I may not be Jewish, but when it comes to celebratory baked goods, I don't discriminate. I started working at a Jewish preschool a couple hours a week and listening to them talk about the Challah, Shabbat dinner, the upcoming new year and all the traditions that surround it honestly makes me a little jealous. I can't help but want to be part of it all and learn more. That being said, I made my first ever Challah last year for Rosh Hashanah, it was so good, I waited patiently for the holiday to roll around again this year.
Homemade bread is such a treat, and in my option, well worth the effort. I sometimes feel my love for homemade breads and pastas and all-around "messy, hands-on baking endeavors" stem from some kind of childhood repression of having parents that never let me attempt wildly messy projects because they just wanted to keep the house clean. Why is it that the messiest projects also happen to be the most fun? Well guess what parents, I'm an adult now and I can make as much of a mess as I want! And I do. So I suppose I'm just making up for lost time because a kitchen floor covered in flour, and counters smeared with chocolate usually mean a good time has been had and something tasty is on the way.
But back to Challah. It may be a little labor intensive, maybe even stressful at times if you're that perfectionist type. But it definitely makes for a fun project. Just make sure you have plenty of time to let the pesky dough rise (these loaves have 3 separate rise times, what divas). The kneading, braiding and stuffing with apples are my favorite parts. Rolling and squeezing the dough makes me feel like a child and I love it.
I only made a handful of small tweaks to the original recipe. I measured out the amount of flour in grams to make it a little more exact than the "5-7 cups" the original recipe calls for. I also added half whole wheat pastry flour to give the dough a bit more heartiness and, who am I kidding, to make myself feel better about devouring an entire loaf. And I added a stick of cinnamon butter smear to each braid. Despite the honey, cinnamon, and sugar, the loaves come out only slightly sweet. It's perfection toasted with butter for breakfast. And I'd imagine it would make divine french toast.
Whole Wheat Cinnamon Apple Challah Bread
Adapted from Tori Avey
Makes two loaves
For the dough:
1 1/2 cups warm water, divided
1 packet active dry yeast
1 tsp sugar
3 egg yolks
3/4 cup honey
2 tbsp olive oil
2 tsp vanilla extract
2 tsp salt
420 grams (3 cups) whole wheat pastry flour
480 grams (3 1/4 cups) all purpose flour
For the cinnamon butter:
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
2 tbsp cinnamon
1 tbsp sugar
For the apples:
3 medium granny smith apples
Pinch of salt
1 tsp lemon juice
2 tsp sugar
For the egg wash:
1 tbsp cold water
pinch of salt
2 tbsp turbinado sugar
Whisk together 1/4 cup warm water, active dry yeast, and 1 tsp sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer and let sit for 10 minutes until mixture becomes thick and bubbly. Add the remaining 1 1/4 cup warm water, egg, egg yolks, honey, olive oil, vanilla, and salt, and whisk to combine. In a medium bowl whisk both flours together.
Fit a stand mixture with a dough hook, and on low speed slowly add the flour to the wet ingredients about 1/2 cup at a time. If you don't have a stand mixer you can also do this by hand with a large wooden spoon, kneading by hand once the dough begins to come together. Continue until dough forms into a ball, adding more flour if necessary. Transfer dough to a floured work surface and knead by hand a couple of times. Pour about 1 tbsp olive oil into a large bowl. Add the dough and swirl your dough around in the bowl to coat the entire ball of dough with oil. Bring a small saucepan of water to a boil. Place saucepan with boiling water at the bottom of your oven then cover the dough with a damp cloth and place it in oven on a rack directly above the saucepan. Close the oven and let the dough rise for 1 hour. Do not turn the oven on.
After 1 hour, remove the dough and knead it once or twice to remove air pockets. Return to bowl, cover, and let rise for 1 more hour.
Meanwhile, prep your filling. Peel and dice your apples into tiny 1/4 inch bits. As you dice, place the apples in a bowl of cold water with salt and lemon juice to keep them from browning. Using your stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment beat together softened butter, cinnamon, and sugar until completely smooth.
Once your dough has fully risen, divide the dough in half (I highly recommend a bench scraper for tasks like this, it also comes in handy for scooping up diced vegetables. I use mine almost daily). Keep 1/2 of the dough in bowl and cover. Transfer the other half to a floured counter and divide dough into 4 equal pieces. Using your hands and/or a floured rolling pin, shape the 4 pieces into 12" x 3.5" inch rectangles (I may be a dork, but I actually got out the ruler for this part, and I've seen the same thing done on America's test kitchen). Remember to keep flouring your work space as needed. Working with one piece of dough at a time, spread on 2 tbsp of cinnamon butter leaving about 1/2" border on all sides. Drain the water from your apples and toss with 2 tsp of sugar. Spoon 1/8 of your apples onto the cinnamon butter. Using your hands, pinch together the top and bottom edges of your rectangle until it becomes a solid rope with your apples hidden inside. Pinch the ends together to keep the apples from falling out and then roll your rope on a floured surface until it stretches to 16-18" long. Set aside, and repeat with remain 3 strands.
Braid your challah. See photos. Also, Tori Avey takes wonderfully clear photos which you should totally reference if you get confused by mine. Once your challah is braided, tuck the end pieces under and using your bench scraper, without thinking too much about it, transfer your loaf to a sheet pan covered with parchment paper. Let the braided loaf sit for 30-45 minutes, to rise one final time. Meanwhile, braid your second Challah.
Preheat your oven to 350. Just before adding your first loaf to the oven, make an egg wash by whisking together egg, water and salt. Using a pastry brush, liberally brush egg wash over your whole Challah and top with turbinado sugar. Bake for 20 minutes then remove from oven, apply another egg wash (being mindful to really get in the cracks) and return to oven for remaining 25 minutes. Bake loaves one at a time.