Apple Honey Challah

Challah is an iconic Jewish bread at the center of every Ashkenazi table (except, of course, at Passover). The bread that was eaten every day was made with whole wheat flour, rye or other grains. However, the Sabbath loaf was distinguished with the use of more expensive white flour.

Prior to the 1600s, any white bread was acceptable to be eaten on Shabbat for Ashkenazim. It wasn’t until German Jews adopted the German-Christian Holle bread, named after a malevolent witch, that challah bread came to be. The braided form of challah represents the witch’s hair, which was said to be extra long and matted, and the loaves were baked to appease her. Braided challah became popular and spread to Jewish communities across Europe.

On Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish new year, a traditional custom among the Ashkenazi community is to dip apples into honey at the start of the meal. We baked this tradition into our sweet, round challah, by stuffing the braided strands with apples and honey. Honey is an ancient symbol of immortality and truth and the rounded shape of the bread represents the continuity of the year and life. This bread is sweet and delicious – the perfect recipe for your Rosh Hashanah table. And if you have any leftover, it makes a mean french toast.

Ingredients

Challah

  • 1 ½ cups warm water
  • 2 tbsp dry active yeast
  • Pinch of sugar
  • Pinch of cinnamon
  • ¼ cup honey
  • 2 ¼ tsp salt
  • 3 eggs
  • ½ cup vegetable oil
  • 6-7 cups bread flour

Apple Filling

  • 4 cups Cortland apples, peeled and chopped
  • 2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp honey
  • 2 tsp lemon juice

Egg wash

  • 1 egg
  • 1 tsp milk or water

directions

In a large mixing bowl, sprinkle the yeast, sugar, and cinnamon over the warm water. Wait a few minutes until you see that the yeast has activated and is bubbling and foaming on the surface.

Mix in the honey and salt, and then add the eggs and oil.

Fold in the flour, about 3 cups at a time. Knead by hand or with the dough hook of a mixer for 8-10 minutes, until you have a smooth, soft and elastic dough. Add more flour if the dough is too sticky or wet.

Shape the dough into a ball and place in an oiled bowl, cover and leave in the fridge overnight, or on the counter for about an hour, until the dough has at least doubled in size.

While the dough is rising, peel and chop apples into 1 cm cubes and mix with cinnamon, honey, and lemon. Set aside.

Mix the ingredients together for the egg-wash and set aside.

Once the dough has risen, gently deflate it and turn it out onto a floured surface. Divide it into four equal pieces.

Roll one piece into a long strand about 1.5 inches wide with your hands. Using a rolling pin, flatten out the strand so that it is at least 3 inches wide.

Distribute a cup of the apples along the middle of the flattened strand. Working carefully, bring the sides of the dough around the apples and pinch them together, creating a long, apple-filled strand. Repeat with the other three sections.

To make round braided challah, start by placing two strands vertically and parallel to each other in the middle of the surface you’re braiding the bread on.

Place the third strand perpendicular to the two strands, going under the left strand and over the right. Place the fourth strand directly below the third strand, going over the left strand and under the right.

To create the round braid, take the strand on the left and cross it over the strand on the right leaving no space between the strands. Repeat the same action going in the opposite direction. Repeat crossing the strands over each other, alternating directions until you run out of dough.

Continue until your strands are just small nubs that you can tuck underneath the loaf.

Transfer to a parchment-lined baking sheet and brush completely with the egg-wash.

Let the loaf rest covered for about 45 minutes until it has doubled in size. You can brush it with egg wash a second time, 10 minutes after the first, to make it more bronze-coloured.

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F. When the oven reaches the right temperature, bake in the middle of the oven for 1 hour, or until a thermometer placed in the center of the loaf reads 190 degrees F.

Let cool on a rack, slice (or tear), and serve!

Yields one enormous loaf or two regular sized loaves.

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