I make a lot of bread at work. It started off slowly, when I’d help another cook with the 160 mini-loaves of challah that needed to be ready to go to every table for dinner service. Then, I started making brioche once a week – it’s then frozen and used a few loaves at a time – for a French toast dessert. Before long, I took over challah production, and garlic knots to accompany eggplant parmesan were added to my daily responsibilities. This week, the challah was replaced by Japanese milk bread for bread service. I’d worked on the recipe a few months ago, as one of my first at-work bread experiments. There are still some small changes to work out, but the few days of full-scale production have gone well.
I see lots of bread in my future and I’m not at all sorry about it.
Usually, there’s a little extra dough left over after I weigh out all the portions to be made into standard-size loaves. Most of the time, it ends up in the trash. But sometimes, I’ll make it into a little something special to snack on in the prep kitchen. This full-sized loaf is inspired by those tiny, tasty experiments. But while folding, stuffing, or twisting in whatever looks good from the dry-goods shelf (e.g., white or dark chocolate chunks, peanuts, brown sugar) is almost always delicious, it usually isn’t very attractive. So I turned to America’s Test Kitchen for the best cinnamon-sugar filling for this challah. The secret is using powdered sugar instead of granulated so the filling stays put in the swirl, rather than pooling and weighing down the loaf.
The cinnamon filling gets rolled, cinnamon bun-style, into the three pieces of dough, which are then braided. I wasn’t about to tackle a complicated six-string braid on this one. The dough is incredibly easy to handle, so don’t be intimidated by all the rolling and shaping. You don’t even need to flour the counter when rolling it out. The dough recipe is entirely in weight measurements and they’ve never failed me. If you don’t have a kitchen scale, it’s a fantastic investment. I’ve never tried to convert this recipe to volume measurements, though I’m sure you could get approximations online if you were so inclined.
This challah is delicious right out of the oven and makes really excellent toast. Or French toast. Or bread pudding. If only someone could convince me that bread was the staple of a healthy diet, I swear I’d eat it for three meals a day.
Cinnamon Swirl Challah
- 47 grams sugar
- 13 grams active dry yeast
- 500 grams all-purpose flour
- 67 grams olive oil
- 9 grams salt
- 1 large egg
- 1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
- 4 1/2 tablespoons ground cinnamon
- 1 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 3/4 teaspoon salt
For egg wash:
- 2 egg yolks
Whisk the sugar, yeast, and 57 grams of warm (not hot) water together in a bowl and set aside until foamy. Mix the yeast mixture, flour, salt, egg, olive oil, and 135 grams of water together and knead until a smooth dough forms (the dough will pull away from the sides of the bowl if you’re using a mixer with a dough hook). Place the dough in a bowl and cover with a towel or plastic wrap. Set in a warm place until nearly doubled (about an hour).
While the dough is rising, mix the powdered sugar, cinnamon, vanilla, and salt together.
Deflate the dough and divide it into three equal pieces. Roll each piece into a roughly 10-inch by 10-inch square. Spread a third of the cinnamon-sugar mixture on each, leaving a half-inch border around all the edges. Roll each square into a tight cylinder and pinch to seal.
Lightly roll each of the pieces to elongate them slightly and braid them together. Pinch the ends together and fold them slightly under the loaf. Carefully transfer the loaf to a parchment-lined baking sheet and place in a warm spot to rise for an hour (it will expand but not double).
While the loaf is rising, whisk the two egg yolks with a splash of water and preheat the oven to 350. Once the challah has risen, brush the loaf liberally with egg wash and bake for about 45 minutes. If the outside of the loaf browns too quickly, cover it with foil. The best way to tell when the loaf is done is to use an instant-read thermometer. Once the center hits 195, it’s ready to cool and eat.