One of the benefits to being an agnostic, atheistic, cynical type, is the flexibility one has with one’s holidays. You can analyze what you’re really celebrating for and how you want to do that, if you want to at all. Do I want to stick to my more beloved traditions? Yes! Do I also want to steal bits and pieces from everything and everywhere to handcraft my perfect, customized winter holiday that has everything I want and nothing I don’t? Also yes. Does that mean taking Jewish cuisine and infecting it with modern Christian tradition to be eaten at a heathen’s table?
You bet your butt.
In all honesty, I don’t know if this is still Challah. There are so many breads out there that once you change a few aspects of a recipe, it almost becomes its own thing. But I’m calling it Challah because I didn’t bake it in a bread pan, and that’s good enough for me.
Honestly, there’s not much to this recipe. The dough itself is fairly straightforward, especially if you have a bread machine or stand mixer; and the walnut filling and shaping part are totally customizable. You could turn this into a couple swirl loaves if you wanted by using the typical cinnamon roll technique, or bring out the scissors to create pinterest-worthy snowflake designs. You could probably even just throw the walnut mixture into the dough while it’s mixing and bag design altogether. (If you try that last one… let me know how it turns out. I’m curious.)
Spiced Walnut and Eggnog Challah
For the dough:
2 c. bread flour
2-2.5 c. all purpose flour
1/4 c. sugar
1.5 c. eggnog (warmed)
2.5 t yeast
2 egg yolks (reserve whites)
1/4 c. canola oil
1/2 t salt
For the walnut filling:
1.5 c. finely chopped walnuts
1/3 c. packed brown sugar
4 T butter
1 t ground cinnamon (preferably cassia in this recipe, although in most savory recipes I recommend ceylon)
1/2 t ground cloves
1/2 t grated nutmeg
In a large bowl (or the bowl of a stand mixer or bread machine), mix all dry dough ingredients except salt. Add warmed eggnog, eggs, and egg yolks, and mix/knead until a shaggy dough forms. Add canola oil and salt and knead until smooth. Dough should be fairly wet and sticky, but should hold its shape. If the dough is not smooth, cover it and let it rest 15-30 minutes before kneading again. When the dough is smooth and elastic, form a ball and place it in a lightly oiled bowl and cover.* Let the dough rise in a warm place until double.
While dough is rising, make walnut filling. In a medium sized bowl, melt butter until liquid. Add walnuts, sugar, and spices. Mix thoroughly, then cover and set aside.
When the dough has doubled, punch it down and transfer to a floured surface. Divide it into four equal sections. Form each section into a smooth rope, about 1 foot long. Take one rope of dough and set the other three aside, brush flour away from the work surface (if you’re working on a non-porous surface, this will aid in the stretching and rolling process. If you are working on a wooden surface, you may want a light dusting of flour.) Use a rolling pin to flatten and stretch the piece of dough until it’s about 2 feet long and 3-4 inches wide.
Use about 1/4 of the pre-made walnut mixture to create a thin line of filling along the center of your stretched dough piece. Pinch the edges of the dough together, including both ends, to create a sealed dough rope, with all of the filling securely inside. Repeat this process with the remaining sections of dough and walnut mixture.
When you’ve completed your dough ropes, gently gather them together at one end and pinch them together to create a seal. Carefully weave the ropes into a four strand braid and then tuck both ends to create a seamless finish.* Cover and let rise in a warm place until almost doubled in size.
While the challah is rising, preheat your oven to 350.
When challah is finished rising, take your reserved egg whites and whisk them into an egg wash. Gently brush the wash onto your loaf, being careful not to push any air out. Bake the loaf for 30-35 minutes or until browned on top, with an internal temperature of at least 190 F.
While bread cools, make your eggnog glaze if desired. Combine
*At these points, you may cover and refrigerate the dough for long periods or overnight if needed– we can’t all be in our kitchens all the time!