I swear I’m not eating 24/7, but it’s kind of crazy how often I have food on my mind.
I wake up and can’t wait to eat breakfast. Mmmm, I love breakfast. During the day, I spend dull moments scrolling through the drool-worthy pages on Foodgawker and planning to make everything I see (which is definitely impossible). E-mails drop into my inbox leading me to new and always insanely delicious-looking posts on other food blogs I read. ← This often distracts me from whatever I’m supposed to be doing at the moment. And pretty much all day long, whenever my mind gets a chance to wander, I’m dreaming up new recipes, pairing new ingredients together in my mind, and deciding what I’ll be baking next. And I never get tired of it.
When I saw this challah on The Martha Stewart Show (which I miss now that it’s not playing anymore!), it looked so good that I just couldn’t forget about it. It’s actually a recipe from Diane’s Bakery Cafe in New York, and that just made it seem even more like it must be good. (If a recipe comes from an authentic bakery, I have this notion that it’s extra-worth trying.) So after that, along with all of the other billions of food thoughts swirling around my mind, the challah was there too, and it stuck so well that I actually did end up making it. And to be honest, they mentioned on the show that it made really good french toast, so I think I was kind of dreaming of french toast as well.
What’s neat about baking traditional breads like challah is that you learn a little bit about cultures and customs that you never knew before, and now I not only know how to make challah, but I know a few things about its significance too! But the real fun part is the eating part, of course, and this challah certainly didn’t disappoint. I made two versions – one plain, and the other with a cinnamon-sugar filling. Both are soft and pillowy in texture and just lightly sweet in flavor, and the cinnamon-sugar one is totally delicious, especially around the swirled filling where the dough stays extra-soft. I really loved the cinnamon-sugar one for eating by itself, but the plain challah is awesome for another treat… more on that soon!
If it wasn’t for the fact that these loaves were too delicious to NOT eat, I would have just wanted to keep them as food art, because they come out of the oven looking so gorgeous! But obviously they’re going to be eaten… I might not eat 24/7, but I know good food when I see it!
Soft, pillowy, and slightly sweet Challah made plain or with a sweet Cinnamon-Sugar filling.
2 tablespoons active dry yeast
1/2 cup warm water
7 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon granulated sugar, divided
2/3 cup boiling water
6 tablespoons butter or margarine, softened, plus more for pans*
2 tablespoons soy vegetable oil
2 teaspoons salt
3 tablespoons honey
4 large eggs, room temperature
6 cups all-purpose flour
2/3 cup wheat germ
1 egg, lightly beaten
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
Plain Challah Glaze
1 egg yolk
1 tablespoon water
Cinnamon Swirl Challah Glaze
1 egg white
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
Add warm water and 4 teaspoons granulated sugar to the yeast in a small bowl and stir to combine. Let stand until foamy, about 5 minutes or more.
In a stand mixer, combine the boiling water, softened butter or margarine, oil, salt, honey, and remaining 6 tablespoons granulated sugar, and beat with the paddle attachment on low speed for about 5 minutes, until lukewarm. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well between each addition. Add the yeast mixture and mix in until well combined. Add 5 cups of flour and the wheat germ and mix in until combined. Add the remaining flour a bit at a time until you have a soft dough.
Lightly flour a surface for kneading the dough. Knead for 8-10 minutes, adding a little more flour if needed as you go, until you get a soft, elastic, and just tacky dough. Coat a large bowl with butter or margarine and form the dough into a ball with a smooth top. Place the ball of dough in the bowl, cover with greased plastic wrap, and let rise until doubled, about 1-2 hours.
While the dough is rising, coat two 8" x 2" round cake pans with butter or margarine. A 9" cake pan will also work. If your pan isn't 2" tall, you can cut 2" tall strips of parchment and press them around the edges of the coated pans to get the same effect.
Split the risen dough down the middle with a pastry scraper or knife. Remove one half and separate into three equal portions. Cover the other half with plastic wrap while you work. Roll each third out into an 18" long rope under the palms of your hands. Try to keep the thickness of each rope fairly consistent throughout the length. Bring all three ropes of dough together at one end and braid the ropes. Bring the two opposite ends together to form a circle and place into the prepared cake pan. Cover with greased plastic wrap and let rise until the dough is above the edges of the pan (or parchment if your pan is shorter), about another 1 hour - 1 hour 30 minutes.
For the Cinnamon-Sugar Challah, roll the other remaining half of the dough into an 12" x 18" rectangle, with one of the 18" sides closest to you. Brush the lightly beaten egg over the entire surface. Mix the granulated sugar and cinnamon for the filling together in a small bowl and sprinkle the mixture evenly over the dough. Roll the dough up, starting with the end closest to you, into a tight log. Form a seam along the length of the log to seal it, and then bring the two ends together to form a circle. Place into the second prepared cake pan, seam-side down. Use scissors to snip 3/4" deep cuts around the top of the circle every 2" or so. Cover with greased plastic wrap and let rise until dough is above the edges of the pan or parchment, again about 1 to 1 1/2 hours.
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Once the loaves have risen, prepare the glazes for each. For the plain challah, whisk together the egg yolk and water in a small bowl. Brush on top. For the cinnamon-sugar challah, whisk together the egg white and granulated sugar and brush on top and over the exposed cinnamon sugar filling. Bake the loaves in the preheated oven for 30-35 minutes, until golden on top. Cool briefly, and then transfer from pans to a wire rack to cool completely (at least 30 minutes before slicing.)
*While the original recipe calls for margarine, I always bake with butter and did the same for these loaves. However, because challah is traditionally dairy-free, I'm including both alternatives in this recipe.