Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Chocolate-Cinnamon Challah

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On Saturday, I had the fun of participating in the Food Blogger Bake Sale.  Food bloggers all over the country were putting on bake sales, benefiting Share Our Strength – a great organization whose goal is ending childhood hunger.

It was a TON of fun – I got to meet so many local food bloggers!  We were at the Uptown Metropolitan Market and lots of people came and bought our wares.  We had all sorts of goodies – cake pops, cookies galore, homemade marshmallows, cashew bacon brittle (really good), whoopie pies, cobbler, cake in jars (!) (courtesy of the lovely and crafty Megan of Not Martha), brownies – lots and lots of yum.

My contribution was my chocolate-cinnamon challah, something I’ve been playing with for a year or so now.  It’s basically poor-man’s babka, which is where I got the idea.  I didn’t take any home with me, so I think it was a hit!

NB: “Challah” doesn’t start with the usual “ch” sound – it’s closer to “HA-la.”  If you can do that back-of-the-throat sound like at the end of “Bach,” so much the better!

NB2: The basic challah freezes beautifully and makes FANTASTIC French toast and bread pudding.  Can’t be beat.


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Basic Challah Recipe
Adapted slightly from Bria
Makes 2 large or 3 medium loaves

Ingredients
6 – 7 cups all-purpose flour
6 tsp (2 Tbsp) active dry yeast (not quite 3 packages)
½ C sugar
1 ½ t salt
1 stick unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 1/3 C hot tap water
4 whole eggs (preferably at room temperature), plus 1 egg yolk (save the white! you’ll need it later.)
Splash of milk
Oil for the bowl

  1. Combine 2 cups of flour with the yeast, sugar, and salt stand mixer fitted with the paddle and stir well.
  2. Add softened butter and stir again. It will look like wet sand, not a cohesive mass. 
  3. Add the hot tap water and beat at medium speed for 2 minutes until well mixed and elastic.
  4. Add the eggs & yolk, and 1 ½ cups more flour. Beat at high speed for 1 minute or until thick and elastic.
  5. Switch to the dough hook attachment, and stir in the remaining 2 1/2 – 3 1/2 cups of flour.  (The first time you make this, go for 3 cups.  As you make it more, you’ll have a better idea of your preferences and you’ll know the dough better, and will be better able to gauge how much flour is necessary.) 
  6. Once the flour is incorporated, knead for 5-10 minutes until it is smooth and elastic.  I usually let my mixer to the kneading first, then move it to a floured surface and finish it by hand. You can keep adding flour as you knead, so the dough doesn’t stick to my hands or the counter.  I go by the windowpane test to know when it’s kneaded enough.
  7. Wash and oil the mixing bowl. Place the dough in the bowl, turn it over once to ensure it’s well-coated, and cover with a clean dish towel for 20 minutes. The dough will swell slightly, but do not expect an overtly visible change.
  8. There are lots of ways to shape your loaves – braids are traditional.  I do 6-part braids (it’s easier than it sounds, I promise!), and I use a digital scale and a bench scraper so everything is even.  Start by dividing it into two equal pieces (or three, or however many loaves you want to make). Place one piece on your work surface and set the others aside, keeping them covered with a towel or plastic wrap.  Divide your working dough into however many pieces you need, and roll each piece into a long snake.    Try to get the snakes roughly the same length and thickness.  You don’t need to be all that gentle with it – this dough is meant to be played with!  Press the snakes together at one end and get to braiding!  Here’s a great video for the 6-strand braid, or you can to simpler 3- or 4-strand braids. Whichever you choose, when you’re done braiding, tuck the ends underneath the loaf and move it to a parchment-lined baking sheet.  Repeat with other parts of the dough. 
  9. You can either bake immediately or cover the loaves loosely with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 2-24 hours.  When you are ready to bake, remove the loaves from the refrigerator and let them begin to come to room temperature while you heat the oven to 355 (approximately 10-15 minutes). Beat the egg white in a small dish with splash of milk and gently brush over the loaves. Bake them for 35-40 minutes, slightly less if you went with three loaves as they will be smaller. When they are done, the loaves will be a rich, golden brown and will sound hollow when thumped on the bottom.

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      Upgrading Basic Challah to Chocolate-Cinnamon Challah

      Chocolate-Cinnamon Filling

      Ingredients
      1 lb semisweet chocolate, chopped (or chocolate chips or mini chocolate chips*)
      1 Tbsp cinnamon
      1/2 cup sugar
      3/4 stick butter (6 Tbsp), cut into 1-inch pieces

      This is most easily done in the food processor – put the chocolate in first and grind it until it’s finely chopped.  Add in the cinnamon and sugar and combine thoroughly.  Add in the butter and mix well but don’t liquefy it.
      *If you use mini chocolate chips, you can skip the food processor altogether and just mix everything together, adding the butter last.



      Adding the Filling
      1. Make the basic challah dough through step 7, and make the chocolate-cinnamon filling.  Divide the dough as above, making your dough snakes.  Using a rolling pin, flatten one snake at a time.  Make the dough quite thin, and roughly rectangular. Try to keep it roughly the length it was before you started rolling it out.
      2. Sprinkle some chocolate filling evenly over the dough, leaving about a half-inch strip along one long edge. (I just eyeball the amount of filling needed – half of the batch per loaf, divided by the number of strands I’m braiding plus one, so that I have some left to put on the outside of the loaves.)   Press the filling into the dough.
      3. Roll the snake back up like a skinny cinnamon roll, pressing it together after each roll.  Pinch the seam to stick it together.  Set aside and repeat for remaining snakes.
      4. Sprinkle the little bit of remaining filling on your work surface and put your snakes down for braiding.  Braid the dough, pressing the little bits of filling to the outside as you go.  Use up all that filling!  (If you run out of filling for the outside, you can toss some mini chocolate chips in cinnamon and put those on the outside.  I like to have an external indicator of the internal goodness.)
      5. Repeat with remaining dough, and continue with step 9 above.  Slice and enjoy!  It also freezes beautifully.  I haven’t tried making bread pudding with it, but I bet it would be amazing!

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