Jane’s Kitchen: Apple Challah

This first recipe, a perennial favorite at Am Haskalah, is also thanks to Epicurious.


Apple Challah

  2          envelopes instant yeast — 1 1/2 tablespoons plus 1 1/2 teaspoons

  5          cups bread flour

  1          cup warm water

  3          large eggs — room temperature

 1/3       cup vegetable oil — plus extra for oiling the pan and for topping

 2 1/2    teaspoons  table salt

 1/2       cup granulated sugar — plus extra for sprinkling

  3          large baking apples, preferably Braeburn or Honeycrisp — 4 1/2 heaping cups

Mixing the yeast slurry:

In a large bowl, whisk together the yeast and 1 cup of the flour, then whisk in the warm water until smooth. Let the slurry stand uncovered for 10 to 20 minutes, or until it begins to ferment and puff up. 

Mixing the dough:

Whisk the eggs, oil, salt, and sugar into the puffed yeast slurry until the eggs are well incorporated and the salt and sugar have dissolved. With your hands or a wooden spoon, stir in the remaining 4 cups flour all at once. When the mixture is a shaggy ball, scrape it out onto your work surface and knead it until it is smooth and firm, no more than 10 minutes. (Soak your mixing bowl in hot water now to clean it and warm it for fermenting the dough.) If the dough is too firm to knead easily, add a tablespoon or two of water to it; if it seems to wet, add a few tablespoons of flour. The dough should feel smooth, soft, and only slightly sticky.

Fermenting the dough for the first time:

Place the dough in the warmed clean bowl and cover it with plastic wrap. Let ferment for 1 hour, or until just slightly puffed. While the dough is fermenting, prepare the apples. 

Preparing the apples:

Peel, quarter, and core the apples. Cut each quarter lengthwise in half, then cut each slice crosswise in half if the apple was medium size, or into three pieces if the apple was large; you should end up with large squarish chunks. Measure out 4 1/2 heaping cups of chunks (reserve any extra for another use) and transfer them to a covered container. (Braeburns and Honeycrisp do not brown excessively, but if you are using another variety and are concerned about overbrowning, toss the apples with a few drops of lemon juice.) 

Rolling out the dough and adding the apples:

Sprinkle the dough and your work surface with flour and pull the dough out of the bowl. Cut the dough into two equal pieces and keep one piece covered while you work on the other. Roll out the dough into a 16-inch square about 1/8 inch thick. Scatter 1 heaping cup of the apples over the center third of the dough, then fold up the bottom third to cover them. Press the dough into the apples to try to seal it around them. Scatter another heaping cup over the folded-over apple-filled portion of the dough and fold the top of the dough over it to create a very stuffed letter fold. Press down on the dough to try to push out any air pockets and to seal it around the apples. Roll the dough up from a short side into a chunky cylinder, push the dough into the bowl with the smooth side up, and cover it with plastic wrap. Repeat with the other piece of dough and put it in a second covered bowl or other container. Let the dough ferment for about another hour, or until slightly risen and very soft. 


Shaping and proofing the dough:

Oil two 8-inch round cake pans or round bread pans. Using as much dusting flour as you need, pat each dough half as best as you can into a rough round. You will not be able to deflate the dough much at this point because of the apples. Slip the dough into the pans smooth side up, gently pull the dough apart on top of the loaves to expose some of the apple pieces and cover well with plastic wrap. (The shaped loaves can be refrigerated for up to 24 hours, which will only intensify their flavor.) Let the loaves proof until they have risen over the edges of their pans, about 30 minutes (or up to 1 1/2 hours if the loaves have been refrigerated). 

Immediately after shaping the breads (or 30 minutes before baking if the loaves have been refrigerated), arrange an oven rack in the lower third position, remove any racks above it, and preheat the oven to 350°F 

Baking the loaves:

When the loaves have risen and do not push back when gently pressed with your finger but remain indented, brush each one with a generous tablespoon of oil, then sprinkle them with a few tablespoons of sugar to form a sugary-oily crust. Bake for 45 to 55 minutes, until very well browned. After the first 40 minutes of baking, switch the pans from front to back so that the breads brown evenly. When the loaves are done, remove them from the oven, unmold them, and let them cool on a rack. 


Yield:  2 loaves