Friday, July 27, 2012

Maple Cinnamon Challah

I rarely make challah in loaf pans, but every so often, it seems like the right choice.  Since we're normally "tearers/rippers" in our family (as opposed to "slicers"), sliced challah only comes around when the loaf really necessitates a knife.  This challah is one of those.
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For this challah, I used Trader Joe's Maple Sugar, which I have been wanting to try since I made Wisconsin Maple Syrup Challah back in March. Maple sugar is created when sap is boiled beyond the point of maple syrup and into a crystallized state. It's so sweet, and, when I opened the bag, I found out how wonderfully fragrant it is!

In this challah, I also introduced margarine into the baking process.  Margarine is not something I've ever used in bread before, and I think it does add something to the flakiness of the dough.  You could, of course, always use butter for a dairy challah.

3/4 c plus water
1/4 tsp plain white sugar
2 1/4 tsp (1 packet) active dry or instant yeast
2 eggs plus 1 more for egg wash (you can also reserve a little of the 1 egg in the dough)
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) margarine or butter, at room temperature
1 tsp salt
2 tbsp maple sugar

3 - 3 1/2 c bread flour

For the cinnamon swirl filling, adapted from Martha Stewart's Baking Handbook.

1 cup sugar
2 tbsp cinnamon
2 tbsp water


You can make this challah with or without the cinnamon swirl. If making without, simply proceed as normal with braiding. Conversely, you can simply substitute maple sugar into your own basic challah. Because maple sugar is very strong and sweet, I recommend 2 tbsp of maple sugar to replace every 1/4 tbsp sugar (about half the original quantity of sugar).

Before you start, take out your margarine and allow it to reach room temperature. Proof yeast in very warm water with the 1/4 tsp white sugar. Allow to rest about 10 minutes, or until foamy. Add the room-temperature margarine in small pieces (kind of like you would for a pie) and add the eggs. Mix gently to break the yolks and add the maple sugar, flour, and salt. I usually mix briefly before going to the dough hook on my KitchenAid.
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I'm not sure if it was the margarine or just the humidity of baking the summer, but for this challah, I probably ended up ultimately using closer to four cups of flour. Add more as needed if you dough is not holding together. Once a ball forms, punch by hand a few times and place in an oiled bowl. Let rest for about an hour and a half until doubled in bulk.
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While the dough rises, you can make the filling if you are doing a cinnamon roll challah. I've done challah with cinnamon several times before; it's definitely one of our favorite flavors. My mom's technique for cinnamon rolls is to use melted margarine or butter as a base for the cinnamon-sugar mixture. Here, I followed a recommendation in Martha Stewart's Baking Handbook, where Martha suggests you simply mix the cinnamon and sugar together with a little water to create a paste. It worked really well! I think you could also sub out some of the sugar for maple sugar if desired. Definitely trying that next time!
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Punch down the dough. Divide with a bench scraper (FYI: Up until just before publishing this, the recipe said "Divide with a bench press!) or sharp knife into two large pieces. Either braid as normal here or you can make the filled challah. I flattened each piece with my hand and then gave a quick roll with a rolling pin.

Add the cinnamon-sugar mixture and then fold over the two long sides. Remember, the longer your roll, the more coils of cinnamon you'll have but less soft dough. It's your preference.
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Start at the top. Roll down toward you and place in an oiled loaf pan. I didn't seal my seams as good as I could have, so my cinnamon edges kind of leaked out. It made the whole loaf very sticky, but oh so crystallized and delicious!
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Let rest an additional 20 minutes. Bake at 350 for 20-30 minutes, rotating halfway!
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Slice and enjoy! (In the interest of journalistic integrity, I made these on Thursday night at around 10pm. The Hazz had already gone to bed, and I managed to eat about half of one of the loaves by myself. Then when I got home from work this afternoon, he had polished off the good portion of the rest. Yum! We're saving the other for Shabbat along with a Basic Challah.
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Shabbat Shalom from our bayit to yours!

PS: Are you thinking about the High Holidays yet? I'm married to a Hazzan, so I'm already HEARING about them ;) But, I've got a few fun things in the works for Rosh Hashanah this year that I'm really excited about. Stay tuned and Happy Baking!

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