Honey Vanilla Challah with Cardamom

Honey vanilla challah with cardamom

It’s World Bread Day today!

This very special event is being hosted by Zorra, and to celebrate, here is my most favourite bread recipe ever.

If I were forced to bake and eat only one bread for the rest of my life, I would

  1. Cry and protest
  2. Finally have an official excuse to bake every bread known, you know, so I could “pick the best bread”
  3. Come back to challah, over and over again

Update: Visit Zorra’s roundup of 246 entries from around the world!

The original recipe, in fact, is not mine but Ari’s from Baking and Books, a sweet blog devoted to delicious baked goods and reviews of books she’s read. She kindly let me post this (thank you so much, Ari!) on my little blog. I’ve made some slight modifications but the essentials remain unchanged. If you want to impress and win people over, convert friends to carb-lovers and even bread monsters, this is the recipe. It’s that good.

Honey Vanilla Challah with Cardamom

a.k.a. In Jackie’s opinion, the best challah ever

Minimally adapted from Ari’s Honey Vanilla Challah
Makes 1 spectacular loaf

Ingredients

– 1/2 tbsp (1 1/2 tsp) active dry yeast
– 4 tbsp granulated sugar
– 1 tsp salt
– 4 to 4 1/4 cups of all-purpose flour (I used King Arthur)
– 1 cup warm milk
– 2 eggs
– 4 tbsp olive or vegetable oil + ~1 tsp for greasing the bowl
– 1/4 tsp vanilla extract
– 1 tbsp honey
– 1/2 tsp ground cardamom

Glaze:
– 1 egg, lightly beaten
– sesame seeds, poppy seeds, pearl sugar, or just plain🙂

Directions

In a large bowl using a whisk combine the yeast, sugar, salt, cardamom and 1 cup of the flour. Add the warm milk, 2 eggs, 4 tablespoons of oil, then the honey and vanilla. Vigorously mix the ingredients until smooth, scraping the sides of the bowl halfway through, about 3 minutes. Add the remaining flour, 1/2 cup at a time, switching to a wooden spoon when the dough becomes too thick for the whisk. Continue mixing the dough until it is too stiff to stir.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead until soft and springy, about 4 minutes. If the dough is sticky, dust with flour 1 tablespoon at a time – just enough to prevent it from sticking to the surface. The dough is done when it’s smooth and small air bubbles show under the skin. If you press your thumb into it the impression should bounce back. This is a slightly firm dough, which is exactly what you want for easy shaping later on.

Place the dough in a deep container lightly lightly greased with 1 tsp of oil. Turn the dough once to coat the top and cover with plastic wrap. Allow it to rise at room temperature until doubled in bulk, about 1 1/2 to 2 hours. The actual time will depend on the warmth of your kitchen.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or lightly grease it with non-stick spray. Gently deflate the dough by pressing your fingers into it, then turn it out onto a lightly floured surface and shape (see below).

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F and place the shaped dough on your baking sheet, cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rise until almost doubled in bulk, 30 to 40 minutes.

Just before the rising time has finished lightly beat the egg that was reserved for the glaze. Gently brush the dough with a thick layer of it and add your choice of topping if desired. Place the dough in the oven and bake for 30 to 35 minutes, or until the bread is a deep golden brown and sounds hollow when you thump it on the bottom. Transfer to a baking rack to cool.

Notes

– This was one of the first breads that I ever baked, which means I’ve messed around with this recipe… a lot. Fortunately, it is very forgiving and the homemade baked love will always shine through.
– Ari suggests when you first combine the ingredients, add the oil first, then use the same measuring spoon to add the honey. In this way, residual oil on the spoon will make the honey slide right out.
– Milk: I’ve used everything from skim to low-fat to whole. Whole milk seems to be best but the other types are okay too. I have yet to try soy milk.
– Sugar and honey ratio: by mistake I once switched the amounts of sugar and honey such that I added 4 tbsp of honey and 1 tbsp of sugar. I had to compensate with the extra moisture from increased honey, but this made a wonderful loaf as well.
– 4 tbsp = 1/4 cup

* * *

Shaping and variations

These are some of the ideas that I’ve tried and not an exhaustive list by any means.

For a three-stranded braid (from Ari’s honey vanilla challah post):

Divide into 3 equal portions, and roll each portion out into a smooth, thick strip about 20 inches long, with the ends slightly thinner than the middle. Lay these ropes side-by-side, not quite touching.

Beginning in the middle and working towards you, braid the lower half of the three ropes. To braid, alternately move the outside ropes over the one in the center – left over, right over, left over -until you come to the end. Now go to the other side of your working space and braid the other half, this time moving the outside ropes under the center one. Braid tightly – you don’t want any gaps. When you finish braiding each side crimp the tapered ends together, then tuck them under.

Three-stranded braided challah

Three-stranded braided challah

Then there’s the apple-honey challah, one of Ari’s own variations, that I shaped into a spiralling, rounded loaf:

Apple-honey challah, shaped into a rounded loaf

Apple-honey challah, shaped into a spiralling, rounded loaf

Another rounded loaf, but woven:

Woven challah

Woven challah

Learn how to weave the woven challah with this useful tutorial.

You could also make the three-stranded braid, and shape it into a ring (pinch the ends of the braid together):

Three-stranded braided challah shaped as a ring

Three-stranded braided challah shaped as a ring

Then comes a day when you decide to bake three loaves of challah, all at once. The top left loaf is a three-stranded braid shaped into a ring, the top right loaf is a six-stranded braid, and the bottom loaf was baked in a 9″ x 5″ loaf pan. Divide the dough into two portions, one of which is twice the size of the other (you can divide the dough into thirds, and then put two of the thirds together to create the bigger portion). Split each portion into thirds and make a total of two three-stranded braids, one large and one small. Lay the smaller braid on top of the larger braid and bake.

Challah x 3 - clockwise from top left: three-stranded braid shaped into a ring, six-stranded braid, small braid baked on top of a larger braid in a loaf pan.

The six-stranded braid is my favourite. I think it looks stunning:

Six-stranded braided challah

I learned how to do the six-stranded braiding by watching this very helpful video. Her way of topping the challah with sesame seeds is a great idea and results in less burnt, scattered sesame seeds on the baking pan.

My most recent variation – honey vanilla challah with cardamom, topped with perlesukker (pearl sugar):

Six-stranded braided challah with pearl sugar

Six-stranded braided challah with pearl sugar

Yup, that’s sugar and not pretzel salt. It makes the loaf look very pretty!

Here's a closeup of the pearl sugar

Here's a closeup of the pearl sugar

Someone once asked me which was the correct way to enjoy challah: sliced, or ripped apart with bare [clean] hands? I say it depends on how patient you are ha ha. I hope that you will give challah a try and enjoy it as much as I do. Happy baking!

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20 Responses to “Honey Vanilla Challah with Cardamom”

  1. nồi niêu Says:

    What a gorgeous bread! Beautiful color!

  2. toxobread Says:

    Thanks Van! A nicely caramelized crust is one of my favourite things about bread.

  3. Hillary Says:

    I missed world bread day😦 That is an awesome contribution. The challah looks so golden and delicious. Would love to make this for Shabbat.

  4. Harmony Says:

    These breads all look great. I am inspired to try either the vanilla loaf or the apple one. Yummy.

  5. toxobread Says:

    Hi Hillary,
    That’s okay. Every day is a great day to bake bread, especially challah🙂

    Hi Harmony,
    Thank you! I do hope you get a chance to try making the vanilla or apple one, and if you can find it, the ground cardamom takes the bread to a whole new level of goodness. Good luck and let me know how it goes!

  6. Zoe Francois Says:

    Fabulous bread! It is just gorgeous.

  7. toxobread Says:

    Thanks, Zoe! Your cakes and pastries are gorgeous as well – I’m excited to see what the final product of your blog-iversary cake is going to look like!

  8. food librarian Says:

    Fantastic! Thank you for all your baking experience details too. I have been dying to try challah for years! Such wonderful photos too!

  9. Alexa Says:

    This is such a stunning challah loaf! I love the flavors.

  10. toxobread Says:

    Hi Food Librarian,
    Heh heh this post has two purposes, in fact: one, to share challah love online, and two, as a way to compile all of the notes and variations and links on shaping challah for me to refer to. Give challah a try and I promise you’ll be hooked.

    Hi Alexa,
    Yes, the combination of honey, vanilla and cardamom is wonderful, especially right when the loaf comes out of the oven!

  11. Leonor Says:

    what a fantastic flavor combination…

    Your bread looks beautiful and makes me drool….🙂

  12. jansin62 Says:

    Looks delicious – if you let it proof just a bit longer, your braids will be more defined – when you are baking challah, you let it proof for a long time, so you don’t get the oven bloom that messes up your beautiful braids.

  13. bakingforthecure Says:

    This picture must be the most beautiful challa picture that I have ever seen! The recipe sounds great, I can`t wait to try it. Thanks!🙂

  14. toxobread Says:

    Hi Leonor,
    Hehe your mango lassi and assortment of cakes make me drool.😀

    Hi Janice,
    Thanks for the tip, and yes, I definitely agree. I experimented by letting my most recent loaf (the one with the pearl sugar) proof for a lot longer than usual and it left the braids more intact. I’ll keep that in mind for future loaves!

    Hi Asaf/Naama,
    Thank you for the kind compliment. I noticed that you’ve also made challah before but found your recipe to be a bit too rich. This recipe that I use isn’t as “heavy” because it uses oil instead of butter; I hope it will turn out well for you!

  15. zorra Says:

    For sure I will give your challah a try, it looks so awesome!

    Thx a lot for your participation in WBD’08.

  16. toxobread Says:

    Hi Zorra,
    Yes, challah is quite a stunning type of bread to bake, especially with the intricate-looking braiding. Thank you for hosting World Bread Day 08 – it was fun to participate.

  17. Challah à tête - how do you celebrate a yeast geneticist’s birthday? « Toxo Bread Says:

    […] as it is of experimenting with a new way of shaping (for me). I used the ever-trusty recipe for honey vanilla challah with cardamom, originally developed by Ari at bakingandbooks.com but shaped it like you would for brioche à […]

  18. Ania Says:

    I was waiting to do this Challah since I’ve read the recipe (it was October just after roundup of World Day of Bread). I’m a big fan of all the ingredients: honey, vanilla and cardamom. I made my Challah yesterday and belive me, it’s the best challah I’ve ever tried! It’s slightly sweet, very soft and rose nicely. Thank you for this recipe!! I will defenetly follow your blog😉

  19. toxobread Says:

    Dear Ania: Thank you for your very kind and encouraging words. I, too, am a big fan of honey, vanilla and cardamom (perfect combination, isn’t it?) and am so happy that the challah turned out wonderfully for you too! It truly is my favourite yeasted bread of all time. Take care and happy baking! 🙂

  20. BBD#23 – Zopf « Toxo Bread Says:

    […] I make challah and other lovely enriched breads regularly, I’ve never made zopf before. Zopf is a […]

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