Honey challahs are surprisingly easy — you simply swap sugar for honey, and you can increase it for a stronger honey flavor. Apple challahs, however, are challenging, mostly because larger chunks of baked apple are far more satisfying to bite into you than pea-sized ones, but they’re also tricky to work into a soft dough, and then shape that dough with a traditional braid. Many recipes I saw for apple challah forewent the braid, and baked the bread in a tin instead but it felt too much like cake to me. Plus, I like playing with
Play-Doh bread dough far too much to do that. So, I came to two agreements with my dough. One, that I would not put so much apple in that it was more cake than bread, and also nearly impossible to shape and two, that if apple chunks fell out — and of course, they will — I’d just poke them back in. I’m pretty sure you’re picturing me right now negotiating with a large blob of dough on a speckled counter and your premonition would be correct. At least I’m not talking to myself, right?
The other reason I just had to share this with you was that when I was doing research last year for a different challah that’s going in my cookbook, I came across the best, easiest, coolest way to make a pretty round challah without all of that 6-to-4, 2-to-6, 1-to-3, 5-to-1 brain scrambling of 6-strand braids. Or the weirdness of trying to turn that braid into a round loaf. More of a weave than a braid, I only had to read the directions for this once before I had it down and frankly, have been inventing excuses to make round challahs knowing that this will have them looking bumpy and grand. I hope you’ll find it as simple. I hope that if you’re celebrating the new year, that you have a sweet one and even if you’re not, that you will find excuse to make one of these anyway.
One year ago: Beef Chili + Sour Cream and Cheddar Biscuits
Two years ago: Date Spice Loaf
Three years ago: Black and White Cookies and Summer’s Last Hurrah Panzanella
Four years ago: Red Velvet Cake and Cream Cheese Noodle Kugel, Spaghetti with Chorizo and Almonds and Couscous and Feta-Stuffed Peppers
Five years ago: Orange Chocolate Chunk Cake
Friday 9/30 Do you live near NYC? Please forgive me if you’re hearing this for the second time, but I’ll be speaking at the Apple Store on West 14th Street in NYC on Friday from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. about this here little Internet website, with lots of time for Q&A. Anyone is welcome to attend, most especially you because I bet we haven’t met yet and we totally should.
Apple and Honey Challah
I’ve adapted my challah formula over the years from Joan Nathan’s, and I find her tips about three risings (which won’t take as long as it sounds, promise) and two brushes with egg wash spot on. If you’re looking for a basic challah recipe, here you go. But this one is especially fun for right now, as apples and honey are traditionally eaten together on the Jewish New Year, which begins tonight. And can you imagine how awesome the leftovers will be for French toast?
I didn’t put any cinnamon in this; I was hoping it would taste foremost like apples and honey but if you’d like cinnamon in there, you could toss the apple chunks with a teaspoon of it. The apples will bake down into almost sauce-like puddles and they manage to remain a little tart. The honey flavor isn’t aggressive, mostly because I didn’t want the challah to be overly sweet (we serve it at dinner, not dessert) but you can always increase the level or just serve it with more honey. I was dubious about the sugar on top of the loaf at first, but ended up enjoying the way it brought out the subtle sweetness of the bread.
One tip: If you measure your oil in your 1/3 cup measuring cup first, and then your honey, the honey will slide right out.
Makes 1 round woven challah
2 1/4 teaspoons (1 standard 1/4-ounce packet) active dry yeast
1/3 cup (79 ml) plus 1 teaspoon honey
1/3 cup (79 ml) neutral oil, plus more for the bowl
2 large eggs plus 1 large yolk
1 1/2 teaspoons (8 grams) table salt
4 1/4 cups all-purpose (530 grams) or bread flour (578 grams), plus more for your work surface
2 medium baking apples (I love baking with MacIntoshes), peeled, cored and in 1/2- to 3/4-inch chunks
Squeeze of lemon juice, to keep them from browning
1 large egg
Coarse or pearl sugar for sprinkling (optional)
Make your dough: Whisk yeast and 1 teaspoon honey into 2/3 cup warm water and let stand until foamy, a few minutes.
With a stand mixer: In the bowl of a stand mixture, whisk together yeast mixture, oil, remaining honey (1/3 cup), eggs and yolk. Switch to dough hook and add 4 1/4 cups flour and salt. Use dough hook on a moderate speed until it pulls all of the flour and wet ingredients together into a craggy mass. Lower the speed and let the dough hook knead the dough for 5 minutes, until smooth, elastic and a little sticky.
By hand:: In a large bowl, whisk together yeast mixture, oil, remaining honey (1/3 cup), eggs and yolk. Add flour all at once and stir with a wooden spoon until you get a craggy mass of uneven dough. Turn dough out onto a floured counter and knead it into a smooth, elastic dough, about 5 to 8 minutes. Try to use as little flour as necessary when kneading the dough; you don’t want to toughen the bread. A bench scraper can make it really easy to remove it from the counter if it gets stuck in a spot. [More bread tips here.]
Both methods: Transfer dough to large oil-coated bowl, cover with plastic wrap and set aside for 1 hour, or until almost doubled in size.
Add apples to dough: [See photos in post.] Turn dough out onto a floured counter and gently press it down into a flat, oblong shape. The shape does not matter so however it goes, it goes. Spread 2/3 of apple chunks over 1/2 of the flattened dough. Fold the other half over the apple chunks and press the dough down around them, flattening the now lumpy dough. Spread the remaining 1/3 apple chunks over half the folded dough. Fold the other half over the apples, pressing the dough down again. Your dough packet will likely be square-ish. Fold the corners under with the sides of your hands and form the dough into a round. Upend your empty bowl over and set it aside for another 30 minutes.
Weave your bread: [See photos in post.] Divide dough into 4 pieces. Roll and stretch each one as carefully as you can into a rope — don’t worry about getting it too long or thin, just 12 inches or so should do. If any apple chunks fall out as you form the ropes or at any other time in the forming of the loaf or risings, just poke them back in with your finger.
Arrange two strands in each direction, perpendicular to each other, like a plus sign. Weave them so that one side is over, and the other is under, where they meet. So, now you’ve got an 8-legged woven-headed octopus. Take the four legs that come from underneath the center and move them over the leg to their right, i.e. jumping it. Take those legs that were on the right and again, jump each over the leg before, this time to the left. If you had extra length to your ropes, you can repeat these left-right jumps until you run out of rope. For me, this was enough. Just as you had with the folded packet of apple dough above, tuck the corners/odd bumps under the dough with the sides of your hands to form a round.
Transfer the dough to a parchment-covered heavy baking sheet or baker’s peel (if you’ll be using a bread stone). Beat egg until smooth and brush over challah. Let challah rise for another hour but 45 minutes into this rise, preheat your oven to 375 degrees.
Bake your loaf: Before baking, brush loaf one more time with egg wash and sprinkle with coarse sugar if you’re using it. Bake in middle of oven for 40 to 45 minutes. It should be beautifully bronzed; if yours (like mine, except I didn’t catch it in time) starts getting too dark too quickly, cover it with foil for the remainder of the baking time. The very best way to check for doneness in any bread but especially on like this where the wetness of the apples can slow down the baking time a bit, is with an instant read thermometer — the center of the loaf should be 195 degrees.
Cool loaf on a rack before serving. Or, well, good luck with that.