I hope you all enjoyed last weekend, the most Fall-ish weekend yet! I hope you went apple picking and wore cozy sweaters and your favorite Fall boots. Maybe there were some cider doughnuts thrown in the mix. I hope you did everything you wanted to do and more.
Sadly, I did not have that kind of weekend. My Sunday night ended in tears, only because I am apparently overly sensitive and become unreasonably attached to fictional characters. I just have a lot of feelings, you guys.
As much as I want to forget about it, and feel slightly ridiculous talking about it, what I’m referring to is the first episode of The Walking Dead’s new season. For those of you who don’t watch it, you can skip ahead to all the challah-talk below.
For those of you who do watch it, I won’t spoil anything. But I’m not embarrassed to say that I teared up a little. And by ‘teared up’ I mean I bawled my eyes out. Eyes out! Oh the humanity.
I keep hoping I’ll wake up from this fictional nightmare, but it’s not happening any time soon. So for now, I’ll have to stick to self-soothing with crappy rom coms and this deliciously soft brown butter and cinnamon sugar challah bread.
If you need to forget about your worries and your strife, pulling this heavenly loaf out of your oven is step one. Step two is sitting down with a slice (or two, or three) of challah and reveling in the buttery, cinnamon-y aromas now filling your kitchen. And step three is reminding yourself that crying about a TV show is next-level irrational and that you will get through this because you’re an adult, damn it. (Your ‘step three’ may vary.)
This challah bread was born out of my love of sweet potatoes*. I used purple sweet potatoes in my last recipe for cupcakes with marshmallow frosting, so I apologize if you’re not a sweet potato fan. However I also encourage you non-fans to try both of these recipes, because the sweet potato lends moisture and sweetness to anything it occupies, and is only faintly detectable if you know it’s there. So, just forget it’s there.
Proof: my sister detests all things sweet potato (utter madness, I know), but I brought two loaves of this challah bread over to her and her boyfriend’s place as I was working on the recipe and both loaves were finished off in less than 24 hours. She still doesn’t know that sweet potato is the secret ingredient – so sis, if you’re reading this, surprise! You ate sweet potatoes! I’m over here laughing my evil laugh.
If you’ve ever wanted to know how to braid a loaf of challah…I suggest you look elsewhere. Here, I’m going to show you how to create a round latticed challah loaf instead. My Chocolate Orange Challah Bread was the first time I shared this style of loaf. It’s my favorite way to shape challah bread, and if it ain’t broke, I don’t see any reason to fix it. (I learned the technique from Deb Perelman, my food-blog idol.)
The shape may look complicated, but it’s actually foolproof and only takes a few seconds. My last challah post describes the process a little more comprehensively, so be sure to check it out if you’re having trouble.
This recipe makes two large-ish loaves, or four small-ish ones. I went for the best of both worlds, with one large and two smalls. Make whatever works for you; the baking times are only about five minutes apart. (You could also make one really enormous loaf, but I can’t promise you that it’ll fit in your oven.)
A note on yeast: I’ve tried this with both active dry yeast and SAF Gold yeast (based on a really great suggestion made by a commenter on the last challah recipe). SAF Gold is osmotolerant so it’s ideal for sweet doughs – a high sugar content soaks up moisture in the dough, and regular yeast isn’t as good at functioning when it doesn’t have adequate hydration. Osmotolerant yeast doesn’t need as much water, so a lot less of it is needed to get the same amount of rise. As a general rule of breadmaking, the less yeast you use the better. But because I know active dry yeast is what’s most common in the average kitchen, I’ve written the recipe using active dry yeast. If you’re using SAF Gold, cut that amount in half.
So. Go get started on this loaf, and I’m going to go drown my sorrows in an ocean of my own tears. (I’m fine. I’ll be fine.)
2 tablespoons of active dry yeast
1 1/4 cup apple cider, slightly warmed
1/2 cup honey
1/4 cup butter, browned
2 eggs + 1 yolk (reserve the white for the egg wash)
2 teaspoons salt
6 3/4 cups (816g) bread flour (AP will work too)
1 1/4 cup (500g) boiled and mashed sweet potato – about two medium potatoes
1/4 cup butter, browned
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
pinch of cloves
1 egg white
smidgeon of salt
In the bowl of an electric mixer, combine the yeast, warm apple cider, and honey. Brown the butter (brown 1/2 cup because you’ll also need 1/4 cup for the filling) and let cool slightly. In a separate medium bowl, combine the mashed sweet potato, brown butter, and the eggs and yolk. Mix to combine, then add to the yeast mixture. With the dough hook, turn the mixer on low and slowly add the flour a cup at a time. Add the salt after the first cup of flour. When all but the last 1 is incorporated, touch the dough and see how sticky it is and only add the remaining cup if it’s still sticky enough to stay on your fingers. Knead on medium/high until silky smooth and elastic, about 10-15 minutes.
Butter or oil a large bowl and transfer the dough, gently covering it with plastic wrap. Let rise for 1 1/2 hours, turn out onto floured surface, and let rise another hour covered loosely with plastic wrap. Divide it into four and gently shape each fourth into a ball, and let rest for another 30 minutes to relax.
Combine the sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves with the remaining 1/4 cup of brown butter – the mixture will be sandy.
Roll out each ball into a thin rectangle. Sprinkle 1/4 of the cinnamon mixture on top and use your hands to press and spread the filling right up to the left and right edges of the dough, but leaving about half an inch at the top and bottom. Roll the dough away from you into a log. Repeat with the remaining dough pieces.
If you want to make small challah loaves, cut each of these logs in half the short way, so you now have two logs. Then, cut each of these logs in half the long way, revealing the striped cinnamon filling. Create a plus sign with four of the logs, creating an interwoven lattice. Starting at one end of the plus sign, cross one log over the other, keeping with the interweaving pattern. Continue around until you can’t stretch the ends of the dough anymore, then tuck all the edges underneath. See pictures for help, or check out my other post with this kind of braid here.
Let rise on sheet pan lined with parchment paper for 1 1/2 – 2 hours (longer if at room temperature, shorter in a warm spot). Whisk together the egg white and salt, then brush the egg wash onto the challah loaves, making sure to get every nook and cranny and even brushing it over the cinnamon filling. Let rise for another half hour while the oven preheats to 350F.
Bake for 20-35 minutes, covering it half way through if you notice it getting too dark too quickly. Bake until golden brown with an internal temperature of at least 190F. Remove and transfer immediately to a wire rack to cool completely before slicing. Or just eat it right away with a soft smear of butter.
Leftover challah bread can be sliced and frozen for up to 3 months, then toasted to thaw. Of course, whipping up some french toast is my preferred method of dealing with leftovers.
*Maybe you didn’t question it, but if you are wondering what’s up with all the pumpkins in the pictures when there’s no pumpkin in this recipe, let me explain. This challah recipe screams “Fall”, which happens to also be my favorite season. And in my mind pumpkins = Fall, while sweet potatoes = ugly. (Also, aren’t mini pumpkins just the cutest?)