chocolate chunk and sea salt challah
Believe it or not, but making challah with chocolate and sea salt had been on my mind for awhile now. Years ago, while on a walk getting lost in the city, which was still new to me, I got caught in the mother of all storms. Or so it seemed, because typical to my habits, I never check the weather when I head out for a day-long excursions. It’s a good thing I married a guy with several radar apps on his iPhone, otherwise, I might have gotten blown away by now.
Anyway, seemingly out of nowhere, the skies opened up and dumped what seemed like buckets and buckets of rain on New York. I couldn’t even see individual drops or streams. It was a wall of water coming down with the mightiest of forces. I ducked into the first café I could find to pass the time. Once seated, I quickly scanned the menu and ordered a chocolate brioche bread pudding. I expected a chocolate brioche made into bread pudding, but instead what arrived was regular brioche with generous chunks of chocolate tucked between the bread slices. Even better, I thought. But that wasn’t all. On top of the bread pudding, there was a slight shimmer – a delicate sprinkling of flaky sea salt.
I dug in and with the first bite, my bread pudding world was changed forever. Warm and comforting, the pudding was modestly sweet, punctuated by rich chunks of melted, dark chocolate. And with each bite, your teeth would encounter a crunchy Maldon flake, and a sharp salty note would flood your mouth, combining with the bitter-sweet of the chocolate and the eggy, buttery richness of the brioche.
Immediately, I thought of challah. It’s time, I thought, for it to shine as dessert! And for years, I would remember to make it a day after Rosh Hashanah, or worse yet – while fasting on Yom Kippur. Let me tell you – dreaming of chocolate studded challah dusted with flaky sea salt while listening to Kol Nidre – not my idea of fun.
This year, I didn’t miss Rosh Hashanah, but I am dangerously close. The holiday, which begins tomorrow at sunset, is one of my favorites. I know that asking you to make a whole new challah twenty-four hours before the holiday begins is a bit bold, but I’ve never been known for subtlety; at least not to my friends. And since we’re all friends here, right, I’m going to suggest a following compromise.
If you already have a favorite challah recipe of yours, go ahead with what you have (no need to reinvent the wheel, right?), and just add some chocolate to it (as suggested below). If, however, you’re a serious procrastinator, like yours truly, give this recipe a go. It’s rich and beautifully so: with not just an egg to give if its famed heft, but two egg yolks to make the challah so moist and decadent, you’ll never look back.
And with whatever leftovers you might have of this challah (good luck with that, by the way), you can make your favorite bread pudding for breakfast. That, and some noodle kugel should get you through the New Year’s breakfast just fine.
Challah, last year! I give you my observations on making challah through the years and the how’s and why’s of it.
Chocolate Chunk and Sea Salt Challah
A note about working with chocolate in your dough – the chocolate chunks, which I prefer visually (because who doesn’t want a bigger bite of chocolate?) are a bit harder to work with – they are full of jagged edges and might tear your dough “ropes” slightly. If the chunks start to poke out, tuck them back in as best as you can, and continue working. If you find that the chunks are tearing your dough, just pinch the dough together and gently see how far you can take the dough. For me it was slightly shorter length than the pieces without the chunks. The chocolate chips, I found, are somewhat easier to work with but still pose a little bit of a challenge. Still, how can you go wrong with chocolate and flaky sea salt? If you feel you want a lot more chocolate in your challah, give it a go. I found that the amounts indicated below worked best in ease-of-use for the dough.
Also, I used to be a hand-kneader through and through – you have a much better feel of the dough and if you’re new to bread baking, I cannot stress enough the importance of kneading by hand to get to “know” your dough. At the moment, however, I have a bum left wrist and can’t put any pressure on it (read: no yoga, no pushups, no opening doors or jars!) and so the bread hook is my saving grace!
Finally, last year, I made a three-braid challah, which is very very easy. If you can braid hair, you can braid a challah. But this year, I’ve gotten curious about the four-strand method, and have watched countless YouTube videos to get it just right. The six-strand challah is still a bit much for me. But at least I’m moving up by one in strands for this version.
1 packet (7 grams) active dry yeast
3/4 cup (177 ml) fresh apple cider
1/3 cup (78 ml) olive oil, plus additional for greasing the bowl
2 large eggs, room temperature
2 large egg yolks, room temperature
1/3 cup (78 ml) mild honey
1 teaspoon (4 grams) kosher salt
4 cups (500 grams) all-purpose flour, plus additional for dusting
1/4 cup chocolate chunks or 1/3 cup chocolate chips
Flaky sea salt, for sprinkling
1. If making the dough using a stand mixer: Microwave the apple cider for 20 to 35 seconds (depending on the strength of your microwave) until lukewarm. Pour the lukewarm cider into a large bowl of a stand mixer and sprinkle the yeast on top. Cover the bowl with a cotton kitchen towel for 2 minutes. Lift the towel and stir the yeast with a fork. Cover the bowl again for another 2 minutes. The yeast-cider mixture will get frothy and smell distinctly yeast-y. Using a big wooden spoon, stir the oil into the yeast mixture, the stir in 1 egg, then the yolks, one at a time until each is fully incorporated; then honey, and salt. Add the flour, 1 cup (125 grams) at a time until loose dough forms. Lock the mixer bowl in place and, using a dough hook, knead the dough for 5 to 7 minutes until the dough is pliable and holds together but is sticky. It makes it difficult to work with, but this is what you need for a lighter-than-a-cloud challah. Turn the dough onto a lightly floured counter, clean out and dry your mixer bowl, and oil it lightly. Rub a little oil between your palms, pick up the dough, and make sure it’s slightly glistening with oil. Deposit the dough back into the bowl, cover it with a cotton kitchen towel and set it somewhere in a warm place (like your oven turned off) for 1 hour.
2. If making the dough by hand: Microwave the apple cider for 20 to 35 seconds (depending on the strength of your microwave) until lukewarm. Pour the lukewarm cider into a large bowl and sprinkle the yeast on top. Cover the bowl with a cotton kitchen towel for 2 minutes. Lift the towel and stir the yeast with a fork. Cover the bowl again for another 2 minutes. The yeast-cider mixture will get frothy and smell distinctly yeast-y. Using a big wooden spoon, stir the oil into the yeast mixture, the stir in 1 egg, then the yolks, one at a time until each is fully incorporated; then honey, and salt. Add the flour, 1 cup (125 grams) at a time until loose dough forms. Turn the dough chunks onto a floured work surface and knead for about 8 minutes until the dough is pliable and holds together but is sticky. It makes it difficult to work with, but this is what you need for a lighter-than-a-cloud challah. Clean out and dry your bowl, and oil it lightly. Rub a little oil between your palms, pick up the dough, and make sure it’s slightly glistening with oil. Deposit the dough back into the bowl, cover it with a cotton kitchen towel and set it somewhere in a warm place (like your oven turned off) for 1 hour.
3. After 1 hour, punch down your down (by pressing down firmly but not too aggressively – we’re not actually beating the dough up), cover again with the towel and let the dough rise for another 30 minutes.
4. Turn the dough onto a lightly floured counter. Divide the dough in half, and set one half of it under a clean kitchen towel. Knead the chocolate chunks or chips into the remaining half until the chocolate is well distributed throughout the dough. Divide this section of the dough in half and roll each half into a long rope. Mine goes to about 30 inches before I feel as if I’ve pushed it to the limits. Take the remaining dough (under the towel) and divide it by half and roll out each half into a rope. By now you should have four ropes. If you find that rolling it out is a bit tricky, gently press the dough in your fists and slowly stretch a little bit at a time.
5. Now you have 4 ropes. Arrange the ropes in such a way that you have 2 ropes going vertically and 2 going horizontally. Make sure that where they meet in the center, one rope is over and one is under. Take the 4 rope ends that are underneath and move to their right over the next perpendicular rope. Take those perpendicular legs that were on the right, and move them over onto the next perpendicular rope to the left. Continue the right-left switch until you’re out of dough rope. Tuck the corners underneath, form a round challah shape, and transfer the challah to a parchment or Silpat-lined half-sheet baking pan (13×18-inches).
6. Beat the remaining egg with 1 teaspoon of water. Generoushly brush the egg wash over challah, making sure to get into every crevice. Set the challah aside, in a warm spot, to rise for 45 minutes. About 15 minutes before baking, heat the oven to 375 degrees F; position the rack in the middle. Right before baking, brush the challah with another coat of egg wash, being very thorough and sprinkle with the flaky sea salt. Sprinkle the sea salt generously – it will work out as your inside doesn’t have any salt flakes – if you think you’ve sprinkled too much, add a little more – that’s the rationale you want. If you see any chocolate chunks poking out, and it bothers you, gently tuck them back in. Transfer the challah to the oven and bake for 25 minutes. Cover the challah with some tin foil, and bake for another 10 to 15 minutes or until the challah is golden brown and glistening.
7. Transfer the challah to a cooling rack and let cool before serving.
Makes 1 challah.