Pillowy Honey, Apple, Cranberry Challah
For some reason, I’ve been day dreaming of challah for two days: thinking if pillowy, shiny brown mounds of the plaited loaf, full of some sweet filling and swirling with flavor. I realized Rosh Hashanah was approaching, calling to me, and although I’m not Jewish, I can appreciate holidays that require round, sweet breads to celebrate.
I’ve been toying with living gluten-free, which my intestines and energy levels increasingly appreciate, but which is quite hard when you harbor the talent to create glutenous delights on a whim. I can avoid gluten just fine but when it comes to challah, I cave. It is my favorite bread, or maybe, an enriched dough is my favorite dough with which to create. An enriched dough has eggs and/or oil to create a dense, moist loaf of bread. It requires more proving time, but it makes up for this in its ease of handling and not needing flour to work it. It’s also superior in its taste and depth, which I can appreciate in bread.
I know I have a lot of bread and bread like recipes on this page, but it’s maybe because it’s the one thing I actually use a recipe for. (This blog is mostly just for my own records as I’ve had a lot of recipe books and blogs get lost in the midst of life over the last few years). The science and ratios are generally necessary to follow so I pay heed to that.
Although this recipe would be delicious plain, I chose to fill it with homemade cranberry, apple spread for both color and flavor. You’ll have to forgive me for not taking any photos while Rev and I weaved the dough. I was just so taken with the beautiful consistency of dough and Rev and I were having fun doing it. I forgot the camera entirely. You’ll also note that my photos aren’t that great due to hungry mouths begging to eat it and then eating nearly the entire loaf before the morning daylight returned for good photo lighting.
One more very important thing: many people are quite scared of making bread and braided/woven loaves. I cannot tell you how easy this bread is to make. It takes time but if you’re around all day and have patience it’s really not that much work. The dough is easy to work with and doesn’t make a mess. Please experiment with your favorite fillings and let me know what works!
4 cups flour (I used white, non-enriched, but bread flour or enriched flour will work too)
2/3 cup warm water or milk (think cool bath water, not too hot or you’ll kill the yeast)
1 packet active dry yeast
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons honey plus 1 tsp for the yeast
1/3 cup olive oil or melted butter (although olive oil gives a nice flavor and good texture)
1 apple, cubed
1/2 cup cranberries
2 tablespoons lemon juice
Place yeast and 1 teaspoon honey in the warm water and mix. Let sit while you mix the eggs, honey, olive oil, and salt.
Once the yeast is foamy, add to the wet ingredients.
Add the flour and mix until a nicely formed dough ball appears right before your eyes.
Dough should be wet but not sticky and not floury (yes that’s a word). Knead the dough for 10 minutes (seriously you’ll wonder where the time has gone because you’ll be kneading happily like a child playing with play dough)
Place the dough in an oiled bowl and cover it. Let rise for 90 minutes (one hour will do if you’re in a warmer climate)
On the stovetop, cook the apple and cranberry in the lemon juice. Once the apple is softened, remove from heat and let cool.
Use an immersion blender, food processor, or blender to to blend the apples and cranberries. Set aside to cool.
Once dough has doubled and looks pillowy and even better than before, divide it into four pieces and roll out each piece into a rectangle. You’ll want about 1/4 inch thickness but don’t worry too much about precision. If you’re not filling the dough, you can just roll it out with your hands into long strands.
Spread the apple/cranberry mixture onto the dough, keeping it from getting to the edges. Roll up the rectangle along the long edge and pinch it closed.
Stretch all four pieces to make them as long as you can without breaking them.
Arrange them in a hashtag or pound sign as it used to be called, weaving them over and under one another. You’ll want the “hashtag” to have no opening in the middle, as the dough strands should be touching each other.
Take the outside strands and in a counter-clockwise direction, turn the dough over its neighbor to the right. The strands should go over and not under. Then take the remaining lengths of dough and repeat until you have a woven circle. I’m sorry for being so vague here but I really think creativity is what wins here. Just weave that dough together and you’ll be fine!
Brush top of loaf with egg wash (1 egg mixed, not just the egg white)
Let rise again for 40-50 minutes.
Brush another layer of egg wash for extra shininess.
Bake at 350 degrees F (this is important here as you want the inside of this heavy, dense dough to bake before it gets too dark. If it gets too dark, you can cover it with foil while it bakes fully) for about 40 minutes.
Eat it quickly!