So, so knead-y

Holiday appropriate deliciousness

Jewish holidays are the perfect springboard off of which to experiment with new recipes. I’ve been at a loss these last few weeks with no event to guide my recipe selection, so I was excited that I could navigate this week’s post with an eye toward the Jewish new year. I wanted to make something that included Rosh Hashanah staples and was ecstatic that Google led me to a recipe for round apple challah, which you can check out here.

I had the pleasure of working with two sous chefs on this recipe, which turned out to be a smart move since the directions were a bit complex. My frequent query of “can you repeat that?” likely irritated my helpers, so I want to thank them for being such troopers (and for being such vigilant time keepers!). I must be getting bolder because I took some artistic liberty with this recipe. First, I substituted sugar with 1/2 cup of honey to maintain the integrity of the holiday. Second, I glazed the challah with eggs 5 minutes before taking it out of the oven to achieve a glossy coating. And finally, I used a wine bottle wrapped in saran wrap in lieu of a rolling pin. Not really artistic liberty, but an example of resourcefulness I wanted to share.

Improvising...

So how does the whole experience rank? On a scale of 1 to 5, with 1 being “bad” and 5 being “good”:

Prep time: 1

This recipe took four hours (mostly prep time), which probably would have been less of an issue if I hadn’t starting baking at 8:30 PM.  It was a long night, but some Chinese food and a movie helped pass the time.

Overall ease: 2

The unbelievable time and attention this challah demanded was somewhat balanced by the sheer fun of baking it. My friends and I got to crack, whisk, peel, and best of all, knead! Unlike brisket, which required minimal effort and a long cook time, challah asks a lot of its baker, which makes the final product that much more meaningful.

Cook time: 3

Once the dough was ready, cook time was only 1 hour.

Cost: 5

The only things I had to purchase for this recipe were yeast and bread flour, which only came to a few dollars. Luckily one of my helpers had picked apples the prior weekend, so we used her tart and delicious apples at no cost.

Taste: 5

The tasting audience was unanimous that this challah was amazing. It was moist, chewy, and sweet. I was a bit skeptical about how the chunks of apple would turn out, but they provided some great tartness! The top glazed layer of sugar added a little crunch. It even looked pretty, which we all know just enhances the taste.

Apple Challah

  • 2 envelopes instant yeast
  • 5 cups  bread flour
  • 1 cup warm water
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1/3 cup vegetable oil, plus extra for oiling the pan and for topping
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons table salt
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar, plus extra for sprinkling OR 1/2 cup of honey
  • 3 large or about 4 medium baking apples, preferably Braeburns

Mixing the yeast slurry
In a large bowl, whisk together the yeast and 1 cup (125 grams/3.8 ounces) of the flour, then whisk in the warm water until smooth. Let the slurry stand uncovered for 10 to 20 minutes, or until it begins to ferment and puff up slightly.

Mixing the dough
Whisk the eggs, oil, salt, and sugar into the puffed yeast slurry until the eggs are well incorporated and the salt and sugar have dissolved. With your hands or a wooden spoon, stir in the remaining 4 cups (550 grams/20 ounces) flour all at once. When the mixture is a shaggy ball, scrape it out onto your work surface and knead it until it is smooth and firm, no more than 10 minutes. (Soak your mixing bowl in hot water now to clean it and warm it for fermenting the dough.) If the dough is too firm to knead easily, add a tablespoon or two of water to it; if it seems too wet, add a few tablespoons of flour.

The dough should feel smooth, soft, and only slightly sticky.

Fermenting the dough for the first time
Place the dough in the warmed clean bowl and cover it with plastic wrap. Let ferment for 1 hour, or until just slightly puffed. While the dough is fermenting, prepare the apples.

Preparing the apples
Peel, quarter, and core the apples. Cut each quarter lengthwise in half, then cut each slice crosswise in half if the apple was medium size, or into three pieces if the apple was large; you should end up with large squarish chunks. Measure out 4 1/2 heaping cups (660 grams/23 ounces) of chunks (reserve any extra for another use) and transfer them to a covered container. (Braeburns do not brown excessively, but if you are using another variety and are concerned about over-browning, toss the apples with a few drops of lemon juice.)

Rolling out the dough and adding the apples
Sprinkle the dough and your work surface with flour and pull the dough out of the bowl. Cut the dough into two equal pieces and keep one piece covered while you work on the other. Roll out the dough into a 16-inch (41-cm) square about 1/8 inch (3 mm) thick. Scatter 1 heaping cup of the apples over the center third of the dough, then fold up the bottom third to cover them. Press the dough into the apples to try to seal it around them. Scatter another heaping cup over the folded-over apple-filled portion of the dough and fold the top of the dough over it to create a very stuffed letter fold. Press down on the dough to try to push out any air pockets and to seal it around the apples. Roll the dough up from a short side into a chunky cylinder, push the dough into the bowl with the smooth side up, and cover it with plastic wrap. Repeat with the other piece of dough and put it in a second covered bowl or other container. Let the dough ferment for about another hour, or until slightly risen and very soft.

Shaping and proofing the dough
Oil two 8-inch (20-cm) round cake pans or 8 1/2-by-4 1/2-inch (18.5-by-8.5-cm) loaf pans. Using as much dusting flour as you need, pat each dough half as best as you can into a rough round or log shape, trying to keep the dough’s smooth skin intact over the top. You will not be able to deflate the dough much at this point because of the apples. Slip the dough into the pans smooth side up and cover well with plastic wrap. (The shaped loaves can be refrigerated for up to 24 hours, which will only intensify their flavor.) Let the loaves proof until they have risen over the edges of their pans, about 30 minutes (or up to 1 1/2 hours if the loaves have been refrigerated).

Immediately after shaping the breads (or 30 minutes before baking if the loaves have been refrigerated), arrange an oven rack in the lower third position, remove any racks above it, and preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C/gas mark 4).

Baking the loaves
When the loaves have risen and do not push back when gently pressed with your finger but remain indented, brush each one with a generous tablespoon of oil, then sprinkle them with a few tablespoons of sugar to form a sugary-oily crust. Bake for 45 to 55 minutes, until very well browned. After the first 40 minutes of baking, switch the pans from front to back so that the breads brown evenly. When the loaves are done, remove them from the oven, unmold them, and let them cool on a rack.