Marzipan Challah

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Marzipan Challah Uri Scheft

Excerpted from Breaking Breads by Uri Scheft (Artisan Books). Copyright © 2016. Photographs by Con Poulos.

Think of marzipan challah as a cross between an almond croissant and a loaf of challah. Marzipan is a kind of almond paste; it is very important that you buy the best-quality marzipan you can find—and not the kind that comes in a can, which is too loose for this recipe. When making the marzipan filling, mix with your hands, as over blending it with a mixer can cause the fat to separate out.

For proofing and rising, the warmer your room, the less time it takes to rise. The best way to test if your dough has risen enough is to do the press test. Press your finger lightly into the dough, remove it, and see if the depression fills in by half. If the depression fills back in, the dough needs more time to rise.

  • Duration
  • Cook Time
  • Prep Time
  • 3 LoavesServings

Ingredients

Challah Dough:

  • 1⅓ cups room-temperature water
  • 2 teaspoons active dry yeast
  • 6¼ cups all-purpose flour, sifted
  • 2 large eggs
  • ⅓ cup sugar
  • 2 teaspoons table salt
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature

Marzipan Filling:

  • 7 ounces marzipan
  • ½ cup sugar
  • 7 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour

Egg Wash and Topping:

  • 1 large egg
  • 1 tablespoon water
  • Pinch of table salt
  • 1¼ cups sliced almonds, chopped hazelnuts, or chopped unsalted pistachios
  • 2 teaspoons sugar

Preparation

Challah Dough:

1. Pour water into the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the bread hook. Sprinkle yeast into the water and whisk. Add flour, eggs, sugar, and salt. Then add butter in 5 or 6 small pieces. 

2. Mix dough on low speed to combine the ingredients, stopping the mixer if the dough climbs up the hook or if you need to work in dry ingredients that have settled on the bottom of the bowl. Scrape the bottom and sides of the bowl as needed. It should take 2 minutes for the dough to come together.

3. Increase speed to medium and mix/knead for 4 minutes, or until a smooth dough forms. You may need to add a little water if the dough is too stiff, or a little flour if it is too slack.

4. Lightly dust the work surface with flour and use a plastic dough scraper to transfer the dough from the mixing bowl to the floured surface. Use your palms to knead/push the dough away from you in one stroke; then stretch it toward you to rip the dough slightly. Fold it on top of itself. Give the dough a quarter turn and repeat the tear-and-fold process. After the fourth turn, the dough should be in a nice ball shape.

5. Lightly dust a bowl with flour, add the dough, sprinkle just a little flour on top of the dough, and cover the bowl with a kitchen towel or plastic wrap. Set the bowl aside and allow dough to rise for 40 minutes, or until it increases its volume by more than half.

Marzipan Filling:

1. While the dough rises, make the marzipan filling. Place marzipan and sugar in a large bowl and combine with your hands. Mixing by hand ensures that the marzipan and sugar emulsify. Gradually add butter, 1 tablespoon at a time, stirring between additions to fully incorporate it. Stir in flour.

Shaping and Baking:

1. Use a plastic dough scraper to gently lift dough out of the bowl and set it onto a lightly floured work surface (take care not to press out the trapped gas in the dough).

2. Divide dough into 3 equal parts. Divide each piece into 3 smaller parts, for a total of 9 pieces. 

3. Set a piece of dough lengthwise on a lightly floured work surface and lightly dust the top with flour. Use a rolling pin, roll the piece of dough into a 9- x 5-inch rectangle with the long side facing you. Spread ¼ cup of the marzipan filling along the right-hand third of the dough. Roll the dough from right to left, enclosing the marzipan in a tight cylinder, and pinch the seam and ends shut. Repeat with the remaining pieces of dough and the remaining marzipan. 

4. Return to the first cylinder of dough, and use both hands to roll it back and forth into a long rope that’s 12 to 13 inches long. Press down lightly as you get to the ends of the rope so they are flattened. Repeat with the remaining cylinders of dough. Lightly flour the ropes so that the strands stay separate during baking.

5. Pinch the ends of 3 ropes together at the top (you can place a weight on top of the ends to hold them in place) and braid the dough, lifting each piece up and over so the braid is more stacked than it is long; you also want it to be fatter and taller in the middle, and more tapered at the ends. When you get to the end of the ropes and there is nothing left to braid, use your palm to press and seal the ends together, then tuck them under the challah. Repeat with the remaining 6 ropes, creating 3 braided challahs. 

6. Place 2 challahs on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and the other challah on a separate lined baking sheet. Cover with a kitchen towel, and set aside in a warm, draft-free spot to rise for 1½ to 2 hours until doubled in volume.

7. Once dough has risen, adjust the oven racks to the upper-middle and lower-middle positions. Preheat the oven to 350°F. 

8. Whisk egg, water, and salt together in a small bowl. Gently brush the entire surface of each loaf with egg wash, taking care not to let it pool in the creases of the braids. You want a nice thin coating. Sprinkle each loaf generously with the sliced almonds and then with the sugar.

9. Bake in a 350°F oven for 15 minutes. Rotate the bottom sheet pan to the top and the top sheet pan to the bottom (turning each sheet around as you go), and bake 10 minutes more, until loaves are golden brown. Remove loaves from the oven and set them aside to cool completely on the sheet pans.

Excerpted from Breaking Breads by Uri Scheft (Artisan Books). Copyright © 2016. Photographs by Con Poulos.