Harvest Apple Challah

Apple Harvest Challah4

Sometimes life is just made up of everyday annoyances, irritations, unfortunate circumstances and overall ‘sucky-‘ things.

It snowed earlier this week in Michigan.

End of April. We got snow.

I’m sorry to say that round here,  that’s nothing new. My senior year of high school, we got a full blown snow storm on Easter Sunday. I still remember going out to shovel the sidewalk in blowing snow when we got home from church.

It sucked.

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Oftentimes I can shrug off suck-y things as exactly that: suck-y things. For example:

Snow in April.

Random, unexpected and extremely inconvenient cooking fails (when I specifically planned on doing a photo shoot for the blog that day).

My paycheck doesn’t have a few extra zeros at the end.

Sucks.

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I’ve never been to Europe.

Stephanie Meyer is a gazillionaire and a bestselling ‘author’, and I’m…not either of those things.

Chris Evans hasn’t figured out that we’re meant to be together and proposed to me.

I don’t have the thighs of a Victoria Secret Model.

Sucks.

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But for every one of the daily, inconvenient ‘suck-y’ circumstances of every day life, I bet we all can think of just as many (if not more) convenient, not suck-y circumstances that make up for all that. I certainly can.

For one: challah. Challah is one of my all-time favorite things ever, period. It’s beautiful. It’s delicious. It’s the best.

Challah can make up for a lot of those daily suck-y things.

(Except maybe the one about Chris Evans. That still smarts pretty bad no matter what.)

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Somehow, I always end up baking challah around this time of year. Last year, I went all out and made regular Challah and a Vanilla Bean Challah. This year, I still wanted to try and make a twist on the original so I decided to go with this recipe for Challah stuffed with apples.

Challah itself can be a labor of love if you’re keen on twisting the dough into elaborate shapes. Or if you’re like me, and still has to Google EVERY SINGLE TIME how to correctly braid the dough no matter how many times I’ve made this bread before. This apple challah is, I will admit, somewhat more  labor intensive.

However, it’s worth it. More than worth it.

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As you guys can see, this dough is as soft, fluffy and moist as a bread dough can get. The fat challah rolls pull apart at the slightest tug, letting the tender apple chunks fall out into your hands. Best of all, the filling leaks out ever so little so that the bottom of the dough has a thin layer of syrupy brown sugar goo. And of course, there’s the trademark challah golden brown crust on top that is ever so ‘thunk-able’ with your fingers so that you know for sure that you’ve done it right.

So.much.yum.

Definitely does not suck.

If I had to critique one thing about this recipe, it’s that I had way too much dough to try and stuff into a 9 inch cake pan. Mine wasn’t wide or tall enough by far, so I opted for one of deep, oval casserole pans instead. I think it gave me a much bigger rise for my dough anyway, so that was totally cool with me.

Cheers, guys!

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Harvest Apple Challah

Recipe Courtesy of King Arthur Flour

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Ingredients

For Dough

  • 1/2 cup lukewarm water
  • 6 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 2 large eggs
  • 4 cups King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 tablespoon instant yeast

For Apple Filling

  • 2 medium-to-large apples, NOT peeled; cored and diced in ¾” chunks
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  •  ¼ cup granulated sugar

Glaze

  • 1 large egg beaten with 1 tablespoon water
  • coarse white sugar, optional

 Directions

1) Pour water in a small bowl; add yeast and 1 tsp. white sugar. Allow to sit for 10 minutes, until proofed and foamy at the surface.

2) Pour yeast mixture into a stand mixer and add vegetable oil, honey, eggs and salt, stirring well to combine. Using dough hook add the flour, 1 cup at  a time until dough is smooth and elastic.

3) Allow the dough to rise, covered, for 2 hours, or until it’s puffy and nearly doubled in bulk.

4) Lightly grease a 9″ round cake pan that’s at least 2″ deep, or grease a 9″ or 10″ springform pan.  Toss the apple chunks with the sugar and cinnamon. Gently deflate the dough, transfer it to a lightly greased work surface, and flatten it into a rough rectangle, about 8″ x 10″.

5) Spread half the apple chunks in the center of the dough. Fold a short edge of the dough over the apple to cover it, patting firmly to seal the apples and spread the dough a bit.  Spread the remaining apple atop the folded-over dough. Cover the apples with the other side of the dough, again patting firmly. Basically, you’ve folded the dough like a letter, enclosing the apples inside. Take a bench knife or a knife, or even a pair of scissors, and cut the apple-filled dough into 16 pieces. Cut in half, then each half in halves, etc.  Lay the dough chunks into the pan; crowd them so that they all fit in a single layer (barely). Lots of apple chunks will fall out during this process; just tuck them in among the dough pieces, or simply spread them on top. Cover the challah gently with lightly greased plastic wrap or a proof cover, and allow it to rise for about 1 hour, until it’s a generous 2″ high. It should just crest the rim of a 9″ round cake pan. Towards the end of the rising time, preheat the oven to 325°F.

6) Whisk together the egg and 1 tablespoon water. Brush the dough with the egg mixture, and sprinkle heavily with the coarse sugar, if desired. If you’re going to drizzle with honey before serving, omit the sugar. Place the bread in the lower third of the oven. Bake it for 55 minutes, or until the top is at least light brown all over, with no white spots. Remove the challah from the oven, and after 5 minutes loosen the edges and carefully transfer it to a rack.

Vanilla Bean Challah

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There are some things that simply cannot be improved upon- so far as I’m concerned anyway.

Buttermilk pancakes drowning in syrup for breakfast (and lunch….and dinner if desired). There’s no improving on that.

Ella Fitzgerald playing  in my kitchen on an early, sunny morning like this one. Top that if you can (you won’t, trust me).

The Jenifer Ehle & Colin Firth Pride and Prejudice movie. Perfection itself.

Days off work, Coldstone ice cream, the entire Christmas season, classic musicals, the book Forever Amber, my baby niece’s smile- these are all things that I’m convinced cannot be improved because they’ve simply reached that level of perfection that can’t be topped or duplicated.

And now I think I’m starting to sound like Maria von Trapp listing off my favorite things, so yeah… moving on.

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Challah’s one of those things that I didn’t think it was possible to improve upon. After the success I had with my first, traditional Challah recipe, I was at first content to add it to my recipe box as a staple recipe and just move on. But then, I started thinking: could it actually be bumped up to another level? What if it were just a tad bit sweeter than the original? And what if I found a way to add one of my all time favorite flavors to it? (Vanilla)

All of these questions ultimately led to me making another Challah recipe, this time more sweeter and with the addition of Vanilla. Why I decided to make another six braid loaf of Challah when I already had two others sitting in my kitchen is a mystery even to me. Don’t worry though: none of it went to waste. Tomorrow’s recipe will prove it.

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Traditional Challah on the left, Vanilla Bean Challah on the right; which one do you guys think is prettier?

So I know that I had mentioned before in one of my previous posts that I’m kinda sorta maybe a cheap skate when it comes to buying what Ina Garten calls “good ingredients”. No shame in my game, guys. I’m the kind of cook that is willing to make due with the generic non-name brand products in the grocery store. I hunt for deals 95% of the time and pass on the full prices…mostly. Depending on my mood and my desire to try a particular recipe, there are occasions where I’m willing to bite the bullet and buy the pricier ingredients. This was one of those cases. I just couldn’t see a way around it; I had to use the real thing. So I went ahead and bought a vial containing 2 vanilla beans. I even included it in the pictures in case you guys didn’t believe me. So let’s give a cheer for Jess…and for her wallet.

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Turns out, challah IS one of those things that can be improved upon. Because this stuff is friggin fantastic. I’m really proud of how it turned out, considering that I did the one baking method that I’m throwing super shade at right now: baking bread on a sheet pan. I just really wanted to make a long, braided loaf of challah like the ones I see in cookbooks and magazines and using the sheet pan was the only way it would work. This required me to let the dough rise for a much MUCH longer time than the recipe called for…like an extra hour longer. On both the first and second rise. Yeah, I was determined that this stuff was going to work out. The sheet pan would NOT beat me this time. And I really don’t think that it did- the look, taste and texture of this bread is proof of that.

Another plus to this was that I was left with an empty vanilla bean that I remembered  Ina Garten giving me a useful tip with which to use it for. I filled a medium sized jar with sugar and placed the vanilla bean inside of it. Two days later, I opened the jar and smelled with a smile: I know have about 2 cups of Vanilla Sugar to plan a recipe around. Win.

Stay tuned for tomorrow’s last recipe in our Challah Series.

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Vanilla Bean Challah

Recipe Courtesy of Alwaysorderdessert.com

CLICK HERE FOR PRINTABLE VERSION

 (Makes one large braided loaf)

Ingredients

  • 1 package active dry yeast
  • 1/2 cup sugar or agave syrup + 1 teaspoon sugar for the yeast proofing
  • 1/4 cup olive oil, plus more for greasing the rising bowl
  • 2 large eggs + 1 large egg for the egg wash
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 whole vanilla bean
  • 4 to 4.5 cups all purpose flour

 Directions

1. In a large bowl, proof your yeast by whisking with 1 teaspoon of sugar in 1 cup of lukewarm water. Set aside and let sit until the yeast starts to foam. Once it has foamed, pour into the base of an electric mixer and used the whisk attachment to mix in the olive oil, the two eggs (one at a time), sugar, and salt.

2. Split the vanilla bean and scrape all the seed into the mixer. Switch to the dough hook and slowly add the flour, one cup at a time until it comes together and pulls away from the sides. Allow to knead in the mixer until smooth. (About 5 minutes.) If the dough seems too wet, add a little more flour, ¼ cup at a time.

3. Turn out the dough onto a floured surface and roll into a ball. Grease a large bowl well with olive oil and place the dough ball in. Turn once to cover the top and cover with plastic wrap.

4. Place in a warm place to rise for an hour or until doubled in size. (I use my turned-off oven as the heat from the pilot light is perfect temperature.) Use your fingers to gently poke the air out of the dough, roll back into a ball, grease, cover and let rise again for another 30-45 minutes.

5. Once the dough has finished the second rise, roll out onto a floured surface and gently knead into a smooth ball. Cut into six equal size balls and roll each one into a tapered snake shape, about 10 inches long each. Arrange the six rolls next to each other in a row and pinch the ends together. To braid, start from the right and go over two, under one, and over two. Tuck in closer and repeat again with the right-most piece of dough repeating until the entire loaf is braided. Set on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.

6. Beat the last egg and use a pasty brush to lightly brush over the loaf. Let rise for another hour.

7. When you are ready to bake, preheat your oven to 375 degrees (if you are rising the dough in the oven please be sure to remove it first).

8. Once the oven is ready, brush the loaf again with egg wash and place in the oven to bake for 30-40 minutes or until the top is glossy and golden brown.

9. Cool on a rack and serve.

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