My Mom’s Christmas Challah With Sliced Almonds
Challah With Sliced Almonds
My mom always makes challah—yeasted, lightly sweet, airy bread that’s rich with eggs—a few days before Christmas. We eat it throughout the holidays, either for breakfast or in the afternoon as a snack with our coffee.
Her version is beautifully tall, because she stacks three braided layers of dough on top of each other. She typically fortifies it with raisins (which I hate, so I always pick them out and secretly throw them to the birds outside), adds lemon zest and ground cardamom to give it a bafflingly good flavor, and sprinkles sliced almonds on top for a nice crunch.
When you’re making this recipe, make sure to block out 4–5 hours, as the dough has to be left undisturbed to rise. As for how to braid four ropes, I think one video tutorial is worth three written paragraphs, so I recommend you learn here. (To braid three or two ropes is much easier, but if you’re not sure, look it up on YouTube.)
- Yields 1 large loaf
- 1 cup whole milk, lukewarm
- 1 tablespoon active dry yeast
- 4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
- 2/3 cup sugar
- ¾ cup raisins (optional)
- 1 tablespoon lemon zest (about 1 large lemon)
- 1 teaspoon ground cardamom
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 8 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled
- 2 eggs, lightly beaten, plus 1 egg, lightly beaten for egg wash
- ½ cup sliced almonds
- 3–5 wooden skewers to secure dough
- Pour the milk into a small bowl, and sprinkle the yeast over the surface. Let proof for 10 minutes until frothy.
- Place the flour, sugar, raisins, lemon zest, cardamom and salt in a large bowl and mix together. Add the butter, eggs and milk with yeast, and mix with a wooden spoon until sticky. Transfer the mixture to a clean work surface, and knead with your hands, pressing down hard and turning it over regularly, for 10 minutes, until shiny, soft, slightly sticky dough forms. (Alternatively, you can use an electric mixer fitted with a dough hook. When ready, the dough will come away from the sides of the bowl. Transfer to a clean surface, and knead for another 5 minutes.)
- Form the dough into a ball, and place it in a bowl lightly oiled with vegetable oil. Cover the bowl with a clean kitchen towel and place it in a warm, draft-free place. Let the dough rise until doubled in volume; this may take anywhere between 60 and 120 minutes, depending on the environment. Kneed the dough in the bowl for 1 minute to release the air. Form back into a ball and let rise for another 60 minutes.
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees, and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
- Transfer the dough onto a clean work surface and divide it into 9 equal parts. With your hands, roll each part into ropes about 18 inches long. (The dough will be springy, but keep rolling hard, distributing the volume evenly from the middle toward the ends.)
- Take 4 ropes, pinch them together at the ends, and braid to form the challah base. (Because the dough tends to be springy, don’t be afraid to stretch and pull down the ropes if they start shrinking in length.) Carefully transfer to the baking sheet, and brush all over with the egg wash. Take 3 ropes, pinch them together at the ends, and braid to form the middle of the challah. Carefully place on top of the base, and brush all over with the egg wash. Finally, take the remaining 2 ropes, pinch them together at the ends, and braid to form the top of the challah. Brush all over with the egg wash. To secure the layers on top of each other, insert wooden skewers in the middle and on both ends, piercing the dough all the way through. Let rise in a warm, draft-free place for another 45 minutes.
- Brush the challah all over with the egg wash one more time, and sprinkle evenly with the sliced almonds. Bake in the oven until deep golden brown, about 30–35 minutes. (Trim the skewers down with scissors if they’re too long and the challah wouldn’t fit in your oven.) Transfer to a wire rack and let cool.