lower horizontal rope over the left vertical rope and under the right. There should now be 8 "legs" coming off of a woven center. Grab the legs that are coming from underneath the center and cross them over their partner leg (in a counter-clockwise fashion). Now take the legs that you just jumped over and cross them over the legs clockwise to them. This may be a bit of a stretch; just tuck the ends in under the dough a bit so the bread forms a round.
- Transfer the dough round to a parchment-lined baking sheet. In a small bowl, fork-whisk an egg until smooth, and brush the egg wash on top of the dough. (Keep the egg wash! You'll use it again later!) Cover with plastic wrap then a dish towel and place in a warm area to rise for another hour.
- With 15 minutes left of rise time, preheat your oven to 375°F. When dough has risen, brush the dough with egg wash a second time. Sprinkle coarse or pearl sugar over the top of the dough. Place baking sheet on the center rack of the oven and bake for 40-45 minutes, until the top is golden brown and the center of the dough has reached 195°F. Remove from the oven and transfer the bread to a wire rack to cool.
- Serve by slicing or pulling apart!
- *Smitten Kitchen has a great step-by-step photo tutorial of the weave if you are more visual (until I can upload my own visual tutorial!)