Sheila Epstein, my longtime friend from California, is a cook extraordinaire. She can effortlessly whip up dinner for 12, as she did on Sukkot, or Shabbat dinner for her family of six.
This year, on our annual visit to California, as we dined under the stars, the highlight of the meal was two braided round challahs. To me, challahs come in three varieties: raisin, whole wheat and the egg challah from my childhood. But Sheila assured me “these are no ordinary challahs.” How right she was.
Stephen Smith, the Epsteins’ dinner guest, had baked these challahs “with a difference.” Stuffed with a fragrant, moist mixture of diced apples and plump golden raisins, encased in the lightest yolk-free bread, each slice provided melt-in-the-mouth bliss.
On my travels at home and abroad, I’ve had the joy of tasting challah in many forms. There was the seven-herb crusted challah baked in Tel Aviv by the late Ida Glazer.
At home, Ellyn Stern brought a Challah “tower” to the Hofman Shabbat dinner. Glazed mini-challahs stacked into a crown were wrapped in transparent gold wrap and crowned with a bow of gold ribbon. What a presentation. But still fresh in my mind and my taste buds is that fruit-stuffed challah.
Using the food processor, challah bread dough is not difficult. Time consuming — yes, but infinitely rewarding. These are all freezer friendly. Thawed, a few minutes in a preheated oven will return the challah to a crisp golden crust, leaving the inside moist and flavorful.
Challah Stuffed With Apples, Raisins and Almonds
Slightly adapted from Stephen Smith’s recipe.
5 apples, peeled, cored
3 Tbsps. fresh squeezed lemon juice
3⁄4 cup golden raisins
2 Tbsps. slivered almonds
1⁄4 cup honey, warmed
1⁄2 tsp. orange extract
1 package active dry yeast
1 tsp. sugar
11⁄2 cups tepid water (110˚ F.)
21⁄2 tsps. salt
3⁄4 tsp. cardamom
3 Tbsps. honey, warmed
1⁄4 cup plus 1 tsp. vegetable oil, divided
5 egg whites, divided
6-7 cups all-purpose flour
1 Tbsp. cornmeal or 1 Tbsp. all-purpose flour.
To prepare the filling: In a large bowl, combine the apples, lemon juice, raisins, almonds, honey and orange extract. Cover and refrigerate while preparing the dough. Drain well before using.
For the dough: In a small bowl, dissolve yeast in 1⁄2 cup tepid water. Add the sugar and set aside at room temperature until foamy.
In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat together the remaining cup of water, salt, cardamom, honey, 1⁄4 cup oil and 4 egg whites. Blend in the foamy yeast mixture.
Gradually add 4 cups flour, one cup at a time, blending after each addition. Spoon the remaining 2 cups flour onto a board.
Transfer the dough onto the flour and knead for 5 minutes incorporating enough flour to make a silky, smooth and elastic dough. Add a little more flour if needed.
Place in a bowl greased with oil, cover with a clean towel and let rise in a warm place until doubled, 11⁄2 to 2 hours.
Punch down dough and divide in half. Working with one half, divide into 3 equal parts. Roll each part into a rectangle. Brush with some of the remaining oil. Top each rectangle with a layer of the drained apple filling. Roll into a long rope and seal the ends.
Repeat with the remaining two rectangles and braid. Work the braids into a circle and pinch the ends together to form a round challah.
Repeat with the remaining dough.
Spray two 9-inch round cake pans with nonstick cooking spray, then sprinkle with cornmeal or flour.
Place one braided challah in each pan. Cover with a towel and let rise in a warm place until doubled in size, about 1 hour. Brush with remaining egg white and sprinkle lightly with cinnamon sugar.
Bake in preheated 350˚ oven for 35 to 40 minutes. Bread should sound hollow when tapped on the bottom. Cool on a wire rack.
Note: Bread may be baked the day before or frozen. Thaw and wrap in foil before reheating, 350˚ for 10 to 15 minutes.
Makes 2 round challahs.
Ida Glazer’s Challah With Seven Seed
From The Essential Book of Jewish Festival Cooking by Phyllis Glazer, with Miryam Glazer
3 cups whole wheat flour
5 cups unbleached all-purpose white flour
2 packages Rapid Rise yeast (.25 oz. each)
1⁄2 cup corn oil
1⁄2 cup mild flavored honey
2 tsps. salt
3 large eggs
2 cups very warm (not hot) water
1 cup raisins (optional)
1 egg yolk beaten
with 1 tsp. water
additional flour for kneading
1⁄2 tsp. each sesame seeds; poppy seeds; pumpkin seeds; black sesame, nigella or cumin seeds; sunflower seeds; caraway seeds; and anise seeds
In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a dough hook, stir together 2 cups whole wheat flour, 3 cups white flour and the yeast.
In a small bowl,whisk oil, honey, salt, eggs and warm water in the order listed, adding the water gradually and whisking constantly to avoid curdling the eggs.
Make a well in center of the flour mixture. Add the contents of the small bowl, mixing on low to medium speed with the dough hook attachment, until a thick batter is formed. Scrape down sides with a spatula.
Gradually add the rest of the flours until the dough leaves the side of the bowl (dough will be slightly sticky). Pour the contents of the bowl onto a lightly floured surface and sprinkle a little flour on top.
Knead the dough incorporating any additional flour gradually. Dough should be slightly moist but not sticky.
Oil a bowl and turn the dough over so that surfaces will not dry out. Cover with a kitchen towel and let rise in a warm spot until doubled in size, 45-60 minutes depending on room temperature.
Punch down. Let rest for 5 minutes. Knead in raisins (optional).
Line two baking sheets or 10-inch round pans with parchment paper. Divide the dough in half. Using your hands, roll out the first half into a rope and coil it to make a spiral. Fasten the end under the circle with a gentle pinch. Transfer to the prepared pan. Repeat with the second half of dough. Brush with the egg yolk mixture. Sprinkle each kind of seed separately on top.
Preheat the oven to 350˚. Cover challah with a towel and let rise for an additional 20 minutes in a warm place. Bake in preheated oven 30 to 35 minutes until golden brown. Cool 10 to 15 minutes in pan. Gently turn out onto a wire rack to finish cooling.
Makes 2 round loaves.
Either of the above recipes for challah dough may be used for this recipe.
1 recipe challah dough
1 egg, lightly beaten
Spray a 10-inch spring form pan with nonstick cooking spray.
Form half the dough into 2 1⁄2-inch balls. Place in the bottom of pan so that they are touching each other. With half of the remaining dough, make larger balls and place on top. Make 3 balls with the remaining dough and place on top to resemble a crown.
Brush with the beaten egg. Sprinkle with sesame seeds. Cover with a towel and let rise in a warm place for 20 minutes longer.
Bake in preheated 350˚ oven until golden brown, about 30 minutes. Cool in pan for about 20 minutes. Carefully remove from spring form and finish cooling on a wire tray.
Serves 10 to 12.