I had a whole load of egg yolks left over from making meringue kisses the other day and obviously didn’t want to throw them away, so had to come up with something to make with them. The obvious choice was ice cream but I already had a freezer full so didn’t really want to add any more to it, and wasn’t in the mood for any kind of custard based desserts, I was kind of in the mood to bake some bread though. Challah is a traditional Jewish enriched bread made with eggs or egg yolks so was the perfect recipe to use them up. I always prefer to make some soft of flavoured bread rather than a plain loaf though, so I had a rifle through my baking supplies cupboard (which I am trying to clear out a bit, it has become slightly overflowing…) and came across a jar of morello cherries which I had bought a while ago as they were on offer and subsequently forgotten about. I figured that they would work well in a loaf of bread and decided that as “chocolate cherry challah” had a nice ring to it that is what I would go for.
Challah is traditionally braided, I decided to challenge myself a little and go for a six strand braid (I had to re-do it a couple of times before I got it right, but I got there in the end!), but you can do any number of strands that you are comfortable braiding, I followed the technique in this video which was very helpful if you want to go for six strands, or just do three if you want to keep it simple. The filling is made with grated chocolate, the drained and roughly chopped cherries, a little sugar and some cornflour to stop the dough from becoming wet from any cherry juice, and a bit of cinnamon. I divided the risen dough into six equal pieces and rolled each piece out into an oblong shape, spread the filling down the centre of each, and rolled them up tightly, as if I were making cinnamon rolls. I then shaped each piece into a tapered rope and braided them together. Spreading, rolling and braiding the filling like this ensures that it is evenly distributed throughout the loaf and every bite has plenty of chocolate cherry flavour.
The bread is wonderfully soft and flavourful, and the chocolate cherry filling is delicious – chocolatey but not too sweet, with bursts of tangy cherry. The dough is risen in the fridge overnight so baking the loaf can be split over two days, meaning it is not that much effort to make, and the overnight rise really helps to develop the flavour of the bread. The deep sheen on the surface of the loaf is achieved by egg washing it twice – once before it goes into the oven, and again after it has been baking for 15-20 minutes, the second wash covers any areas that have become exposed due to ‘oven spring’, but you can skip the second one if you like.
- 250ml (1 cup + 1 tbsp) lukewarm water
- 7g (2 tsp) fast action yeast
- 5 egg yolks
- 2½ tbsp olive oil
- 50g (2 oz) runny honey
- ½ tbsp vanilla extract
- 485g (3 + ¼ cups) strong white bread flour
- 1 tsp salt
- 125g (4.5 oz) dark chocolate, grated or very finely chopped
- 3 tbsp sugar
- 270g (9.5 oz) morello cherries in syrup from a jar or tin (drained weight)
- 1 tbsp cornflour (cornstarch)
- 1 tsp cinnamon (optional)
- 1 beaten egg for egg wash
- Gently whisk together two thirds of the water, the yeast, egg yolks, oil, honey and vanilla extract in a large bowl.
- Add the flour and salt and mix to combine, add the remaining water as needed to create a soft, slightly sticky dough. Knead for 5-10 minutes, either in a mixer or by hand until the dough is soft and supple. It should feel slightly tacky but not sticky.
- Place the dough in a lightly oiled bowl, cover, and place in the refrigerator overnight. (It can be left in the fridge for a couple of days if needed)
- The following day, take the dough out of the fridge and divide into as many equal portions as strands you are going to plait (I did 6, but you can just do a 3 strand plait if you want to keep it simple).
- Drain the cherries, roughly chop them and then pat dry with kitchen roll, you don't need to get them completely dry but try to remove any excess liquid. Mix the cherries together with the chocolate, sugar, cornflour and cinnamon (if using).
- Roll each piece of dough out into an approx 14x5 inch oblong (if you are doing a six strand plait), or 14x8 inch if you are doing a three strand one.
- Divide the filling equally among the pieces of dough and spread it out over the centre of each, leaving an inch gap around the edges. Roll each piece up tightly from the long side (like making cinnamon rolls), pinch to seal, and then roll each cylinder (with your hands) into 18-21 inch rope-like strands, tapering the ends slightly.
- Braid the strands together as you like, using the above video for help to make a six strand braid if needed.
- Transfer the braid onto a baking sheet lined with greaseproof paper or a silicone liner, lightly cover with greased clingfilm and leave to rise for about 1½ hours until doubled in size.
- Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/gas mark 4.
- Brush the risen challah with egg wash and bake for 45-50 minutes. Give it a second coat of egg wash after 15-20 minutes and cover loosely with tin foil after about 30 minutes if it is getting too dark.
- Slide the baked challah onto a wire rack and leave to cool completely before slicing.
(Challah recipe adapted from http://ruhlman.com/2011/01/challah-recipe/)