While I’ve always been more Jew-ish than Jewish, it could be argued pretty easily that I’ve hit an all-time low in tribe allegiance this year. I quietly threw the notion of keeping kosher for Passover last spring, I didn’t fast for Yom Kippur, and I didn’t even take time off of work – much less set foot in synagogue – a few weeks ago for the High Holidays. The last remaining vestiges of religion here clearly consist of guilt alone.
Since I’ve never been a religious person, I’m sure my dwindling efforts to maintain what I (perhaps offensively) refer to as my “Jewy Jewy life” are generally more upsetting to my parents than they are to me, although the half-Jewish boyfriend is 50% more Jew than I’ve ever brought home before, and I’m sure they’ve said a few b’rachas over that.
I do sort of miss the traditions, though, and although I’ve never gotten as much of a kick out of apples and honey at Rosh Hashana as a good Jewish girl should have (I preferred the chocolate Mom whipped out of her purse to break the Yom Kippur fast), when Deb posted a recipe that looked like a hybrid challah and apple cake, I knew this was the future of my “sweet new year” tradition.
I use “tradition” loosely, since Rosh Hashana was weeks ago and these loaves just went into the oven this afternoon, but I’m sure the folks at our weekly House/How I Met Your Mother night will appreciate it almost as much. Other than braiding challah dough in preschool – which I loved, since let’s be honest, braiding was a hugely marketable skill back then, but which left me a little disappointed because no one had deemed it fitting to include me in the baking process – I’d never made it myself. After talking shop with a fellow tribeswoman, it was time to make this happen.
This recipe is pretty standard, as egg breads go, except of course for the addition of chopped apples. Deb has a great tutorial on round challah braids on her website; I’ve tried to duplicate some of that below as well. One tip: When you’re forming your dough ropes, try to push the apples into the dough as far as possible, even re-appropriating some pieces from the doughier parts of the rope if you need to. This will make the dough easier to roll.
Apple and Honey Challah
Adapted from Deb
For the bread
2 1/4 teaspoons (1 standard 1/4-ounce packet) active dry yeast
1/3 cup (79 ml) plus 1 teaspoon honey
1/3 cup (79 ml) neutral oil, plus more for the bowl
2 large eggs plus 1 large yolk
1 1/2 teaspoons (8 grams) table salt
4 1/4 cups all-purpose (530 grams) or bread flour (578 grams), plus more for your work surface
2 medium baking apples (I used Granny Smith and Fiji, since that’s what was in my fridge), peeled and cut into 1/2-inch chunks
One large egg
Whisk yeast and 1 teaspoon honey into 2/3 cup warm water and let stand until foamy, a few minutes.
In a large bowl, whisk together yeast mixture, oil, remaining honey, eggs, and yolk. 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. I wasn’t at home when I made this, so I didn’t have my pretty Kitchenaid, but Deb has instructions to make this with a stand mixer as well.
Transfer dough to large oil-coated bowl, cover with plastic wrap and set aside for 1 hour, or until almost doubled in size.
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 dough as much as you can. Spread the remaining 1/3 apple chunks over half the folded dough. Fold the other half over the apples, pressing the dough down again. Fold the corners under with the sides of your hands so the dough becomes a around. Upend your empty bowl over and set it aside for another 30 minutes.
Divide dough into 4 pieces. Roll and stretch each one as carefully as you can into a rope. 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. 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, i.e. jumping it. Take those legs that were on the right and again, jump each over the leg before, this time to the left. If you had extra length to your ropes, you can repeat these left-right jumps until you run out of rope. Tuck the corners under the dough with the sides of your hands to form a round.
Transfer the dough to a parchment-covered heavy baking sheet. Beat egg until smooth and brush over challah. Let challah rise for another hour but 45 minutes into this rise, preheat your oven to 375 degrees.
Before baking, brush loaf one more time with egg wash and sprinkle with coarse sugar if you’re using it. Bake in middle of oven for 40 to 45 minutes. It should be beautifully bronzed; if yours starts getting too dark too quickly, cover it with foil for the remainder of the baking time.