A Rosh Hashanah recipe for a sweet new year: Apple Butter Swirl Challah

InsideChallah

As is the custom at many synagogues across the country, my synagogue is following a theme this high holiday season: Old. New. Make it holy. What is something old that can be made new? At TheCubanReuben.com, that’s an easy question. A recipe, of course! But how do we make a recipe holy? Let’s take my Apple Butter Swirl Challah, for example.

Filling the dough and creating the swirls.
Filling the dough and creating the swirls.

Every shabbat, we feature long, beautifully braided loaves of fresh challah, as did our ancestors many moons ago. Families have been passing down challah recipes for generations. This tradition, so indicative of the Jewish culture, can be considered the “old.”

RawRoundBraid
The starting position on a round braided challah.

For the “new,” I have incorporated another Rosh Hashanah tradition: apples. Symbolizing a sweet new year, apples are often enjoyed during Rosh Hashanah. Inspired by my Jewish summer camp experience, where bowls of dense, cinnamon and nutmeg-spiced apple butter were served alongside challah at every shabbat, I spread a bit of this spiced apple reduction along the dough, then rolled it to create my strands. After it baked, the apple butter appeared as deeply hued swirls decorating and perfuming the airy loaves. That’s certainly not something you see everyday.

RawRoundChallah
An example of a challah twist, before the oven.

And how do we make it holy? Of course, there’s the blessing over the bread, but what’s more, challah loaves that are specifically used for the Jewish new year are either braided into a round loaf, or twisted into a big swirl twist. Because of their round shape, these loaves are distinctive from their shabbat cousins, and this difference is what helps make them holy. Also, can you imagine the french toast this would make in the morning? That’s definitely holy.

Swirl Challah
Baked round twist challah.

With Rosh Hashanah  beginning  at sundown, you might think that there are folks racing the clock to get the feast on the table. But I would venture to guess that many Jewish cooks have been preparing for some time now. If that’s the case, it’s definitely not too late to incorporate this old, new, and holy recipe on your Rosh Hashanah menu. You won’t regret it.

RoundBraid Challah
Round braided challah loaf.

Shana tova, from TheCubanReuben.com, to you! May this be a sweet, happy, and healthy new year for us all.

5.0 from 2 reviews
Apple Butter Swirl Challah
 
Author:
Recipe type: side
Cuisine: Jewish
Serves: 12
Prep time:
Cook time:
Total time:
 
Make this the highlight of your Rosh Hashanah table!
Ingredients
  • 2¼ tsp dry active yeast
  • 1½ tsp plus ¼ cup sugar
  • ¾-1 cup warm water
  • ¼ cup vegetable oil
  • 4 eggs, divided
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1½ tsp table salt
  • 4 cups flour (or less)
  • ½ cup of prepared apple butter
Instructions
  1. In the bowl of your stand mixer, add yeast, 1½ tsp sugar, and between ¾ to 1 cup of warm water, and mix until dissolved. Let sit for 10 minutes.
  2. Mix in vegetable oil, 2 eggs (1 at a time) and egg yolk, with remaining sugar and salt.
  3. Slowly add flour, ½ cup at a time.
  4. When the dough holds together, switch to the bread hook, and knead until smooth.
  5. Transfer dough to a greased bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and let rise in a warm place for at least 1 hour.
  6. Punch dough down, and leave it to rise again for 2 hours.
  7. You can now either make 1 large challah or 2 smaller challahs. To make one large challah, cut dough into 2 pieces, and with a rolling pin, roll into thin rectangle. Spread ¼ cup of apple butter on each rectangle, leaving a 1-inch border on each. Tightly roll the strands, and pinch the long edges, so that the apple butter is locked in. You can now either make a twist challah or a braided challah.
  8. For a twist challah, tightly snake each rope of challah, like a snail. Tuck in the edge.
  9. For a braided challah, cut the 2 ropes in half, creating 4 equal strands. Pinch the raw edge to seal. Lay two strands next to each other. Take the third strand, and lay it over one strand and under the other. Take the fourth strand, and lay it alongside the third strand, but under the strand that is over the third, and over the strand that is under the third. The center of your braid should look like a square, with 4 pairs of strands sticking out. Take the right side of each pair of strands, and move it over the left. Now take the left strand, and move it over right to its neighbor's strand. Continue this process, until the strands are all braided. Pinch together the end of the strain pairs, and pull up to the middle. Then, turn the loaf over, and place braided loaf on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper.
  10. Use one egg to brush an egg wash over the top of the loaf.
  11. Let sit for one hour.
  12. Use another egg to brush a second coat of egg wash. (At this point, you can sprinkle turbinado sugar, sesame seeds, or any other topping you want).
  13. Bake at 350 for 20-25 minutes, or until golden brown.

 

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The Only Challah Recipe You Will Ever Need, Amen.

Shabbat Challah
Shabbat Challah

I consider myself a connoisseur of all things challah, but for whatever reason, the thought of producing my own always eluded me. After trying many a challah in my hometown, I found the unequivocally most aromatic, decadent, light and airy strands of braided dough at my local Cuban bakery, Porto’s. I am well aware that a Cuban bakery is not naturally the first place to come to mind when in search of the best challah in town, but trust me when I tell you that these people know bread. Sadly, a few years back, I moved to another part of town, and have since been chasing the memory of that yellow-tinged, sweet-as-honey loaf. On the rare occasion when I found myself in that part of town, my insides would do a little happy dance, since it was a forgone conclusion that I’d stop at the bakery. However, no nearby purveyor of fine baked goods was able to replicate the craving-inducing, funny sounding bread I so longed for. Therefore, I set on the challenge of finding a recipe to replicate it myself.

Close up of the detail on my 6-strand braided challah.
Close up of the detail on my 6-strand braided challah.

Deb Perlman, of SmittenKitchen.com fame, adapted a challah recipe from Joan Nathan, and I am pretty sure she hit the jackpot. After a bit of trial and error with her recipe,  I have found that what works best for me is to make smaller, more controlled batches, which in turn, yield smaller, more uniform loaves. Rather than follow her recipe to a tee, I always halve it now, and produce picture-perfect challahs to adorn my table or to gift to my ever-gracious neighbors. Much to my delight, many a Shabbat guest has mistaken my handiwork for its store-bought cousin…and I don’t usually jump at correcting their mistake.

This past Sunday was the final class in a series I taught at my synagogue on Jewish Holiday Cooking. While the previous classes featured dish upon festive dish typical for a number of Jewish holidays, this crowning jewel of a class was entirely devoted to the 6-strand braided loaf of challah.

My students' beautifully braided dough rises, waiting to be baked to golden perfection.
My students’ beautifully braided dough rises, waiting to be baked to golden perfection.

It was the perfect way to end the series, as many friendships were fostered in the class, and there was plenty of down-time for visiting while the dough was rising. Given my experience braiding challah, I warned my students that since this was their first time attempting the 6-strand braid, it may not look exactly as they expected, and that it only gets better with practice. As it turns out, my warning was for not, because they produced some of the most delicious challahs I’ve seen.

Challah class
Poppy and Sesame Seed Challahs made by my students.

By far, the best part of the class was the taste test. We all gathered around the table, noshed on several different varieties of freshly baked challah, and reminisced about our experience in the series. We laughed remembering silly mistakes that happened in the kitchen, and we shared stories about friendships that started there.

Chocolate challah
Chocolate Chip Challah, sprinkled with coarse sugar, prepared by my students.

With my students’ encouragement, I think I will likely teach the series again. Though, it will definitely be hard to top this group of students. They came from all walks of life, but shared a common enthusiasm for cooking. They impressed me with their skills, and even taught me a thing or two about their personal family’s cooking cultures. As I shared with them on the very first class, every family has their own culinary traditions, and I am honored that I got to share mine with them.

Holiday loaf
A High Holiday rounded loaf of challah, prepared by my students.

5.0 from 19 reviews
Traditional Challah
 
Author:
Recipe type: Side Dish
Cuisine: Jewish
 
Neighbors will come knocking when your house smells like this fresh-baked challah. Be warned.
Ingredients
  • 2¼ tsp dry active yeast
  • 1½ tsp plus ¼ cup sugar
  • ¾-1 cup warm water
  • ¼ cup vegetable oil
  • 4 eggs, divided
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1½ tsp table salt
  • 4 cups flour (or less)
Instructions
  1. In the bowl of your stand mixer, add yeast, 1½ tsp sugar, and between ¾ to 1 cup of warm water, and mix until dissolved. Let sit for 10 minutes.
  2. Mix in vegetable oil, 2 eggs (1 at a time) and egg yolk, with remaining sugar and salt.
  3. Slowly add flour, ½ cup at a time.
  4. When the dough holds together, switch to the bread hook, and knead until smooth.
  5. Transfer dough to a greased bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and let rise in a warm place for at least 1 hour.
  6. Punch dough down, and leave it to rise again for 2 hours.
  7. You can now either make 1 large challah or 2 smaller challahs. To make one large challah, cut dough into 6 pieces, and roll into approximately 12 inch strands. Pinch the top of the strands together. Take the strand all the way to the right, and move it over to the left by 2 strands. Take the strand that is second to the left, and move it all the way over to the right. Take the strand that is all the way over to the left, and move it to the right by 2 strands. Take the strand that is second from the right, and move it all the way to the left. Repeat this process until the challah is completely braided. Pinch ends, and tuck them under the loaf. Place braided loaf on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper.
  8. Use one egg to brush an egg wash over the top of the loaf.
  9. Let sit for one hour.
  10. Use another egg to brush a second coat of egg wash. (At this point, you can sprinkle poppy seeds, sesame seeds, or any other seeded topping you want).
  11. Bake at 350 for 20-25 minutes, or until golden brown.

 

 

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