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apple challah

October 6, 2011

Sooo remember that challah recipe with which I was obsessed? You know, the be-all, end-all of challah recipes?

Yeah, well, that didn’t stop the “WANT WANT WANT” running through my head when Deb posted a recipe for apple challah on her blog. Apple. Challah. I mean, how brilliant is that? On Rosh Hashanah, I have a tendency to hover like a vulture over the apple-challah-honey station, ruining my appetite for the rest of the meal by chowing down on that until all that’s left of the challah is a sad little heel. And this beautiful recipe combined them all into one braided loaf of awesome. Plus, we still had some apples from our apple-picking adventure on Labor Day weekend to use up. It was meant to be.

So meant to be, in fact, that when my family scheduled our Rosh Hashanah celebration for last Friday, I was all over volunteering to make the challah. And when said celebration got canceled last minute, I decided to make it anyway. A huge, fancy loaf just for Chris and me. But see, it was all going to make sense, because I had grand plans to turn the inevitable leftovers, once stale, into the most delicious French toast of all time.

The problem? We only had about two slices left when it got to the stale point three days later.

Seriously. It’s that good. There are little pockets of partially-broken-down-but-still-juicy appley goodness throughout, and the bread itself is perfectly soft and sweet. Like, just as good as my original challah recipe, which took me about three tries to get to the perfect texture and taste. Curse you, Smitten Kitchen! Curse you and your beautiful, beautiful recipes!

One caveat: the bottom crust of my loaf turned out just a little bit burned. So I would a) keep an eye out on the bottom, b) go with Chris’s suggestion and freeze your baking sheet before you put the loaf on it, or c) turn the temperature down to 350 degrees and bake it for 5-10 minutes more–I think that’s the approach I’ll be taking next time. And oh, there will be a next time. 

Apple Challah
2 1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast or 2 teaspoons instant yeast
1/3 cup plus 1 teaspoon honey
1/3 cup neutral oil [I used vegetable oil], plus more for the bowl
2 large eggs plus 1 large egg yolk
1 1/2 teaspoons table salt
4 1/4 cups all-purpose or bread flour
2 medium baking apples, peeled, cored, and in 1/2- to 3/4-inch chunks
squeeze of lemon juice to prevent browning [I omitted this and just cut up the apple right before mixing it into the dough–I have a tendency to add way too much lemon to prevent browning, such that all you think is “yum, lemon bread,” so I wanted to avoid that]

1. For the dough, whisk yeast and 1 teaspoon honey into 2/3 cup warm water and let stand until foamy, a few minutes.
2. In the bowl of a stand mixer, 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. Or, by hand, 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.
3. Transfer dough to a large oil-coated bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and set aside for 1 hour, or until almost doubled in size.
4. Turn dough out onto a floured counter and gently press it down into a flat, oblong shape. 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.
5. Divide dough into 4 pieces. Roll and stretch each one as carefully as you can into a rope about 12 inches long. 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. [I would do all the shaping on a floured piece of parchment paper, ideally on the baking sheet you’ll be using–I made this lovely little knot of dough and then realized I had no idea how to transfer it all the way over to the baking sheet without smooshing it all together.]
6. 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.

Take the four legs that come from underneath the center and move them over the leg to their right.

Take those legs that were on the right and again, jumpe ach over the leg before, this time to the left.

[This is roughly where I started to panic about challah transfer.]
If you had extra length to your ropes, you can repeat these left-right jumps until you run out of rope. 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.
7. Transfer the dough to a parchment-covered heavy baking sheet or baker’s peel if you’ll be using a bread stone. [I would not recommend the bread stone–the bottom crust was crusty enough without one!] Beat 1 egg until smooth and brush over challah. Let challah rise for another hour; 45 minutes into this rise, preheat your oven to 375 degrees [or, potentially, 350 degrees].
8. Before baking, brush loaf one more time with egg wash and sprinkle with coarse sugar if using. Bake in middle of oven for 40 to 45 [or 50 to 55] minutes. If it starts getting too dark too quickly [mine was the perfect color on the top crust after 30 minutes, so seriously, keep an eye out!], cover it with foil for the remainder of the baking time. The center of the loaf should be 195 degrees.

Source: Smitten Kitchen

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